While Democrats taking control of one or both houses would undoubtedly check some of the most egregious excesses of the Bush administration, it will not solve the fundamental problem at the heart of America right now: we have lost sight of a vision for our future. What do we dream of becoming as a nation?
When this country was founded it was with a noble spiritual purpose, backed by a practical strategy in the form of a Constitution. America was founded to become an oasis of enlightened understanding that could embody a new and more just form of politics and to do that in the service of all of humanity.
In some realms, we have made great strides, becoming a leader among nations. In other realms, we have failed badly, allowing our political processes to be overrun with special interests and our foreign policy to be corrupted by base motives.
If a global poll were taken asking about the world's most deeply respected democracy, I would wager that we would no longer make the top ten. Other nations have passed us in many measures of happiness, democratic participation, and overall quality of life. Where we now lead is in the categories of economic and military might. We are no longer the conscience of the world and the greatest purveyor of freedom. We are becoming a self-interested empire. I believe that we have nobler stuff in our blood - a higher purpose for our existence than to sit at the top of the economic food chain and feast on our planet's resources.
A news story on CNN today illuminated our core problem in an interesting way. A global vote is now underway to nominate a new set of Seven Wonders of the World, since most of the ancient seven wonders have been lost to history. There have narrowed down to 21 candidates, including the Pyramids of Giza, the Eiffel Tower, and the Taj Mahal.
Curiously, the only American wonder to even make the candidate list of 21 finalists is the Statue of Liberty a gift to us from France. Here we are, a country that claims to be the greatest nation on Earth, with the most extraordinary wealth ever accumulated by a single people, consuming 1/4 of Earth's resources, and we have not constructed a single edifice that would qualify for the voting roster.
What does it take to create a wonder of the world? First, it takes vision, a vision that is breathtaking in ambition, expansive in scope, and typically spans generations. Second, it takes an ability to bring large numbers of people to work together in community towards shared goals, often in extraordinarily creative and innovative ways. Third, it takes a sense of awe, reverence and respect.
We view structures with wonder when they put us in touch with the cosmic dimension of our existence, mirror our soul's greatest hopes, or touch the sacred core of existence. Beauty, intelligent design, and heroic power must suffuse something in order to inspire wonder in those viewing it. Many of the candidate Wonders were created at the apex of an advanced civilization's power, concretizing their values and highest aspirations.
A Stealth bomber, for all the innovation and money that goes into it, does not inspire wonder. A skyscraper built for the practicalities of business does not touch the heart deeply. So much of our national creativity is channeled to short-term profit-generation and machines that kill rather than monuments that inspire. For all America's might, we haven't yet generated a symbolic structure that is worthy of our presumed greatness as a civilization. We have not yet come together in a vision of ourselves that is bigger and nobler than individual self-interest, that reverentially and humbly bows down before something vaster.
What if we moved away from focusing on our military power and endeavored to build a truly wondrous structure, an enduring edifice that is worthy of our noblest aspirations as a nation, something that can thrill generations for thousands of years, something that transcends partisan politics and ideological warfare and nationalistic loyalties to represent our shared humanity. I'm envisioning a national temple of sorts, one that is inclusive of all the world's people and all the world's religions. It would reflect the extraordinary land we've been given and send our blessings forward into the future.
Ancient Egyptians dared to take on such a task with their pyramids and have left a legacy of awe that has spanned millennia. With our expanded technological prowess and larger population, what could we achieve today?
What if we were to dedicate this sacred national monument to peace, liberty, and global justice, and build it for thousands of years to come, infusing it with our deepest reverence and our most heartfelt prayers. Directing a few of the hundreds of billions that we now spend on the military could put such a project in motion, especially if the money were matched by philanthropy as others commit to creating a truly wonderful expression of our shared dreams. Churches have learned that a true spiritual community requires a structure around which to gather for worship. We could do the same as a country.
Such a manmade symbol would help in our transition from a fear and accumulation-driven people into a more mature nation, committed to projects bigger, nobler, and more enduring than our own individual lives and more constructive than warfare. A monument might not seem philanthropic at first, but it would help inspire us to take a larger view of the meaning of our lives, which ultimately leads to true philanthropy.
The strident, short-term warfare of today's election season might seem an odd time to make such a suggestion. But perhaps if we take seriously the need to turn our collective awareness towards wonder-inspiring legacies for millennia into the future, we can begin to dream together again, as well as find opportunities to use our might to create a peaceful, sustainable, and wonder-filled future.