On the Side of Right
With drink and snack in hand, many a youngster in the 1950s and 1960s sat before the television set and were treated to numerous films about World War II or about mythical heroes of the ancient world. The distinction between the "good guys" and the "bad guys" was sharp and clear. One war movie, however, contained a line that was both surprising and disturbing. Hearing of a significant defeat, a German general, dumbfounded, remarked to his aide, "It makes you wonder whose side God is on." That comment would have struck the very marrow of any red-blooded American child. God was on the side of the Allies of course. If Providence does favor a particular side in a conflict, standing against Hitler certainly would qualify. Again, one could feel the same about Pope Leo the Great in his confrontation with Attila the Hun in the fifth century.
Lurking in the noble intentions of the aspirants of any seemingly righteous movement or philosophy is an inherent danger. Zealotry often disregards legitimate criticism and examination of their "great and noble" cause. Questioning about the extended effects that the implementation of a particular program or policy might have on society becomes anathema. The people can be victimized by an elitism of the few who are convinced that their "way" supersedes the objections of the ignorant masses. Lionel Trilling wrote, "Some paradox of our natures leads us, once we have made our fellow man the objects of our enlightened interest, to go on to make them the objects of our pity, then of our wisdom, ultimately of our coercion." Human nature is complex and that very complexity perpetuates itself in all human creations. To ignore the implications of the multi-faceted and multi-leveled impact of human activity is to court ruin. Obviously, considerations and choices must be made in addressing the issues of the day, but the exclusion of thoughtful evaluation of the requirements and effects of those choices must not occur. This simple logic often is swallowed up in a misplaced sense of righteousness and a distorted definition of zeal for a good cause.
The impulse of nearly divine approbation colored many a political cause throughout our history. In the 1912 Republican Convention, Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed, "Fearless of the future, unheeding of our individual fates; with unflinching hearts and undimmed eyes, we stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord." This periodic democratic process reaches it completion next month in this fair land with all the fervor of a crusade against evil forces threatening to destroy civilization. Issues of great consequence do face the nation and the need for a revitalized sense of moral principle seems an imperative. Candidates from the parties have presented their policies and programs before the voters. If the candidates are masters of the art of debate, the voter is compelled to great thoughtfulness in determining the correct side. One may opine that casting one's vote may be accomplished satisfactorily only after a prolonged period of prayer. Turning to the Author of Life, a person asks for insight regarding the trustworthiness, truthfulness, and sincerity of each office seeker. Who will lead in the light of the Gospel teaching of love, compassion, justice, and service? Who will direct the policies of the country toward the enhancement of all that offers the nation both virtue and prosperity?
The answers to these questions rest within the abilities of the human mind and heart to assay the veracity of a particular candidate. Politically, it is difficult to take any action without "stepping" on someone. Desirous of doing that which would benefit the nation, a governing body typically cannot avoid disappointing or even outraging a particular segment of the population. Yet, the government a nation chooses is mandated to do its best to serve the people and safeguard the nation. Adopting the notion that they may be much, or in part, mistaken in the policies that they are promoting, elected officials may be most able to accomplish that which is correct. Lawmakers who see both sides of an issue open themselves to fashioning law that, while not perfect, better serves the populace.
From the beginning, presidents, senators, and congressmen have had to cope with the opportunists, pressure groups, self-aggrandizing colleagues, and countless others who for profit would be most willing to ill-serve the country. If leaders would be righteous, let them be wise. If leaders would be wise, let them be prayerful. A nation of people have elected (hired) them to work for the good of society. For advice, let them look once again to our twenty-sixth president: "In the long run this country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless it is a good place for all of us to live in." Pure righteousness is found only in God, but let his creation strive for it as best it can.