We all learned, that terrible morning, that we could die
while reaching for a piece of toast at breakfast.
God chose the weak things of the world to shame the
Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:27
 We are still searching for a language to interpret the
complexity of reactions and challenges following the terrorist
attacks 9/11/2001.1 The language and logic of the
righteous war against evil strike many of us as too primitive. Both
our common experience and our spiritual heritage tell us that the
distribution of good and evil is not that straightforward and
easily detectable. How can we as Christians and churches contribute
towards creating a platform situated beyond pure antagonism to
understand the present situation?
 The terrorist attacks and the so-called "War on Terrorism"
has led to a heightened awareness of human vulnerability. This
paper proposes that a new look at the meaning of both human
security and human vulnerability will lead to a more profound
understanding of the present challenges-an understanding that is
rooted in both our biblical heritage and in our everyday experience
of the phenomenon of vulnerability.
 There are two basic responses to the challenges arising from
a heightened awareness of human vulnerability. The first and most
obvious is this: As churches we should support all the efforts that
are made to eliminate domestic and foreign threats against our
security and give all our spiritual support to the identification
of and fight against the evils that are threatening us. All other
responses would stem from a well-meant but naïve idealism that
ignores or distorts the facts.2
 The second possible response is to see this new awareness of
human vulnerability as an opportunity to rethink our understanding
of human security. This is the course taken in this paper.
 Both a general phenomenological approach and an approach
taking its departure in biblical faith find finitude, dependency
and vulnerability as defining parts of being human. More than that,
vulnerability as exposure and openness marks the human being as a
fundamentally relational creature. The definition of human as
dependent and susceptible is therefore prior to the determination
of her as independent, autonomous and self-contained. Vulnerability
is no lamentable fact; we find vulnerability at the heart of what
it means to be human.
 In a culture that to an ever-increasing extent is
characterized by the dream of control and predictability, security
has come to be defined as the opposite of vulnerability. This
security-concept runs the risk of detaching itself from human
reality and thus of creating the opposite of what it wants. Rather
than building a better and more secure world for all, it risks
shaping a reality that is harder, more cynical and violent.
 If this is right, it has serious implications. The dream of
invulnerability would have to be replaced by an ethics of
vulnerability. This, in its turn, would have concrete consequences
for policymaking and political decisions on all levels.
Vulnerability and biblical faith
 "Vulnerability" is not a biblical word. The notion of
vulnerability, however, is central to a faith that finds its
norma normans in the New Testament writings. The
vulnerability of Jesus is pivotal to the Good News of Jesus as told
in the Gospels. From the story of his birth to his crucifixion,
Jesus is both depicted as vulnerable and as consciously holding on
to this vulnerability, not as a weakness, but as strength. His
crucifixion can only be understood as victory as long as we see and
recognize this strength. His victory was won because he did not bow
to the temptations of converting his heavenly origin into worldly
power. He acknowledged his own vulnerability as essentially human.
Moreover, his option for the poor, weak and marginalized points to
a recognition of the vulnerability of the other as an opening to
the coming of the kingdom of God.
 In this way Jesus stands as the fulfillment of the "ethical
monotheism" of the Old Testament. From Amos forward one of the
principal trains of thought in the great literary prophets is the
reaction to a "hierarchical monotheism" identifying the power of
the powerful with the blessings of God. In the literary prophets
social injustice is seen as the kernel of idolatry. Even though
much of the focus of some prophets is on the syncretism of the
cult, it is repeatedly made clear that God will accept neither a
right cultic worship nor a strict personal piety if it is not
followed by social righteousness.3
 This is of special importance. The primacy of social
justice means that the ethical potential of monotheism is brought
out. Instead of legitimizing the power of a chosen people or
political elite, as hierarchical monotheism does, monotheism here
underlines the rights and equality of all before the one God.
