Suhail Khan, David Kyuman Kim, and Jack Moline, with Sally Quinn moderating, discuss advancing the common good amid moral and political polarization, as part of the 2017 Religion and Foreign Policy Workshop.
QUINN: We’re going to talk about pluralism today and we’re going to talk about the common good. And the issue kept coming back to morality and ethics and values. And how do we have this dialogue without discussing these three issues? And how do we get away from bigotry? And how do we get away from hate? And we’ve just seen this trip the president is taking where he’s gone to Saudi Arabia. Then he’s gone to Israel. Then he met with the pope today, and the pope basically—his people were saying, you know, he’s going to sort of be the representative of morality for this conversation.
So I want to start by asking you all, in this era of Trump, and how do we have a sense of pluralism and how do we have a sense of the common good and maintain our ethics and our morals and our values?
And I want to start with David, because you were talking to me last night about your new philosophy of love. So take it away, David.
KIM: Sure, sure, of course. First, I want to say thank you to Irina and her remarkable staff here at the Council for convening us. It’s an extraordinary event. And so many of you are the best practitioners in what you do, so I appreciate being in conversation with you.
So what Sally is referring to is a project I’ve been collaborating on for the last couple of years called Love-Driven Politics. And one of the aspirations of the group on Love-Driven Politics, it’s a collective of educators, artists, activists, and everyday folks to try to change the political culture.
So, you know, this relates to questions about pluralism so that, you know, if we think about so much of, say, American politics as being about the pursuit of power, what happens to our culture, what happens to our political culture, if we shift from pursuing power to centering values of love, such as compassion and generosity, let alone forgiveness and mercy?
And we’re offering these ideas partially as a way to help the culture clarify our common values. So, like, if we’re going to have a conversation about the common good, and we’re going to have a conversation about pluralism, we have to have clarity about what we stand for.
And so when we’re arguing about Love-Driven Politics, it’s to say, well, OK, so we’re going to put our lot down with those committed to a public ethic of compassion, a public ethic of generosity, a public ethic of mercy and forgiveness; not to say that this is an easy thing. If anything, it’s countercultural. And yet we have found in our conversations that it’s tapped into something that is cross-grain, that it’s not necessarily partisan, and, you know, that people are hungry for the conversation.
QUINN: Do you agree with that?
MOLINE: There’s nothing that David said that I know that—
QUINN: He’s leaning over to make sure. (Laughter.)
MOLINE: There’s nothing—there’s nothing you said that I can disagree with. I would say—
MOLINE: Good. (Laughter.) Thank you and good night. (Laughter.)
QUINN: We’re off to a good start.
MOLINE: Look, I can’t help but look at these questions from a Jewish perspective, because I’ve been a rabbi for 35 years this week. And I have to—I have to acknowledge something that Professor Walzer said last night that’s absolutely correct, that until 69 years ago, all Jewish discussion of public policy and power ethics was conducted in a virtual vacuum because we had no state and we had no army.
In that sense, it was sort of a pure approach to the ideas of overcoming bigotry and overcoming power conflict, because there was no way to put into action. A lot of that discussion wound up focused on the inside. And from the time of my rabbinic ancestors 2,000 years ago, Jewish thought has posited that the heart contains two chambers, one of which contains an impulse to good, and the other an impulse to evil. I don’t particularly like those words, because, as my new friend Steve told me the other day, once you label something as evil, you guarantee violence, because you have to eradicate it. So I would prefer to call that the inclination to altruism and the inclination to selfishness.
I think what we have seen is the election of someone who is ruled by his inclination to that which is self-serving, to that which is selfish, not as a particular moral failing on his part—I leave that to those of you to determine—but in terms of what he has imagined for this nation, that we are to take, and we are to make America great by taking.
David, what you’re contending, and what I agree with, is that that has to be balanced, if not overwhelmed, by a notion of altruism that I think theoretically, like Jewish thought, characterized the American experiment, the American dream, for generations, but has been damaged; just as Jack Goldstone was talking about earlier today, has been damaged because it hasn’t come to realization.
So, while I agree with you 100 percent that we have to put more effort into pursuing all of the aspects of a peaceful and loving society, we also, I think, have to acknowledge that there’s got to be some self-service here or we’re going to be unsuccessful in that.
QUINN: Suhail, where do you stand on this?
KHAN: I think—first I want to say thank you to the Council and to Irina for including me in this important discussion.
I think where the difference might be—you know, we all agree that there has to be a sense of community, a sense of altruism, a sense of generosity, particularly if you’re a person of faith. Whether you’re Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, or of other faith values, you’re always taught to love your neighbor.
But I also think that what we’re finding now at this particular time in our country’s, you know, conversation is really a mistrust with the government being behind that sense of altruism or the government enforcing that forced shared value.
There’s one thing, that if individuals, if communities, if families, or institutions, particularly religious institutions or community institutions, want to be altruistic and want to be part of that civic engagement that helps foster that sense of shared values and of generosity, particularly to those—the immigrant, to the refugee—but it’s another when you have a forced mechanism by the power of the state.
That’s why I think there is—because you have a growing number of not only Americans, but people around the globe, that have lost trust in government institutions and other institutions, like the media and others, that they become that much more suspicious when you have instruments of the state who are enforcing that, in some cases at the tip of the bayonet.
QUINN: Well, you know, David, I’m just—I wonder if your point of view isn’t a little Pollyannaish.
KIM: No. (Laughter, applause.)
MOLINE: Asked and answered.
KIM: Right. Now, here’s why. Here’s why.
QUINN: No, but you—I mean, the thing is, it sounds great, you know, is love and compassion and we all—you know, it’s all wonderful, and the common dialogue and the common good and, you know—but, you know, we’re living—it doesn’t sound realistic in the society we’re living in and the administration we’re living in and the kind of things that come out of the mouth of our leader.
KIM: Yeah, I’ve heard some things from him. So, look, it’s—when we’re talking about love in politics—or let’s use a different register; say, radical love—it’s not to say that it’s Pollyannaish, but it’s actually quite difficult and rigorous. So you’re talking about some version, for example, of the golden rule.
