Obama — “that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls”

(Contributions to Discussion Invited)

President Barack Obama concluded his 2009 Nobel Lecture with the following words:

But we do not have to think that human nature is perfect for us to still believe that the human condition can be perfected. We do not have to live in an idealized world to still reach for those ideals that will make it a better place. The non-violence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached – their faith in human progress – must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey.

For if we lose that faith – if we dismiss it as silly or naïve; if we divorce it from the decisions that we make on issues of war and peace – then we lose what is best about humanity. We lose our sense of possibility. We lose our moral compass.

Like generations have before us, we must reject that future. As Dr. King said at this occasion so many years ago, “I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him.”

So let us reach for the world that ought to be – that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls. Somewhere today, in the here and now, a soldier sees he’s outgunned but stands firm to keep the peace. Somewhere today, in this world, a young protestor awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, who believes that a cruel world still has a place for his dreams.

Let us live by their example. We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of depravation, and still strive for dignity. We can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that – for that is the story of human progress; that is the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.

Indeed, one of the moral underpinnings of international human rights and international humanitarian law, including the prohibition against torture, is the belief that there is present in every human being a part of God, a piece of the divine, and that to violate that person’s right to life or or that human being’s right to the physical integrity of his person is somehow to commit violence against the divine itself, against God–however this concept may be understood. There are other, more secular formulations that express a similar view.

Requested Collaboration–Contributions from readers are solicited, with the goal of provoking an enlightening discussion.

What do the different religious traditions in the world have to say and teach us on this point? What do Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and other religious traditions, and secular philosophers and moral leaders, teach us regarding this central affirmation of the divine in each and every human being?

The Trenchant Observer

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E-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com

Comments and debate are invited, in any language. If in a language other than English, please provide an English translation, if possible, in order to reach the broadest possible audience. Where this is not feasible, please submit your comment anyway; other readers are invited to offer accurate translations of any such comments.