Idolatry, at its core, consists of shutting one's eyes to the
ethical demands emanating from the vulnerability of the other
human. When the powerful fuse their interest with the will of God,
they make for themselves an idol. Holding on to this idol, they
exclude themselves from perceiving and receiving the gifts of the
Monotheism means social justice, not elitism. Vulnerability means a
call for goodness and openness to God and fellow human beings. God
is removed from the earthly throne, and in a double movement "the
high and lofty One" is placed "in a high and holy place, but also
with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit."5
 The four so-called "Servant Songs" are of special
importance here.6 In all four passages the
servant, as the one who is leading the remnant to its restoration
is portrayed as meek (42:2-3), powerless (49:4), despised and
taunted (50:6). In the fourth and last of the songs, the servant is
desolate all the way to death (53:8). He is carrying the pains and
the illnesses of the ones to be saved, even their misdeeds and
guilt. The locus of salvation is removed away from the throne into
the depths of human vulnerability and suffering, where a certain
identification of the one bringing salvation and the ones receiving
it is taking place.
 Thus, neither the ones making out the righteous remnant of
Israel nor the recipients of the gifts of salvation are
characterized by worldly wealth, wisdom or power. In the same way
as the powerful exclude themselves from the gifts of the one God,
the poor, downtrodden and desolate are open to the same gifts.
Through their deep recognition of vulnerability and through their
acknowledgement of dependence on the mighty and merciful God they
are receptive to the grace of God.
 In the prophetic message, therefore, humility,
powerlessness and vulnerability were ultimately seen as openness to
the coming kingdom of God, a kingdom seen in opposition to the
kingdoms of the apostate earthly rulers. The judgment of God would
befall the latter. Upon the poor ones, the gifts of God would be
bestowed, either directly or through human agency.
 This all-important layer of the Old Testament tradition
prepared the ground for understanding Christ as the suffering
servant of the second Isaiah and the recipients of salvation as the
wounded and powerless. The New Testament can rightly be seen as the
conclusion of this development and cannot be understood properly
without it. Putting it boldly, the approach towards vulnerability
that is found in the literary prophets of the Old Testament is the
key to interpreting the central message of the Gospels.
 One example of this is the parable of the Good
This parable is, in many ways, the zenith of a message seeing
vulnerability as openness to the coming of the kingdom of God. That
which is hidden to the authorities is revealed to the despised
Samaritan. The content of this revelation is that all are equal in
the eyes of the one almighty and merciful God and that this
equality has concrete ethical implications. This again points to a
human fellowship that breaks all borders of social status, faith
and nationality. At the same time, the one telling the parable is
seen as the one coming down to save humankind from its misery. In
the grand narrative he is identified to such a degree with the
vulnerable and wounded of this world that we really cannot decide
if he should be understood as the savior or the one saved in this
parable. All together this means that the parable of the Good
Samaritan, and with it vulnerability as essentially human and as a
call for goodness, is placed at the center of the Gospel of Jesus
as the Christ.
Security and Vulnerability as opposites
 I started this paper by observing that terrorism and the "war
on terrorism" have led to a heightened awareness of human
vulnerability. Following this, security is more than ever on top of
the current political agenda. The ruling definition of security
places is in opposition to vulnerability. According to this
definition, an increase in security is equivalent to a reduction in
vulnerability. Security is good-it is what we want. Vulnerability
is bad-it is what we do not want.
 This, both the focus on security and its definition, is the
end result of a long development. The successes of science and
technology have led modern man and woman to take features essential
to human existence-interdependence, dependence, vulnerability and
death-as accidental. The bearing values of modernity tell us that
the ideal human being is independent, self-sufficient and
invulnerable. All limits to human reality are either defined as
illness or evil.
 This is an oversimplification, but the general trend is
there, and it has consequences on all levels of human reality. The
image of self and the image of the other get distorted; this
applies both to the individual self and other and to the collective
self and other (i.e. my own nation, Islam and so on). The
independent and self-sufficient self perceives the otherness of the
other as a threat. Security is then defined in opposition to
vulnerability. To be secure is to be invulnerable. Following this,
we should note, ethics has been suppressed in the fields of
politics, economics and science.
Human security as Preconditioned by
 There is another understanding of security, though. Please
follow me in a simple illustration: The security of a city, let us
say New York, can be of two categories: It can be brought about by
armed police on every street corner, surveillance-cameras and
checkpoints. This is a security feeding on and breeding fear. It is
not the basic form of security in any society, although some
societies have approached and are approaching such a situation.