Think about another formulation of the golden rule was not love thy neighbor as yourself, but love thy enemy as yourself. And that moral imperative of self-regard, self-love, self-interest, is actually, for many folks, a monstrous demand. It’s like what is it to love thy neighbor? And so to understand that’s not Pollyannaish. That’s as hard a thing to do as possible, and to understand that that imperative doesn’t come necessarily from the state, but it comes from whom? Ancestors. It comes from tradition.
And so the challenge for every generation is to say, well, how is our generation honoring that love ethic in a way where it’s specific to the enemy of our time, not to a globalized enemy?
QUINN: But it does seem to me that the tone of the campaign was exactly the antithesis of love thy neighbor. It was just trash thy neighbor; trash the, you know, people who—
KIM: I think it was troll thy neighbor. But, yeah, OK. (Laughter.)
QUINN: No, but, I mean, there was nothing—there was nothing altruistic about it. There was nothing loving. There was nothing compassionate about it.
QUINN: And, you know, everybody—everybody was the subject of ridicule. Everybody was the subject of contempt, even hate and disdain. And yet—and yet it worked. So what—
KIM: And so then—
QUINN: So what does that say to us? What does that say about who we are as a society and who we are as a people? And I’m talking not just about faith, but, you know, even if you’re a person of no faith, what does that say about our values and our ethics and our morals?
KIM: And it says actually that we’re in even more need of that kind of love. You know, I—you know, part of the task here is to undergo a diagnosis, that there’s a huge gap between who we ought to be and who we are, right. And the ought here—let’s put it all—I mean, if we’re going to talk about pluralism, let’s not talk about it in terms of a kind of false egalitarianism. Let’s not talk about it in terms of everyone’s values are respected and recognized fully, because they’re not. But it’s to understand that a pluralistic society is contentious, but there’s contestation words enforced by violence versus contestation that’s borne out of recognition and respect, right?
The panel before us, when they were talking about—I think it was Jack Goldstone—was talking about identity and identity politics. I mean, I would rather swap out identity and begin to talk about integrity. And so what it is to recognize the integrity of a people that have been dehumanized? We’re talking about racism, for example. You know, one might redefine racism as a systematic compromise of a people’s integrity.
And so, in that space, I mean, sure, the Trump campaign, they were warriors for that kind of denigration. But then, you know, where—what are you going to muster to push back? You know, who are you going to pull together to push back?
QUINN: What is your answer to that?
KHAN: Well, I’ll go back—you know, I’ve been working in politics, as we were talking earlier, for about 30 years. And there’s no doubt that this was the most—one of the most vituperative election campaigns that I’ve been a witness to. You know, on one hand, you had a candidate, you know, whose relationship to the truth, to put it mildly, was tenuous, who was very militaristic, whose countenance—sexual harassment, if not sexual assault—who divided our country. And then you had Donald Trump. (Laughter.)
MOLINE: I was waiting for that.
KHAN: Moline knew it was coming.
MOLINE: He does two shows a night. (Laughter.)
KHAN: But I would say, in all seriousness, that politics are downstream from culture. And there’s no doubt that, whether it was Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump or whomever the candidate might have been, you know, even on a national or on a state or local level, that—my experience in Washington, D.C., having worked in government, that very few politicians are actual leaders. They look for parades and they get in front of them. They don’t—very few politicians will create parades. And now and then you have, you know, transitional figures who do, in fact, you know, foster movements. But, generally speaking, they’re looking for movements or sentiment that exists within the society, and they try to get it front of it, marshal it, and carry it to office.
In this case, I would say there was no doubt that there’s—there’s no doubt that, for example, when candidate Trump, who was challenged by 16 other Republican candidates, early on proposed a Muslim ban, he didn’t create that idea. And as was pointed out in one of our earlier discussions today, 60 percent of Trump supporters support a Muslim ban, but 25 percent of Hillary supporters support a Muslim ban as well. In other words, there is strong support for a ban on Muslims. That exists—that existed pre-Donald Trump.
And I’m using that as an example for other concerns, if not stereotypes and discrimination that may be out there against Hispanics, African-Americans, the Jewish community, and others.
The challenge, again, is, within our societies, who are those who can stand up to change that narrative, to change that feeling of fear, of suspicion, in some cases of hate? I would argue that we shouldn’t be looking towards our politicians to be doing that, because they reflect us. In a representative democracy, they represent our—the best and the worst of our societies.
We were—in the anti-Semitism panel earlier, what was very clear when we were talking about the rise of Hitler and the Nazis was that they came to power democratically. You know, that’s—this was not a monster that somehow appeared and took over Germany and made it into a Nazi Germany. He was elected to that position.
In other words, people who have the power to represent themselves have to make decisions. And I think that’s why it’s so important for civic leaders, particularly on the most local of levels—and I would include in that faith leaders from all traditions—have to stand up for our very own values. And that will be reflected in our political leadership.
QUINN: Jack, how do you do that?
MOLINE: Well, look, I think it starts in this room. This is an extraordinary gathering of individuals. One of the things that was going on in our conversation on the phone when we prepared for this panel is that we were pushing back and forth on the notion that we collectively—not just you all, but we collectively as faith communities—had an obligation to sort of fight fire with fire by responding in kind to the diminishment that we’ve been feeling by diminishing those who were perpetrating it.
And the pushback on that was that as long as we did that, we were going to perpetuate the system. I think that there is a mandate to shut up on our part and to listen to people who hold divergent views from us and to process them through what I hope is a very clear sense of what a beloved community looks like that each of us has, even if each of us has that view in his or her own way.
And we need to do a lot more listening and a lot less talking, because that’s the only way we’re going to figure out who the people are who are going to promote these notions of altruism and who the people are who are going to just take, take, take, take, take.
And while I agree with you, Suhail, that we have been failed by politicians on both sides of the aisle and we have in many ways been failed by the system, it’s because we’ve bought into what they’re doing. It is not anything that’s inherently bad about government. I believe in the goodness of government. I believe that government is a good thing, and I believe that government should do good things. But that will only happen if we can lift up the people who hold the values that represent the best of what this country is.
In this country, as my friend Galen Guengerich says—Galen, are you still here, or can I steal your line? Good—all the way in the back. In this country, when it comes to the law, the Constitution trumps scripture—and he said “trump” before there was Trump, right—(laughter)—that the price of America is that you let the Constitution govern how we relate to each other and that our faith communities are the places where our particular values play out.
