In his recently published Becoming Nonviolent Peacemakers, Eli S. McCarthy proposes that we think about nonviolent peacemaking in the context of virtues rather than in either of the two prevailing frameworks, just war rules or strategic choices. McCarthy’s ideas tie nonviolent peacemaking and nonviolence in general more closely into Catholic social teaching and moral theology, something that has been entering Catholic discourse on war of late through a kind of backdoor admission that violent action is no longer a viable choice in the twenty-first century. A little more than halfway through his book, McCarthy poses two key questions about moral training and practice: “Who are we becoming?” and “Who ought we to become?”
Recently, I thought of those questions when, walking across a parking lot, I noticed a bumper sticker that read “Save America! Exit 2012! Turn Right!” Whether or not one prefers the Republican platform and candidates, that first imperative set alarm bells ringing in my mind. What kind of people view voting as salvific? Moreover, who are we becoming when we trust our political machinery with the work of salvation? Of course, a bumper sticker slogan reading “Let’s vote to make America more like my dream of it!” will not attract much serious attention, and hyperbole has long been a key feature of political discourse in our society — just watch the attack ads so freely deployed this campaign season. In one, supporting a challenger for my district’s House of Representatives seat, the worst they could find were some foolish, frivolous text messages by the incumbent’s staff—this strikes me as ridiculous, although it does highlight the problems Marie Dennis addressed in her series of essays about civil discourse.
So I have been thinking about that first question not in terms of the election but more broadly: Who are we becoming as a community? As a nation? As individuals? My answers are particularly disturbing as I look at suicide rates of discharged veterans, civilian casualty rates in Iraq and Afghanistan, the rates of violent death and imprisonment of men and women of color here in America, the unemployment statistics broken out by education level and ethnicity.
Which leads to the second question, “Who ought we to become?, the starting point for deciding what actions to take to move our local community, our nation, and the global community toward becoming what I, you, we want it to be.