 The basic form of human security, in New York and in all
places, is a fundamental and unarticulated feeling of safety-a
sense of security that brings people near to each other, without
fear, seeking or giving help. This other kind of security is as
constant and ineradicable as human vulnerability itself, and it
cannot be defined as the opposite to vulnerability. Vulnerability
is a precondition of human security. Security in its basic human
form rests on a mutual recognition of shared vulnerability. This
mutual recognition of vulnerability leads to a restoration of the
distorted relationship between self and other.
 Therefore, the goal of security politics can never be to
remove human vulnerability, but as we leave aside the hubris of the
modern mind, the goal is to develop a culture of confidence, trust
and peace to protect indelibly vulnerable human beings.
High Politics and the Primacy of Ethics
 The terrorist attacks and their consequences have brought
about a new and shared sense of vulnerability. In these times of
fear and insecurity the basic understanding of human security is
reemerging as an alternative possibility to interpret human
existence. Reaching the forefront of our consciousness, this
interpretation forces us to conceptualize and theorize anew. The
reemergence of the basic understanding of security is also and at
the same time the reemergence of ethics in public and political
 This infringes upon the prevailing conception in many
circles that ethics has to be separated from politics, and
especially from high politics. The ethics of shared vulnerability,
as I have described it, is primary, and therefore prior to all
other fields of knowledge and praxis. As such, it is primary to the
traditional separation of politics from ethics. Seen in this light,
the view of high politics as an a-ethical field is untenable.
 What are the consequences of a conception of security based,
not on its opposition to, but on a shared sense of, human
vulnerability? They are many and important. I will, inside the
limits set, point to some of them with a few sentences of
explanation attached to each point:
 1. Political legitimacy
The first point is political legitimacy. The legitimacy of
political power is always and ultimately derived from the right to
protection emanating from the vulnerable other. The vulnerability
of the other human underlies the legitimacy of political authority.
The origin of political power, authority and sovereignty is the
right and responsibility to protect the vulnerable other.
 2. The right to protection and the limits of the
use of force
The ethics and politics of a shared vulnerability do not
do away with political power and the use of force. As founding a
political praxis it belongs to this world and is not idealistic in
a "utopian" sense. Enforced security will be necessary as people
will take advantage of and abuse the vulnerability of the
 But the anchoring of political authority in the right to
protect also sets limits to its tools and ways of execution. The
responsible decision-maker thus has to operate with both of the two
approaches to security that I have outlined. One based upon
constraining security measures, the other and more fundamental one
taking mutual vulnerability as its point of departure.
 3. The asymmetry and the power of the
The third consequence is that the demand for protective action is
asymmetrically distributed. As vulnerability and the misuse of this
vulnerability are not equally distributed, neither is the
entitlement to protection. The need for protection resides
primarily with the wounded and the poor-with the victims.
 4. Implications for all levels of human
In so many cases the separation of ethics from politics has led to
an exemption from responsibility-leading to propaganda, lies and
unjust wars. This is no longer a tenable position. The ethics of
shared vulnerability joins a long-time trend of making the leaders
of our nations wholly responsible, suspending impunity and making
rhetoric, propaganda and lies intolerable strategies to convince
the public. An ethics of shared vulnerability enhances
responsibility, transparency and accountability for decision-makers
at all levels: in the family, the local community, in
congregations, organizations and for political leaders.
 5. The ethics of vulnerability versus the doctrine
Recognizing the vulnerability of the other makes his or her
otherness signify responsibility and care. A mutual recognition of
vulnerability is an entrance to security as trust and confidence.
In time, the dynamic mutuality of this recognition will lead to a
culture of peace on all levels of society.
 This peace is both to be respected and protected through
the strict limitation of the use of armed force. The only exception
to this limitation is when all other means have been tried to end
misuse and abuse of vulnerability. The only one to sanction this
exception is the proper collective body.
 Today, the otherness of the other is so often seen as a
hostile threat. The doctrine of the preventive use of aggressive
force makes this enmity reciprocal. When this violent prevention
becomes a doctrine, it runs counter to the culture of human
security and peace that the ethics of shared vulnerability seeks to
support. Legally it is as illogical as a law-based vigilantism.