There is no faith community that should be allowed to impress its particular perspective on the general populace. And if we do that, then we have the kind of government that we need. If we affirm that, and if we hold our leaders to that standard, then you’re going to be voting for somebody else.
KIM: Could I respond?
QUINN: Well, yeah. I just—I was going to ask you, because it sounds like Jack is singing your song, David, a little bit. No?
KIM: He’s got a lovely voice. (Laughter.)
MOLINE: Thank you.
QUINN: But what I’m—because we did have this conversation on the phone last week, and there was a lot of pushback, because you were saying we’ve got to shut up and we’ve got to start listening. And we’ve got to start listening to people who have different views from the views that we have. But what if those people’s views are not consistent with our ethics and our values and our morals? I mean, if those people are racist or if they’re anti-Semitic or they’re anti-Muslim, then how can you shut up and just sit and listen?
MOLINE: You should answer this. But I have to say that there is space between doesn’t agree with me and racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim.
MOLINE: There’s a lot of space there.
QUINN: OK. Well, let’s talk about the—David, you—
KIM: So two things. I’ll answer the first, and then something about the Constitution.
You know, one of the things we say and love to do in politics is that the act of the invitation is an act of public love, by which we mean to invite another is to promise that you’re going to make time, find time and make space with them, not, not because you’re going to agree; actually, more precisely, because you’re probably going to disagree. But you’ve issued the invitation not just to listen but to say come be with me or let me come be with you, and take that time.
So, you know, it’s that old maxim of showing up, but showing up in a very particular way, where it’s not, you know, I’m here to scrap with you, but I might be here to listen. I’m not here to agree with you necessarily.
On the Constitution, look, while the concerns about the Establishment Clause and theocracy are warranted, the pushback of acts of conscience by religious communities and others are the things that—you know, part of the levers that change the Constitution. If we had left the Constitution as it was formed, we would still be in the 18th century.
You know, so, you know, this—you know, I had a conversation, a dialogue, with Eboo Patel recently, the founder of the Interfaith Youth Core. And, you know, he was arguing that the heart of the American common ethic was pluralism. And I said, you know, Eboo, I actually think it goes farther back, not just to Jefferson and so on, but to Roger Williams and acts of conscience, where there’s—you know, the conscience is a thing that helps you adjudicate and to figure out what your relationship is to the law, right, not to accept the law as given but to undergo real deliberations about is a law warranted? Is the authority of the law, the state, something I should adhere to? And if it’s not, what are the resources that I’m going to draw from or we’re going to draw from to fight it, not necessarily for the sake of—let’s go with reformation rather than revolution.
KHAN: Two quick comments too. I would say—you know, I’m reminded of the comment that Winston Churchill, of course, who had an American mother, said about the United States, and that Americans will do the right thing after exhausting every other possibility. (Laughter.)
And if you look at even the difficult time that we’re now facing when it comes to race, when it comes to faith, when it comes to immigration, we’ve overcome these challenges. Sometimes it can be uglier than others. I mean, look at the experience that we’ve had with slavery, with the interment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II, which was not only sanctioned by the president, but even by the Supreme Court in the Korematsu decision. And it took 40 years before we realized that that was a mistake and apologized; and the experience that Chinese, Jewish Americans and so many others have had negatively—the Catholics, the Mormon Church---and then eventually we’ve had those conversations.
I remember in 2008 when Romney was running and an individual told me, I’ll never vote for Romney because he’s LDS and I’ll never vote for Giuliani because he’s Catholic. Four short years later, Romney was the nominee of my party. You know, he didn’t win—he didn’t win not because he was Mormon. He didn’t win for a host of reasons.
But so we have those conversations. And one of the things that makes America exceptional is that we overcome that—those dark periods. But the question is, how long does that take? And that’s up to us.
The second thing I would say is, going back to your point, Sally, and what Rabbi Jack mentioned, and that is we need to get—63 million people voted for Donald Trump. They’re not all racist. They’re not all misogynist. People came to Donald Trump, as people came to Hillary Clinton, for a host of reasons. We need to give them that room and listen to why they voted the way they did, why they supported what they did, why they countenanced certain positions in this last election.
And I’ll end with a quick story. I grew up in the Bay Area. And I mentioned this on the phone call. You know, where I grew up in the Bay Area, you know, if you were a little more well to do, if you had white wine and sushi, you went to go see the 49ers. But if you were a little rougher and if you wore a suit that was made of rubber and you took a shower after work, you were a Raiders fan.
Well, a good friend of mine was a big Raiders fan. And, you know, a guy named Kenny “the Snake” Stabler was just inducted into the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio this year. He played for the Raiders. And my friend, who happens to be Muslim, went to the induction ceremony in Canton. And the time for prayer came. The stadium was filled with people—Raiders fans, as I mentioned—and he goes into a discreet location within the stadium where nobody could see him to offer his prayers.
Well, while he’s offering his prayers, a large person that he characterized straight out of central casting from “Duck Dynasty” walks up to him menacingly and begins hovering over him while he’s praying. He finishes his prayer. He’s seated, as you might have deduced. He looks up at this guy and the guy points his finger at him and he says, are you a Muslim? And the guy, you know, says, Suhail, at that moment my life flashed before my eyes. I have children. I thought, you know, did I leave enough for them? And the guy says, I don’t like Muslims from what I see of them on my TV. And he says it’s over for me. And then the guy puts out his hand and he says, but if some of you all are Kenny Stabler fans, then not all of you all can be that bad. (Laughter.)
And my point is that we have to meet people where they are. We have certain values and certain sense of, you know, of conversation and ethic. And I’m not saying we should in any way abandon that. But we should realize people are where they are, and maybe there are different ways to approach them to have that conversation.
MOLINE: Well, I’ve been thinking about that story. It’s the first time the Snake was the redeemer instead of the agent of destruction. (Laughter.)
KHAN: Only a rabbi would recognize that.
QUINN: So, Jack, you were saying, you know, there is a big difference—distance—between being a good person, moral ethics and values, and being bigoted and racist and anti-Semitic. But there’s a lot of space in between.
MOLINE: I said there’s a—there’s a lot of space between disagreeing with me and being a racist.
QUINN: Right. So where’s—what’s the space? What’s the cutoff?
MOLINE: What’s the cutoff?
