Opinion: This Christmas, imagine how following Jesus could help our public policy problems
Read the Sermon on the Mount, including the Beatitudes. Ask yourself: If all of us truly lived these principles, wouldn’t a great many of our problems be eliminated?
Pignanelli & Webb: The Christian world is celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Even non-Christians recognize Jesus as a moral philosopher whose teachings and example provide guidance on how humanity should live.
But it is also interesting to apply the teachings of Jesus to the public policy problems that beset communities, states and nations today. Jesus stayed far away from politics and government during his ministry. But the simple, basic principles he taught were revolutionary. If honored universally in our day, many public policy problems would be solved — or not exist. The suffering endured by many, the rude dialogue, the size of government and the taxes we pay could all be dramatically reduced.
Of course, other religions offer equally important ethical precepts. They deserve recognition for their rich wisdom, as well. Thus, the “Yuletide season” provides an opportunity to emphasize basic spiritual ethics that are shared in some form by many faiths.
We are not suggesting that religion and government should be mixed, and we certainly do not support government-dictated religious principles. But the reality is that how we voluntarily live our moral lives is vitally important in the realm of public policy. John Adams, one of the nation’s great founders and constitutional theorists, offered an important insight: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
He was not the only Founding Father to express such sentiment. James Madison wrote that our Constitution requires “sufficient virtue among men for self-government.”
For clear evidence of how the teachings of Jesus would solve public policy problems, simply read the Sermon on the Mount, including the Beatitudes. Ask yourself: If all of us truly lived these principles, wouldn’t a great many of our political and public policy problems be eliminated? We wouldn’t need large armies and navies, police forces, criminal courts or prisons — and the trillions of tax dollars they cost. We would avoid the untold misery caused by war, crime, dishonesty, selfishness and infidelity.
Jesus endorsed the Ten Commandments, then added the virtues of humility, empathy, integrity, purity, peacemaking, obeying the Golden Rule, setting a good example, avoiding anger, being faithful to spouse and family, embracing forgiveness, charity, modesty and avoiding hypocrisy.
And we have high-profile leaders who have set good examples. Democratic President Harry S. Truman and Republican President Ronald R. Reagan showed how to be tough partisan leaders who followed Jesus’ example of treating everyone, including their enemies, with respect.
Certainly, none of us will ever totally live up to the lofty aspirations of the Sermon on the Mount. But the truth is that if we tried harder to follow the humble teachings of Jesus, the need for larger government and high taxes would be significantly reduced. Influential people showing kindness to “the least” of us would breed an extraordinary community spirit.
We watch as the best minds in the world grapple with the challenges of society — and never totally solve them. Despite legislation, presidential decrees, court orders, newspaper editorials and the efforts of public leaders, the problems are not eliminated; in some cases, they seem to grow.
James Madison also observed, “(W)hat is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? A number of secular philosophers have noted that “government is downstream from culture.”
Jesus took a much different problem-solving approach than used by the institutions of society and government. His ways were not the world’s ways.
We observe that society mostly works on the effects and results of problems, while Jesus focused on the root causes. Society’s answer to war and crime is larger armies, more sophisticated weapons, tougher law enforcement, more policemen and bigger prisons. Jesus’ answer is to love your neighbor as yourself; do to others as you would have them do to you; and teach children correct principles in loving families. One approach would actually eliminate war and crime. The other, while necessary, never gets to the root causes.
Society’s answer to problems of poverty and family dysfunction is public support, homeless shelters, child protective services, divorce counseling and substance abuse programs. Jesus’ approach is reliance upon self, family and church; reenthroning the principles of work, and teaching the virtues of chastity, love and service. One approach would actually solve these problems. The other helps those presently afflicted. Both are clearly necessary, but it is obvious that Jesus’ approach should be emphasized more than it is today.
Society’s approach wins headlines and is the subject of legislation and political speeches. Jesus’ approach is quiet, taught in homes, churches and neighborhood gatherings. Jesus’ way requires that individual lives be changed, person by person. It takes time and great effort. But it is designed to revolutionize society and soothe humankind’s troubles.
Should Congress implement Jesus’ philosophies when deliberating and developing national policy? No, it would never work. Each of us must implement them within ourselves.
Have a wonderful holiday!
Republican LaVarr Webb is a former journalist and a semiretired small farmer and political consultant. Email: email@example.com. Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser who served as a Democrat in the Utah Legislature. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.