Nothing is gained and much is lost if we describe the terrorists as evil,” a friend of mine argued recently. I disagree. Our difference can be traced back to a division in moral philosophy. My friend is a moral expressivist. He views moral judgments as expressions of feelings, desires and wants.
Anyone who has done much hospital calling knows about the awakening that often accompanies serious illness or injury. All of a sudden, someone who ran a small business (or a large household) cannot walk to the bathroom unassisted. Sitting upright in a chair for two hours becomes a full day’s work, and tomorrow’s goal includes eating solid food.
When the new war has become an old war, and a new world has emerged from it, what will the religious landscape look like? “There are no atheists in foxholes,” a young friend reminds me, “and now the whole world is a foxhole.” Admittedly this is an exaggeration.
On September 11, I was scheduled to lecture on Simone Weil’s classic essay, “The Love of God and Affliction.” I never made it to class—it was canceled due to the devastating, horrifying news of the World Trade Center attacks. We immediately organized a prayer service for the divinity school community—but what could be said, even in the context of prayer?
Now is the time to warn ourselves of the dangers of impregnability. True, as a country we have been violated in a most brutal way, and we’ll have to make sure that we are safe in the future. And yet the way we are going about securing our safety, especially after September 11, is deeply flawed.
Josephine Finda Sellu, a nurse supervisor, is on the front line of the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone. She lost 15 of her nurses in rapid succession. As other workers left the hospital, her family begged her to quit her job. Some of her colleagues have been abandoned by their families due to fear of the disease. Usually a tower of strength, Sellu cries when she talks about the nurses she’s lost to the disease. She sometimes wishes she had become a secretary instead, but she sees her job as a healer as a calling from God (New York Times, August 23).