QUINN: Yeah. What’s the tipping point? I mean, so we’re all going to sit down together and we’re all going to talk and we’re going to listen, and we’re going to listen to these people talking, whoever they are. They’re going to listen to us. And at some point where they might say something that you find offensive, maybe anti-Semitic, maybe racist, maybe anti-Muslim, maybe—whatever it might be.
MOLINE: Yeah, I have to find a—
QUINN: What is the—
MOLINE: I have to find a way to express that to them—
MOLINE: —without—I don’t want to be too generous here, all right.
QUINN: No, go ahead. It’s all right.
MOLINE: No, no. If somebody says to me, you know, Hitler didn’t do enough, I don’t need to affirm that as his narrative. (Laughter.) On the other hand, I think Suhail’s story is exactly the example of what has to happen. If your friend had stood up and taken off and run, the end of his story would have never been perceived.
And give me your friend’s name. I hate to talk about him as if he doesn’t—
KHAN: Shahbaz (sp).
MOLINE: Shahbaz (sp).
MOLINE: So Shahbaz (sp) would never have known that by putting a face on himself instead of being an image on a television screen, he could bridge a gap between himself and the Phil Robertson clone that he was talking to in the stadium there. It is a matter of being willing to listen to the other person’s story and with honesty reacting to it and saying this part I can embrace; this part is damaging to me and, in my opinion, damaging to you and to the body politic, and we move on from there.
Is that going to solve every problem? It is not. But it is going to bring that gap that we are suffering from right now a little closer to the center, where, in my opinion, it used to be, and give us an opportunity to build a better society, a more beloved community; dare I say it, to make America great again.
QUINN: Well, OK, why not—maybe we could do a little play acting here. So maybe—yeah. So maybe David and Jack—
KIM: (Laughs.) Now we’re a theater company.
QUINN: OK, David and Jack—
MOLINE: End scene.
QUINN: —take opposite positions and come together. I mean, can you think of something that you might—you probably can’t think of anything you disagree with. But, I mean, I’m just thinking about some—
MOLINE: My wife went to the University of Connecticut and you teach at Connecticut College. We have a better women’s basketball team.
KIM: You have better every athletic team. (Laughter.)
MOLINE: OK. See, there it is. He listened to my concern and embraced it. (Laughter.)
QUINN: OK, that’s really boring. (Laughter.)
KIM: Well, can I just say—I just want to say something about the aspiration of the beloved community, because it is an aspiration. It isn’t something that we have ever fully seen in the United States, let alone anywhere in the world. And yet we hold it out. And so, you know, you might ask, well, should we continue to hold out that vision? Because it’s been so difficult to close that gap, as you say.
But if you don’t want to give up on that, how are you going to close that gap, right? So, you know, I don’t want to be the person that says I’m going to give up on love because it’s so hard to realize, right, because the prevailing, presiding ideas of the times are so acidic that it’s going to break me down.
QUINN: Do you have an example of this love thing that you do? (Laughter.) Can you just—
KIM: I’m glad you didn’t say love shack—the love thing that I do. (Laughter.)
QUINN: I mean, just—because, you know, it sounds—it’s all sort of amorphous; I mean, like, a specific concrete example of something that you have tried that has worked.
KIM: That has worked. You know, so the last dialogue session we had was around race, and—
QUINN: Was what?
KIM: Around race and ethnicity. And, you know, truthfully, if there is a topic that could use not just a bit but a lot more love in it, it’s conversations about race and racism. And so when you ask, you know, what’s worked, I think what I would say more accurately is that what is working, and working toward something like the beloved community, is to change the conversation around race, not about, you know, black folks and white folks and Asians and so on as being oppositional, but saying, you know, here are the reasons that I, again, advance my people’s concerns, because I love my people. And there’s something about who you are that compromises the integrity of my people.
And so how—you know, what is it that we can do in this conversation, again, to make that promise, that we’re going to be in some kind of conversation, not necessarily for agreement? You know, it might be—it might be, again, a demand for a bit of forgiveness, right, because racism demands forgiveness on somebody’s part. Racism demands some kind of level of generosity that has not been seen. And so, you know—
KHAN: And we believe in redemption.
KIM: Yeah, please, go ahead.
KHAN: No, I’m just adding. That’s it.
MOLINE: I’ll give you a story.
MOLINE: Mark has heard this, because—
QUINN: OK, we’re going to have his story, and then we’re going to open it up to questions.
MOLINE: Listen, a long time ago, when I was in seminary, when I was studying to be a rabbi, I was in Jerusalem. And Franklin Littell, who I hope some of you know, a Lutheran pastor, had a project that he worked on for most of his life with German seminarians. And he would bring them to Israel for a semester of study, and they would encounter different Jewish communities.
One Saturday afternoon, I and my fellow students were having a study session with them, and the question was about the Holocaust. Eliezer Berkovits, who was a rabbi who considered these questions very deeply, was speaking. And I was very confident of what I knew back then. And I turned to these delightful young Germans, against whom I will admit to a blanket prejudice without knowing them at all, and I said you can’t know. You can try. You can hope. You can talk to us. You can express your love for us. But you can’t know what we’re feeling. And so I would ask you not even to pretend.
And a very lovely young woman who was studying to be a Lutheran minister looked at me and she said, you know, you’re right. She said what I’m struggling with is knowing that the grandfather who dandled me on his knee was a coldblooded murderer.
I have to tell you, there was a paradigm shift in my soul at that moment, because I understood a perspective that I never would have considered on my own if I hadn’t stopped talking to listen to her answer, and if I hadn’t listened to her answer, not just let her talk.
So I think it is indeed possible that we can be changed by seeing each other’s faces and hearing each other’s stories.
QUINN: OK. So who wants to talk? (Laughter.) There’s a hand back there.
QUINN: Well, yeah.
DAULT: Thank you. David Dault from Chicago.
I also have had some conversations with Eboo Patel. And he and I go around and around about this question. I’m very uncomfortable at Nazis talking in public, and he’s comfortable with the marketplace of ideas. And I had a paradigm shift that you—in the way you sort of mentioned. I do a podcast with a person who works at the Field Museum, and she reports to me. She’s a science reporter and an atheist. I’m a person of faith. She reports to me that she works with people who wish very strongly that people like me would never talk in public.
