Identity Founded on Recrimination

As we come to the end of 2011, the year that marks a decade since the events of September 11th, a decade of war, polarization, and obsessive vengeance that still has no clear end in sight, this sombre reflection from Oliver O’Donovan which I came across this morning seems very appropriate:

(from a sermon given on September 15, 2002, after the first annual commemoration of 9/11)

“The practice of public commemoration which our Christian forebears left us was, in its way, a spiritually disciplined one.  Commemorations were built around mercies received from God, occasions of thanksgiving for deliverance.  So the two world wars were remembered on the exact anniversary of the signing of the armistice in 1918, a day of deliverance from war.  I can think of no precedent for solemn ceremonies to mark the very moment when an abomination was committed.  For times of grave affliction, when there was nothing concrete to be thankful for, the older practice prescribed public fasting, which ensured that the first response to crisis would be critical self-examination.  Our Christian forebears knew well enough that public acts fashioned identity.  They also knew, I think, that identities founded on recrimination were always in want of an emeny, and that to be in want of an enemy was to be sure of finding one.

Last week we did that unprecedented thing.  We seized on an abomination and made it a symbol of our posture in the world.  We committed ourselves to an alliance of power built on resentment of one isolated and — for all the horror of that moment — ineffective blow. . . an alliance [that] presented itself to the world in the guise of an injured victim demanding vengeance.  I find it hard to imagine where this illusory self-understanding will ever lead us, other than to deeds of great wickedness.”

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