Sunday, December 9, 2012

Good Governance and Religion

 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

~Matt 7:9-12 ~Jesus Christ 

Perhaps you're wondering why I started this entry with scripture reference?  Because, while many out there decry the attempts to legislate religious adherence ..sometimes we need to remind everyone that there are some strong and effective lessons in matters of faith that do directly affect our nation's governing style...or sometimes an individual's governing style.

There are many on the right who contend that religions conservatism demands that everyone stick it alone...that one's hard work reaps rewards (often quoting Galatians 6:7: Our actions have consequences. We "reap" the consequences of the deeds we have done.")  However, I contend that, while this philosophy is true...for the purposes in matters of public policy, it's not entirely true.  Both Republicans, Democrats, and everyone all along the political spectrum all agree that you get out of life what you put into it.  If a student studies hard, he or she may get a scholarship to attend a higher school of learning.  If one works hard at their job, they'll hopefully get promoted and given more responsibility.

Luke 16:10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?)

Furthermore, the scriptures also teach basics in how to interact with mankind.  Most of these ideas in the day they were noted and documented were considered quite radical.  For example, "Doing unto others..." was a direct affront to many legal systems' demands for equivalent degrees of justice.  The whole "eye for an eye" or Hammurabi's code, or other Mesopotamian legal systems.  I would argue that Jesus understood that while vengeance was not good for the soul or for the accused, that it was also a hurdle to human progress as a whole.  Setting aside the divinity part of Jesus for the moment, and focusing on his words and teachings, we see that Jesus' words were meant to enrich human beings, and bring them up to a new level of social progress.  Further, upon examination of the words of Solomon, referenced in the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, we see that Solomon gives us some profound social lessons which are quite neglected by modern political thought or even outright dismissed as valid.

Starting with Solomon, Proverbs by far has to be one of the most political books of the Bible.  Solomon, for those who don't know, was considered the wisest men in the Bible.  In the book of 2nd Chronicles 1:7-12, this exchange of dialogue happened between God and Solomon:

That night God appeared to Solomon and said to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Solomon answered God, “You have shown great kindness to David my father and have made me king in his place. Now, Lord God, let your promise to my father David be confirmed, for you have made me king over a people who are as numerous as the dust of the earth.  Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

God said to Solomon, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, possessions or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, possessions and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.”

But one thing that any Christian will tell you, asking for wisdom is like asking for patience.  God generally, from even my own experience...teaches patience and wisdom alike.  Solomon's reign was, to say the least VERY turbulent and difficult for the Nation of Israel.  Suffice to say, Solomon was not the smartest of people when it came to matters of his personal life...and failed miserably to serve God exclusively.  His people suffered greatly because of his inept leadership and failure to have a backbone.

There was a great deal of good that came out of Solomon's rule however...was his learned lessons.  These lessons were enshrined in the Book of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes where, for generations to come, people could absorb the wisdom that he gained from his mistakes and foolishness.  And some of those lessons are applicable to this very day.  And those lessons aren't "government" lessons or "legislation" lessons...but personal lessons on how a ruler should govern his kingdom on a fundamental level.

Proverbs 10:15 - The wealth of the rich is their fortified city, but poverty is the ruin of the poor.

Why is this scripture so significant that I would share it?  The above verse demonstrates that Solomon had governed in a manner that has favored his rich friends and allies.  Such honorings resulted in the poor (poor, in this context meaning the labor or working classes) having a poor and distasteful opinion of Solomon.  He also had understood that when you squish the working class under your foot, then who'll do the labor necessary for life to move?  And without that labor, the wealthy are now poor, because their riches won't pick food, or tend farms, or mill wheat to bread.  Solomon understood the necessity of having a respected and well-treated working class to ensure that life didn't come grinding to a halt.

Furthermore, on a similar topic...Solomon's reign also accompanied very high taxes.  Taxes which were very hard on the labor class because they were the most affected by it.  His taxes were the near cause of ruin for Solomon's empire.  When he had taxed his people into poverty, he began selling them to pay for his extravagant tastes.  Unfair policy leads to discontented people, and a ruined realm. 

How about this verse?

Proverbs 11:1 - The Lord detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favor with him.

In a few words, Solomon learned it's not nice to cheat people...cause the consequences are severe if the offended party finds out.  And there are, of course, other more religious oriented consequences when this verse is explored in other ways.  But the point was to engage in commerce fairly and justly.

Proverbs 11:26 - People curse the one who hoards grain, but they pray God’s blessing on the one who is willing to sell.

To many in this time in history, grain was a good as gold.  Many working class people depended on having grain to make the foods they needed to survive day to day.  Furthermore, people who did hoard grain caused it to decay and die.  Grain is perishable and eventually it would go bad.  So the wealthy persons who did hoard grain did so because they could.  The same analogy could be used for today when looking at the Billions of dollars hoarded by the wealthy, which is literally not going anywhere.  It's not being used to invest in jobs, build up wages, or empower others to live a lifestyle that they do deserve and need to have.  Solomon understood also that wealth has to go places, or it's literally wasted and becomes pointless.  Hoarders hoard only because they can, and that their hoarding creates an environment which causes a stagnant or decaying society.

Proverbs 15:22 - Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.

This is kind of common sense.  Solomon knew that having a few critical voices in your ear can help you come to well-reasoned views and positions on issues.  Solomon often ruled with impulsive and reckless desires.  And it cost him every single time.  So, as a rule of thumb he said to surround yourself with counselors to administrate wisely.

Ecclesiastes can be summed up in a single statement:  "I did it all, and gained nothing from it."  What I mean by this statement is, that Solomon is looking back on his life and saw that he did everything his heart desired and really was no better off from it...and many times, he was worse.

Let me refocus you all, when talking about the above references...these passages aren't declaring to mankind that you MUST govern one way or another.  It's a guide to individuals who'd govern others.  Solomon was a king, and his decisions affected everybody.  Now a days, most democratic societies have several dozen or hundreds of legislators to speak for the governed.  However the rules don't change whether it's a king, or a Member of Congress.  Solomon's words request that we rule fairly, reasonably, and with wisdom and understanding.  And such concepts are not bad advice one bit.  And it's useful that we have his account and his lessons and wisdom to draw upon.  I do recommend that everyone read Proverbs, the entire book.  Even if you're not a religious person, there are some great pearls of wisdom in there that are both pragmatic, reasonable, and certainly intelligent.

In addition, Jesus also brought a sense of fair play to to everyday life.  Treat others as you would like to be treated is culturally intrinsic to all aspects of politics.  If you don't want war, don't be warlike.  If you want good relations, don't screw them over and steal their stuff.  If you want respect on the international stage, then lead in a way that's productive, and prove to the world that we are worth of emulation.  If you want a peaceful world, start by showing how peaceful you are.

Over all, there are lessons from scriptures we can learn, and apply to life as a whole.  In politics, this is even more true.  The problem we face with religion in politics is when the political machine starts trying to mandate adherence.  We cannot force morality, or spirituality.  Such concepts are highly destructive and dilute the purpose of the faith's core message.  You have to choose salvation.  Just as Muslim's believe that if you're forced to recant your faith at bullet point, just do it, because you know in your heart it's not true.  Same goes for Christians.  You cannot legislate morality or faith.  It's up to individuals to embrace it voluntarily without coercion or manipulation.  To do it any other way is fake and counterfeit.

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