And so I’m struggling with this and would love to hear more about what the panel thinks about, you know, the European model is to not make space for certain types of racist language, certain types of racialist language. The American model is very different. I’m seeing the limits of the American model all around me right now. And I’m just kind of wondering, are we at a place now where America itself, in terms of public discourse, is ready for a paradigm shift?
KHAN: Can I take that?
MOLINE: Knock yourself out.
KHAN: So my feeling on that issue—and I understand that, that there is a lot of obviously hate speech and uncomfortable language that can be in the public arena, particular, of course, now with the Internet. That’s where people—the gloves have really come off, because people can do that anonymously from the comfort of their home.
You know, I have an entire website dedicated to me about—that I used to work for President Bush, that I was a secret al-Qaida mole in the White House. There’s a whole website on that. There’s a whole number of sites that—you know, do I like that? No.
My feeling about that is the best antidote to hate speech is more speech, speech that can counter that, speech from a place of love, from a place of righteousness, that will have to counter that, because I don’t think, by banning it—again, I’m trying to be consistent—government bans on particular types of speech will only drive that underground. And then you would have that continue to grow and fester and metastasize in such a form that you see, in other parts of the globe, where they have very strong laws against content on the Internet and publication of books and speech in the public arena. It does not squelch those ideas, good or bad.
So my thought is—and I caution my Muslim friends, who can be very tough on anti-Muslim hate or cartoons, that we can abhor that and we can dislike it and speak against it, but I would never be for banning that.
MOLINE: I had the chance to ask Khizr Khan that exact question—talk about someone who is on the other side from the current administration—and he gave exactly the same answer.
KIM: I just want to say something briefly. You know, on the—I’m a college professor. So, on the campuses, as you know, there’s a lot of discussion about free speech, whether it’s Milo Yiannopoulos or Ann Coulter showing up at Berkeley or Charles Murray showing up at Middlebury and Columbia and so on. And there is a lot of preemption going on; you know, so a preemptive concern, anxiety, worry that certain forms of speech, certain speakers, will be unacceptable, racist and so on, as opposed to actually engaging—
KIM: —actually showing up face to face, or ear to mouth, as it were, to listen, and then to respond. So my concern is not—and I don’t want this to be an argument about political correctness at all, right, because I think at the heart of arguments around political correctness is a plea for dignity, right, to be respected. But what I want is the chance for young folks, my students, you know, that generation, to really experience first-hand real contestation, real debate, in a loving way, right; in a loving way, not in a preemptive, you know, ideological way.
QUINN: Yes, right over there. Yeah.
HARPER: Thank you.
A couple of thoughts. One is, going back to, David, something that you said when you said this is not Pollyannaish. And I just want to actually echo that. I think you’re exactly right. It’s not Pollyannaish. And I think we need to think strategically about this. The reality is that 75 percent of all Americans claim faith; 76 percent, according to some estimates, at least.
And if that’s true—and actually the highest percentage of the devout are among African-Americans and Evangelicals. So if the highest percentage of people who actually claim faith are people who are devout, then it actually goes—it stands to reason that the substance of their faith, which does call them to loving the other even before you love the self, would be something that we could actually call people of faith to.
And that actually places faith communities and faith leaders in an extremely important position, because we cannot shift the wind, as my boss, Jim Wallis, would say, without actually shifting the attitudes and the vision of our future of people—of faith communities, because it makes up the majority of the country. The majority of the country is not secular. It’s actually people of faith.
And the second thing is that when you asked the question of where’s the cutoff—I mean, I thought that was a really profound question. And for me, as somebody who lives in a black woman’s body with ancestry in literally, I mean, almost every continent, the reality is that the cutoff for me is when you vote against my body; like, when you vote against my life—not just vote, but shoot me. You know what I mean? Like, when your thinking moves from dialogue into active work that causes threat to my life and my family and my community, that’s the cutoff.
MANDAVILLE: This is a question, I guess, mainly for David, but very keen to hear from any of you.
When I think of the kind of modalities and spaces where the kinds of agonistic solidarities that you reach towards through engagement and working together through disagreement and contention, the fact that we circulate information and knowledge about each other these days in spaces that are so often echo chambers of groupthink, through social-media platforms that are based on algorithms that privilege, incentivize, crave, and monetize sensation, hyperbole, and an utter lack of nuance, it just seems to me an impossible battle to surmount. So how would you create a space, a platform, whose algorithm takes us towards the kind of politics you’re looking for?
KIM: Yeah. No, I hear you.
MOLINE: That’s a great question.
KIM: You know, immediately I think you need to break space from social media, you know, so that—I mean, we evolve—maybe not all of us, but most of us have a certain kind of dependency, let’s say addiction, to it, where it takes the place of real interaction and engagements, you know, because, you know, I think about the—for example, the quality of my students’ writing. (Laughter.) Right? And, you know, because they’re writing like this. They’re writing like this, with a kind of urgency, right? And you can’t really speak to each other this way if you’re talking face to face.
Now, I’m not saying, you know, it’s possible to do it all the time. But we can change habits. You know, I was thinking about this, Lisa, when you were talking about, you know, inheritances. And, you know, cultures are only vibrant based on the agents of the culture, meaning it’s people that make a culture alive.
And so if our country is, again, like the filter bubbles that you’re talking about, where, you know, it’s just me, myself, and I, and then me, myself, and I, some other version of that, as opposed to, you know, being in a room, even over a lunch conversation here, where there wasn’t, you know, rabid agreement with everything I said—maybe there was; I don’t know—but the sense in which, you know, to really sit with actual disagreement in person is a very different feeling than the abstraction of seeing it on a screen.
And again, so what am I saying? I’m saying take the risk to break the space from social media. Take the risk of actually being with somebody in person, because it’s an act of courage, right, because that’s not an easy thing to do. I should know. I mean, it’s agonism, right?
MOLINE: We have to be prepared to lose for a while—
MOLINE: —before we win.
KHAN: One thing I’ll add is that it also requires going to uncomfortable places, is getting out of that bubble, because I think that is one of the challenges with the Internet is that people—and the media, as siloed as it is now—is that people are completely only reading and hearing things that reinforce their own worldview. You watch Fox. You watch MSNBC. They’re certain worldviews. They’re of the same news, has a completely different narrative.