Therefore, we as individuals, churches and organizations stand
before the joint and vital effort to reintroduce the UN as the only
right authority to sanction the exception of armed enforcement in
 6. Living within limitations, the dream of
The responsibility to protect is not to remove human vulnerability,
but to protect indelibly vulnerable humans from the abuse of their
vulnerability. Any effort that has as its only goal to eradicate
human vulnerability is at the same time reducing the humanity of
the human. A politics following the dream of invulnerability stands
the risk of reaching the opposite of its intentions: rather than
reducing vulnerability, it risks making human interaction colder,
harder and more violent.
 7. Mutual recognition of vulnerability as basic for
a good life
The last and positive consequence is that the indelibility of these
basic features-vulnerability, finitude, sensibility and the
possibilities both of being caressed and hurt-is not a lamentable
fact, but the basic precondition of a good and meaningful life-of
joy, proximity and community. They implicate openness to the
surroundings, to nature, to fellow human beings and to
Concluding notes and quotes
 We still live in the shadow of meaningless terror and
spiraling violence. The purpose of this paper has been to show that
inherent in a more honest and human approach to the relationship
between security and vulnerability lies the possibility of a
culture of peace. The churches can play an important part in making
this possibility real. The central message of the Christian Gospel
strengthens the ethical call coming out from life in community.
 A mutual recognition of human vulnerability has important
consequences for supporting a culture of peace and human security,
and it makes actors on all levels responsible for taking part in
 After the attacks in 2001, the General Secretary of The
World Council of Churches, Konrad Raiser, invited leaders from the
global church to discuss the situation. Following several days of
talks, Raiser pointed to "the genuine manifestation of solidarity
and sympathy with the people of the United States." He also asked a
question: "Will the people of the United
States now be prepared in turn to share in the condition of
vulnerability and victimhood which has been the dominant experience
of people in other parts of the world?"9
 From where I stand, I cannot see that the United States and
its coalition partners have lived up to that part of the challenge.
Now the time has come to do that. There are now new voices in this
country that give us reasons to believe that future efforts will
use a shared recognition of human vulnerability as a starting-point
to make better world for all.
 Allow me, reaching the end of this paper, to quote the full
paragraph of how one year after, the New York journalist Pete
Hamill remembered the terrorist attacks:
We stood on street corners together, manual
laborers and dot-com workers, mothers and children, all staring
downtown at the smoldering stumps of the towers. We asked about
children, and dogs, and survivors. The emotions of awe, horror,
rage were gone quickly, replaced by a shared sense of
vulnerability. That is what remains: vulnerability. […] We
all learned, that terrible morning, that we could die while
reaching for a piece of toast at breakfast. Where I live, that
knowledge has made us more human.10
My hope is that this shared sense of vulnerability can lead our
ethical thinking and political strategies towards strengthening
human security for all people. Keeping close to the central message
of the Gospel and not yielding to the pressures and temptations of
the powers of this world, the churches should be one of the
principal actors contributing towards reaching this goal.
1 This paper was presented at a seminar in the Church
House of the United Nations on October 31, 2003. I have
rewritten the Introduction and added the part "Vulnerability and
2 This is the basic argument in Jean Bethke Elshtain,
Just War against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a
Violent World, Basic Books, New York, 2003.
3 Even though much of the focus of some prophets is on the
syncretism of the cult, it is repeatedly made clear that God will
accept neither a right cultic worship nor a strict personal piety
if it is not followed by social righteousness. See Amos 5:21-22;
Isaiah 1:11-17; 58:6-7. See also Proverbs 21:27: "The sacrifice of
the wicked is detestable-how much more so when brought with evil
4 See Isaiah 59:1-4.
5 Isaiah 57:15 (NIV).
6 (1) Isaiah 42:1-4; (2) 49:1-6; (3) 50:4-9; (4)
7 Luke 10:25-37.
8 An elaboration of these themes can be found in my
article "The Need for a New Understanding of Security after
September 11" in PACEM 2:2002. The article can also be
found at http://www.pacem.no/2002/2/sikkerhet/rolfsen/.
9 The talks were held in Geneva 29 November-2 December
2001. The Concluding Remarks of the General Secretary can be found
10 National Geographic, September 2002.