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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Make America Great Again

There is a famous quote, falsely attributed to Alexis de Toqueville, that is, despite its lack of a sure source, true.
Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.1
"That's quite a claim, Stan. How can you say that it's true?" Well, think about it. Is it not always true? Consider. In order for any government to be good, it requires that government to be good. That is, you might have a monarchy where the monarch is good and it will be good or a dictator where the dictator is good and you will have a benevolent dictatorship. If the governing body is good, the government will be good. Pretty simple. When you then substitute the "better" government of either a democracy or our republican-style government "of the people, by the people, and for the people", what has to be good in order for us to have a good government? The people. Simple. So in order for a republic to have a good government and, therefore, a good country, the people have to be good. And we're right back at that quote.

Here's the problem. While the standard default for most people is "People are basically good", the truth is that they are not ... and now we have a problem. (If you don't believe the Bible's version, simply look at the daily news version.) It is a problem the Founding Fathers understood. They understood that a self-governed people could only have a great nation as long as they were self-governed themselves -- as long as they were moral. The more unruly the people, the more government would be required to step in. Freedom would be diminished because a democracy of unruly, immoral people produces an unruly, immoral government. So when we see "big government" at work, you can be pretty sure it's not because government is evil, but because people are evil.

This last election cycle our now-president ran on a "Make America Great Again" slogan. In this idea, originally the Reagan slogan, is a misconception -- America can be great without being good. That is, "The answer is in a better government." Truth is no president, no Congress, no judiciary has the capability to "Make America Great Again". It is not within their power. And trusting in any form of government to provide that greatness is pure foolishness.

This is when Scripture is handy to have around. Jesus said, "No one is good except God alone." (Mark 10:18) David wrote, "There is no one who does good, not even one." (Psa 14:3) Isaiah said that the best we can do is like filthy garments (Isa 64:6). From God's perspective, if America's greatness lies in having good people, "Make America Great Again" looks bleak. But there is another side -- good news, if you will. Paul's prayer was that he would "be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith." (Phil 3:9) He wrote, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Cor 5:21) That is, while humans by nature are not good, there is a righteousness available -- the righteousness found in Christ. If we want to "Make America Great Again", it is not going to happen by beating the Left into submission, hiring the right judges, or getting rid of or embracing (depending on you persuasion) President Trump's views. It is found in the Good News that we can be saved by grace through faith in Christ. It is not in better government; it is in better people. And, as it happens, we know the One who can make better people. So, in the Internet vernacular, SHARE.
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1 The best source I can find for the quote is from two English Congregational ministers who traveled in the United States in 1834. They wrote a book, A Narrative of the Visit to the American Churches by the Deputation from the Congregational Union of England and Wales (London, 1836), in which they wrote, "Universal suffrage, whatever may be its abstract merits or demerits, is neither desirable nor possible, except the people are the subjects of universal education and universal piety. America will be great if America is good. If not, her greatness will vanish away like a morning cloud." Not the same thing, but close.

3 comments:

Marshall Art said...

Conceptually, everything you say is true, sensible and logical (if I'm not being too redundant is saying so). But how does this play out in the here and now; in the real world?

By design, ours is a representative republic, which means "we the people" rule through those we elect. Those we elect are reflective of "we the people". The problem is that they are not a perfect reflection far more often than not, even of the imperfect populace we are. That can't be helped given the quality of people who even dare seek our votes in hopes of being our representatives. In this way our national greatness is limited.

Now, we are left with those imperfect choices, which to many are no choices at all, but varying shades of the same less than perfect population. Yet, as they are not identical in their imperfection, it is also true that they can be and are choices involving those who are of varying degree of perfection with regards how they reflect who we are as voters. That is, assuming I am "good", or moral, there is always one choice who is closer in moral quality to me than the rest...even if that one is still miles away from my personal degree of morality and goodness. THAT is the person who gets my vote...not because that person is the perfect manifestation of the goodness and morality for which I hope for the nation, but because among those who dare to subject themselves to the process (for whatever personal reason of their own), THAT is the one who, as unfortunately as it may be, comes closest and as importantly, has an actual chance of winning the election.

There is little doubt that I can find any number of people who, assuming I don't consider my own self for the job, are better people than the choices I have on the ballot. But my pastor isn't going to win. My mother isn't going to win. No one who isn't actually running is going to win. So I will always vote for "the lesser of two evils", because the lesser is closer to reflecting the nation I desire than the greater and doing so is one of the many acts I, as an imperfect Christian, can do to influence my nation in a positive (that is, Christian) way.

Of course, "the lesser of two evils" isn't necessarily any more or less "evil" than anyone else. But you already acknowledge that there is none that is actually "good", so pushing the needle toward "good" is all we have, to whatever extent we are able. If I can't rely upon the character of the candidate, I can only look at the policy proposals. These can be judged as reflecting the goodness I desire for the nation. So that if a candidate is a whore in his personal life, but believes in policies I believe are best, I gamble on his personal life not mixing with the political ideologies he claims to support.

In the meantime, and between elections, I can only be "the light of the world" (Matt 5:16) as best I can, trusting that if He sees fit to do so, God will work through me for His own purpose and America will, if not actually be great, will at least be greater.

Stan said...

"how does this play out in the here and now; in the real world?"

A good and reasonable question. First, we must acknowledge that the best we'll ever get here is "the lesser of two evils" because the best we will ever get here is born in sin. Acknowledged. So "in the real world" we'll be playing the game. We'll be voting as if we can fix things and complaining as if it matters and pointing fingers at problems as if the solution is pointing to the problems. But behind the scene I, at least, will be telling the people I come in contact with about Jesus, hoping to make disciples who will learn all that God has for us. Because our only hope "in the real world" is that God will bring about a moving of His Spirit on American people. As you said, I will be trying to let my light shine for the glory of God and praying that other believers will be doing the same because there is no correction for this country in our politics or our elections. As you rightly indicated, these represent the people. Clearly the current problem of poor leadership and poor legislation and a failing judicial system is a problem of sin, not elections. So I won't be focusing as much on the politics of it as the need for Christ. One thing that Obama got right. We are not a Christian nation anymore. We're a mission field.

David said...

Our representative government is a clear indication of the state of our people. You will never find a candidate that even half way lines up with your beliefs because we are in the extreme minority.

To comment on Marshalls "lesser of two evils", voting that way is not pushing the country in the right direction, but merely resisting the extreme. Voting for the liar instead of the thief isn't helping to bring us around. It's merely pushing the car through water rather than dry ground at this point. As Stan has stated many times, the only way we'll see a change from that trend is a revival. Barring that, the difference is that of traveling 60 mph toward ruin or 58. Voting for the 58 is guiding us to a better America.