KIM: You know, just a brief word about the idea of losing something. I’ve been thinking a lot about the word sacrifice, you know, the root of which is sacer facere, right, to make holy. And so what is it to think about sacrifice not as giving up, but actually to make something holy or sacred, right; to give up some sense of comfort, to sit with that discomfort for a while.
MOLINE: And ironically, the Hebrew word for that is korban, which means to draw close.
KIM: Nice. There you go.
MCGRAW: I wanted to problematize the division-of-the-heart idea here to altruistic and selfish. And it actually ties in with the idea of sacrifice make holy, and that is, it’s very easy for demagogues, ideological movements, et cetera, to call on the altruistic side of people for very, very difficult, very, very evil things.
And so sometimes we create these dichotomies, right. Make holy, for example, sounds really great. But people have been burned at the stake to be made holy because their bodies were thought to be evil in past history. We can talk about it in terms of—I used to be a corporate finance attorney, and I helped to put America into junk-bond debt in the 1980s. I bought the whole thing, that creative destruction was good for America; throw people out of work. And I was—oh, God, that just felt really terrible when all those people lost their jobs. But I was doing something to help our country be more efficient.
And so we can even look at the people who followed Hitler as, well, oh, God, this is really terrible. We’re killing these people. But it’s going to be better for everyone in the long run.
And so we have to be really careful about how we divide these things. And I—it takes me back to what you were talking about at the beginning—values, morals. These things have to be spelled out a whole lot more; equal inherent dignity of every human being, equality. We can have a conversation about what equality means, but it doesn’t mean not equality.
And so sometimes when we throw out these words like love, altruism, and what is selfish, et cetera, I think sometimes it can be too vague and potentially problematic. And I wonder what you have to say about that. So I’m—
MOLINE: Thank you. That’s a very important observation. And I hope that by using this metaphor—because I do not believe literally that there are two chambers in the heart—I hope that by using this metaphor I didn’t give you the impression that I thought that this was the only way to view the dilemmas that face our society.
In fact, if there is a great argument for pluralism, it is the fact that not just in humanity, but in thought, the things that didn’t occur to you because of where you’re standing may be very well the things that will enlighten you to go where you need to go. So, yes, you can misuse altruism and selfishness if that is the only methodology that you’re using to view society.
But if there is a broader reality, if there’s a broader sense of what is necessary to create the kind of community that is—let’s choose the value you chose—egalitarian in every sense of the word, then there are lots of other influences that have to come. And I need to know what that means from Hinduism. I need to know what that means from Buddhism. I need to know what it means from Confucianism. I need to know what it means from secularists, because, locked as I am in my Abrahamic mode, I’m likely not to think from the perspective that could liberate me from the very deficiencies of the community of my choice.
CAREY: Galen Carey, National Association of Evangelicals.
We used to have this quaint idea that partisanship stopped at our borders, and so when we dealt with foreign affairs that we wouldn’t engage in the kind of partisan rivalry that we might in domestic issues. So the question is, do you see any—is there any promise in this area of foreign relations as being a venue in which we could generate more common interest and understanding, as opposed to some of the issues closer to home?
KHAN: I would say that that moniker about, you know, politics stopping at the water’s edge was kind of a fiction; personally, in my experience, has been a fiction. One of the—you know, for decades there has been criticism of one party to the other on their foreign policy; you know, heightened during the Cold War, one party wanting to be tougher on communism than the other, and since then.
So I—and now allegations of Russian meddling in the election. I don’t see that abating in any, you know, discernible way, unfortunately. I think it’ll continue. And you can just see this last trip, you know, this last trip that Sally articulated of the president’s. Depending on where you stood on the president, you thought it was a resounding success or you thought it was an embarrassment. It really depends on your politics.
So I don’t—I never really saw that admonition that, you know, our politics should be reserved domestically and that it should stop at the water’s edge as being real. That’s just my thought.
But I will—if I can use your hat as being with the NAE as an example for the larger discussion here when it comes to our politics—and you may know this—this president has the largest support from the Evangelical community, more so than President Reagan or George W. Bush.
And so that’s something I also would use as a marker to learn, as was said earlier, that people of faith strongly identified—of a particular faith strongly identified with this president. And I think that’s something to study, but also that I believe affords opportunities for those who are engaged with the Evangelical Christian community, who identify themselves as Evangelical Christians, to engage, again, in common values, that we can have a shared sense of value, but that there are also ways to do it.
I took Evangelical—when the spike, anti-Muslim spike, began, you know, I worked at IGE, which is an Evangelical Christian think tank, and we took Evangelical leaders to Syria in 2009, well before the current conflict, because we wanted to see a country that was majority-Muslim where Christians were living peaceably at the time.
And one of the leaders that came with us was a pastor named Bob Roberts from Keller, Texas, just outside Dallas, who, you know, asked me some very basic questions at the time. Would a Muslim come to an Evangelical Christian’s home for a meal? Would he eat the meal there? What could he eat? What could he not eat?
That led to me going to his church. And Bob did a little bit of sleight of hand when I spoke to his group. He called me up after he was talking about loving your neighbor. He didn’t identify me by name at first. He said, you know, I was wearing jeans and a belt buckle and boots, like I normally do when I’m not wearing a coat and tie. He said, what kind of music do you like? We talked about country music. Who do you work for? At the time, I was working for George W. The church loved me. And Bob backstage told me later that, up until then, they just thought you were another Mexican. (Laughter.)
And then he said—then he dropped, you know, the last note on the audience and said, by the way, Suhail is a Muslim. And there were people in that church who came up afterward and said, look, I don’t come to church to hear from a Muslim. I don’t need to meet a Muslim. But there were many more that said I want to learn and engage. And so that’s what goes back to the conversation earlier about going into spaces where you don’t necessarily feel comfortable to have those conversations so that that work can be done.
ISAAC: Well, this discussion reminded me of correspondence between Einstein and Freud. I think the League of Nations asked Einstein to—whether peace and love is possible and to ask somebody he respects for an answer. So he wrote a letter to Freud and said, is peace and love going to be possible? And Freud said no, because there is instinct of love and instinct of hate. And he said the instinct of hate is so strong that he doesn’t believe. I’m sorry. I’m an optimist myself. I wasn’t a pessimist like him.
