Monday, April 12, 2010

How We Created the Mess in Washington, Part 3

(This is the third of a three-part series.)
In the second part of this series, I pointed out the importance of creating voter understanding, electing the right people to public office, and keeping in touch with them. I also said that this wasn’t enough. What’s lacking?
If we want a government “as good as the American people,” it’s important to examine just how good we really are. One of the reasons we’ve gotten the government we have is, we haven’t been as good as we thought we were.
Before some of you piously nod your head in agreement, let me remind you that Jesus was crucified by government officials to satisfy the demands of religious people.
Someone once said, “You can’t cheat an honest man.” I’ve heard of many examples of supposedly honest men and women who were cheated by con artists. They were considered honest because they weren’t consciously trying to cheat someone. They were, in fact, dishonest either because they were expecting something they shouldn’t have or they were expecting more than they were paying for.
To give an example, one woman paid $200 to have her driveway paved and was cheated in the process. The concrete alone would have cost much more than $200, but her greed blinded her to that reality. She was being dishonest, even if it were not called that.
I’m often reminded of a line from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Even after the wizard was revealed to be a fraud, Dorothy and her friends expected him to deliver on his promises to them. He then conned the odd threesome into thinking he had given them a heart, a brain, and courage; but he told Dorothy to come back the next day for her trip back to Kansas. After they had left the room, the wizard said to himself, “How can I help being a humbug when people expect me to do things that everyone knows can’t be done?”
People who had been adults during the Great Depression have told me how they survived. In effect, they said that families that had only enough food for two days would share what they had with families who had nothing to eat. On other days, the latter families would return the kindness. Now, that’s generosity!
Nowadays people want to feel as though they’re generous without giving of their own resources. When asked to donate to the needy, people have told me, “I don’t have to donate to the needy. That’s why I pay my taxes.” Using government to take someone else’s property just so that we can feel generous isn’t generosity—it’s theft!
Before anyone starts accusing me of being a hard-hearted conservative, get your facts straight. I stopped being a conservative a long time ago. I consider myself a Southern agrarian. (By the way, you can be an agrarian in the midst of a large city.) If you want to read an agrarian manifesto, turn to the fifth chapter of Matthew; it’s called the Sermon on the Mount. Due to the impact of Madison Avenue advertising, too many people see the Sermon on the Mount as a feel-good speech with little practical value. On the contrary, it’s a powerful antidote to a lot of today’s problems.
One of those problems is materialism. The Sermon on the Mount stresses the virtue of simplicity. I confess that I never saw that in the Sermon until I read it in a book about Buddhism. When I did, I thought, “Doesn’t the Bible say something like that?” Then I thought, “Why haven’t I ever heard it from the pulpit?” I’ll tell you why: Because it’s not profitable. We’re supposed to believe that fulfillment is found on E-Bay or on a store shelf or in a bottle with a child-proof cap.
If we loved our neighbors as ourselves, if we sought first the rule of the Supreme Being in our lives, we’d be satisfied to ask less of government. We wouldn’t have 800-plus military bases in almost every country in the world to force them to buy our products or sell us theirs. We wouldn’t elect congressmen who promise us things we shouldn’t have, only to end up taking all we have—which is what con men always do to suckers.
For many centuries, agrarianism was the only competitor to monarchism. Even today, liberalism, conservatism, and libertarian all contain traces of it. That’s one reason I say that liberals, conservatives, and libertarians can learn a great deal from each other. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists, and others have much to learn from each other.
I don’t advocate a new political party or a new religion. We have all the parties and religions we need. What we don’t have enough of is righteousness according to our faiths and cooperation as good neighbors.
It may not be true that, as the saying goes, “It takes all kinds to make a world,” but the fact remains—like it or not—we’ve got all kinds. Let’s make the most of it.


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