So, in that correspondence, however, Freud ended up by saying, well, maybe if there is a way—this is related, by the way, to the concept of yaserah (ph) and yasetantof (ph) that you mentioned, the instinct of whatever.
MOLINE: Altruism is healthy.
ISAAC: Altruism, yeah. Well, that’s OK—(inaudible).
In any case, it’s very discouraging when you read Freud’s answer that this is built into our nature to be hateful, to be violent, instinct of—he called it instinct of violence. However, in the last correspondence, he said to him, look, I am going to work with you. If there’s any way of finding a way of controlling that instinct of violence, I will still try to work with you, although you’re an optimist; I am a pessimist.
So—and I like myself to be an optimist and so on. And I hope that—(laughs)—maybe things will be worked out if human beings say we have to train, educate our instinct, because those are really instinct. They are built into our flesh and blood.
MOLINE: So here’s my response to that as a person of faith. I have no control over your instinct to hate. I have no control over your instinct to violence; not just you, but anybody. But my faith teaches—
ISAAC: I don’t hate, by the way. I don’t have that instinct myself.
MOLINE: Great. What my faith teaches me is how to address my own instinct to hate and to violence. And that’s the contribution that we, as people of faith and purveyors of faith, can have on this community is to model, first of all, and to teach, second of all, how to address those instincts so they do not become normative, but instead they become matters of the struggle, the jihad, that we each have within ourselves to perfect our lives.
KIM: Which was, of course, Freud’s preoccupation with religion as well. He thought religion was the most elaborate, sophisticated way to handle these instincts to death and so on.
GADDY: I have sat and struggled, in listening to the back and forths of this. And what it reminds me of, as we talk about anything, almost, these days, there are at least two sides, and those two sides are against each other and can’t quite find a way to talk. When David said what he did about love being most important, I agreed with that. When Sally said that sounds Pollyannaish, I agreed with that.
And I—if you’ll let me just do a memory from the past, I think there may be something here, because the point I want to make is that all of these conversations have to be holistic. And we tend to go here and then here, and then we don’t see how we get this together.
It was the morning after President Clinton made his confession at the White House about his wrongdoing, and just as we were going into the impeachment process. I was on Fox News, and forgive me for that. (Laughter.) But I was on Fox News. And the question was, OK, how should we view President Clinton? And I said with love, and if you are really concerned about Evangelical Christianity, and with forgiveness. And then I said, but that doesn’t mean that if impeachment is in order, impeachment should not take place. And if he is guilty, justice needs to prevail.
And I think it’s really important for us to—because we’re torn in two different directions, there is a politic and there is a religion. And those two can come together at times, but it’s difficult, because you operate in two different ways. And so as we’ve talked this afternoon, my thought has been there are two perspectives on almost everything we’re talking about. And the perspective about politics is in some ways different from the politic—from the perspective of religion. We may be able to get them together. But if we can’t, let’s live in relation to individuals with love and let’s deal with politics and those issues with justice.
KIM: May I respond to that?
KIM: You know, as you were speaking, I was thinking—you know, so I’m a Confucian and a Christian, right, which means that I’m born out of traditions of ethics and love. But I find that the text I go back to so much when thinking about these questions about forgiveness is Baldwin, James Baldwin, you know, our great secular gospel writer. And when Baldwin writes in The Fire Next Time, that letter to his nephew, and he says, look, you know, white supremacy is torrential. And he says I hate to break it to you, but, you know, we have to forgive those white innocents, right.
And Baldwin’s very specific about this. He invokes radical love. He says we have to forgive them, because we’re the only ones that can save the nation through that forgiveness. That’s not arrogance. That’s not, you know, love and—I mean, religion and politics being apart from each other. You know, at that point Baldwin is a lapsed Christian. But he says, you know, there has to be forgiveness, even though we’ve been subjected to centuries of unforgivable sins. That’s the only way we’re going to realize our country.
QUINN: You’ve already spoken.
Let’s see. How about you?
ALEXANDER: Daniel, just to push a little bit more, right, and I think build on what Weldon was saying. So Bonhoeffer in 1938 said, as you know, only the one who cries out for the Jews may sing Gregorian chant. That means by taking—making a statement like that and taking a stand like that, that you are going to put yourself in a position where others will see you as their enemy. But fighting for something and standing for something doesn’t mean you’re necessarily fighting against those who don’t share your values.
So, insofar as relationships are sacred, sometimes detaching in relationship or ending relationship or choosing not to be in relationship has an equally sacred value. And there are different power dynamics that people experience, right.
So I guess what I’m—what I want this to boil down to is that I’m not sure that radical love—and maybe you agree—is a one-size-fits-all deal, right. So there are some folks that, because of what they experienced and because of what they stand for, can’t be in the room with some other people and aren’t even ready to hear what they’re—what they’re saying. And that doesn’t mean that that’s necessarily someone who’s anti-dialogic and who is part of the problem, I would say, as long as those people are not actively setting themselves in opposition to those others but are pursuing the goal of justice with rigor that they’re pursuing.
And even today, in certain conversations, when people have spoken out of their experience of oppression, and even went so far as to name who they think their oppressors are, others spoke up and sort of accused them, in very polite ways, of being anti-dialogic. This is not going to work. This is only going to further divisions in our society.
And so I think it’s dangerous. It’s a slippery slope to suggest that this tough, radical love, right, comes—means being nice to everybody. I know—
KIM: Oh, no, no. I’m not saying to be nice.
ALEXANDER: Or forgiving people, right, before there is rectification of wrong, right. So one of the things you can’t do is if you belong to an oppressed group and you continue to experience oppression at the hands of others, right, to be asked to forgive while that oppression is ongoing, I’m not sure that’s extremely consonant with Christian theology, or at least my interpretation of Christian theology.
KIM: Well, I wasn’t calling Baldwin a Christian theologian. I was—
ALEXANDER: No, no, no, I know you weren’t. And I don’t think Baldwin was actually saying that forgiving the people who—the whites, who are also a victim of white supremacy, entails not being conflictual and facing people down and detaching from people. That’s all.
KIM: Not at all.
KIM: Not at all. I mean, so the—I mean, if you mean by disassociating being something like having to preserve enough of yourself so that you might be able to endure, you know, through this contestation, absolutely. But Baldwin wasn’t saying, you know, to his nephew forgive and forget. He was saying forgive and remember, right. That’s where the justice is.
QUINN: T.D. Jakes once said to me I may forgive, but I never forget. (Laughs.)
ALEXANDER: I think he was also saying you’re going to have to, at some point, forgive. I don’t think he’s saying before you work it through yourself—
KIM: No, no, no.
ALEXANDER: —you have to operate out of a position of blanket forgiveness.
KIM: No, no. And again, like, you know—so this is a good example of Baldwin not being preemptive.
ALEXANDER: Right. Right.
QUINN: Yes. Well, let’s see, we’ve got somebody who hasn’t spoken yet.
MOLINE: Like, three rows from the back, a guy’s been waiting, like, forever.
MOLINE: Wave so she knows who you are. Yeah, back there.
QUINN: OK. Oh, did you find it? OK.
MUCHINA: Thank you very much.
Actually, I had that burning question the whole time, that—so I’m willing to dialogue. I’m willing to listen. But at the same time, I’m willing to hold someone accountable—
MUCHINA: —for their actions and also for their rhetoric that produces harm.
MUCHINA: And I think of women in Kenya, who have been advised to forgive their husbands and pray for them while they are being beaten up on a daily basis. And so even in this environment of pluralism and listening to one another, I still want to hold that accountability very, very closely—
MUCHINA: —so that I don’t continue to see people being abused while I’m trying—while you’re abusing people, I’m having—I’m listening to you and having dialogue with you.
KIM: No, no, no, no. Absolutely. And, look, I don’t—I don’t actually want to be mistaken to say that dialogue fixes everything, right. It’ll change a dynamic.
You know, one thing we say in Love-Driven Politics is it’s important to be tough-minded and tender-hearted, right. And the tough-minded here is really important, because it is about accountability. It is about not forgetting. And it’s an insistence that things should be different, right, again, not because it’s Pollyannaish, not because it’s easy to do.
QUINN: You said there was somebody back there?
MOLINE: Go ahead. You know who you are.
MOLINE: And we don’t, so tell us.
QUINN: Is there anybody way back there that—
QUINN: —Jack is identifying?
MOLINE: We got it. We got it. No, no, no.
COLECCHI: I’m Steve Colecchi. I’m with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
MOLINE: Oh. Hi, Steve.
MOLINE: The light’s in my face. Sorry.
COLECCHI Good to see you.
In our highly polarized society, what I worry about is whether we have the institutional capacities any longer to build bridges of communication in a culture where we live, as was pointed out earlier, in communication ghettoes. So, I mean, we can’t do, you know, 300 million one on ones.
I just wonder, how do we break through in media, in social media, in—how do we create the forums? Where are the forums for the kind of communication that would be necessary that would allow the kind of conversation we’re having, but on a major scale, so that the country can overcome—I grew up in the area where there were three networks. Now there are, you know, 150 channels, and that’s if you buy the low-cost package. So how do we create the forums where there can be national dialogue around key questions that we face as a people?
KIM: So I’m just offering an example that’s in process right now. So I’m a part of a group called the Empathy Lab that’s sponsored by Columbia University’s Digital Storytelling Lab and Refinery 29. Refinery 29 is a fashion-culture-politics-media company website.
Refinery 29, their reach is around 500 million unique users a month. And so, you know, they have been willing to work with us to create these Empathy Labs around love, democracy, and race. We propose to go to college campuses and to, you know, build toolkits, conversations, and so on.
It’s not easy. But media here actually can be an ally, as it were, right, a useful thing. But it has to be different than the media that we’re consuming now.
MOLINE: And I would add to that. First of all, if you were all members of Interfaith Alliance, we’d have a much stronger voice. But—(laughter)—
KIM: And here’s a membership card. (Laughs.)
MOLINE: I wouldn’t—I wouldn’t dismiss the power of every priest, every imam, every rabbi, every pastor, every cleric of any kind, standing up in a pulpit and saying—or even 80 percent of them I’ll take—standing up and delivering this message. It is—it is pretty much the only time during a week, during the week, that this cohort of people is more likely to be listening to a human being talk to them in person than through the mitigated message on a screen somewhere.
And I think that we in this room have the power to promote that. Particularly someone who sits in Catholic headquarters in Washington, D.C. has the power to promote that among the people who carry that message each week.
I make no criticism of the young man who’s the rabbi at my synagogue now, but he teaches me a lesson from the Torah each week that has little or nothing to do with what happens to me when I walk out of the sanctuary. I need to hear from him a reinforcement of what I’m saying to you right now so that it’s validated by a voice of authority. And, yes, there’s something wrong with every voice of authority that presents itself. And every religious tradition has its shortcomings.
But this message we all have in common. It’s where David started, right. We all believe that there is a spark of stardust inside of us, whatever the origin of that was, that gives us something in common and that there is more that we have in common than drives us apart. And if that message is delivered more frequently than can you believe what that guy or that woman who wants to be president just did, that would be a huge difference in this society.
KIM: That’s beautiful.
KHAN: And there’s a real—I’ll add to that. There’s a real hunger for that.
KHAN: I think in the ’70s and ’80s, the early kind of interfaith movement, at least the perception was that it was kind of all roads lead to heaven. And there was kind of a reluctance to really deal with hard, difficult issues. That isn’t the case now with what I call multi-faith conversations, where people can be authentically Jewish, authentically Muslim, authentically Christian, and make no compromise about their respective vision when it comes to salvation, but also continue to love each other and work on challenges that we face as citizens here in this country and letting God figure out the salvation part, and maybe even compete for the salvation part in doing good deeds in the society.
And I think what I’m finding, in working with Jewish and Christian friends, is that even my naysayer Muslim friends who say, you know, they’re never going to accept you or you should never work with Jews or never work with Christians, they come around eventually when they see us doing important work in our local communities or even on a national or international level.
People want to be proven wrong when it comes to this type of work. But it takes people of authentic religious perspective, who have credibility when it comes to their own faith, with their own religious groups, to take that first step. And that’s happening. That’s happening more and more. We need more individuals to be doing that so that we can model that behavior for others.
QUINN: Well, I want to thank—I think we’ve run out of time. I want to thank our fabulous panel. Aren’t they incredible? (Applause.)