Who’d have thought in 1984 that there’d come a future time when I’d actually welcome an opinion column (When the Personal Shouldn’t Be Political) from Gary Hart about ethics, morality and religion. It just shows you how debased our politics have become that that tarnished human being, Gary Hart can breathe some animating spirit into the debate over the use and abuse of religion in American political life.
By the way, I think the editor who chose this title didn’t do a service to the article. Clearly, the headline writer wanted to play off the phrase, "the personal is political." But Hart’s article is about faith, religion and politics, not about something so vague as the word "personal."
Hart’s closing paragraphs are a clarion call for prudence, restraint, moderation and humility in American politics, all qualities that George Bush distinctly lacks:
There is also the disturbing tendency to insert theocratic principles into the vision of America’s role in the world. There is evil in the world. Nowhere in our Constitution or founding documents is there support for the proposition that the United States was given a special dispensation to eliminate it. Surely Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator. But there are quite a few of those still around and no one is advocating eliminating them. Neither Washington, Adams, Madison nor Jefferson saw America as the world’s avenging angel. Any notion of going abroad seeking demons to destroy concerned them above all else. Mr. Bush’s venture into crusaderism frightened not only Muslims, it also frightened a very large number of Americans with a sense of their own history.
The religions of Abraham all teach a sense of personal and collective humility. It was a note briefly struck very early by Mr. Bush and largely abandoned thereafter. It would be well for those in the second Bush term to ponder that attribute. Whether Bush supporters care or not, people around the world now see America as arrogant, self-righteous and superior. These are not qualities of any traditional faith I am aware of.
If faith now drives our politics, at the very least let’s make it a faith of inclusion, genuine compassion, humility, justice and accountability. In the words of the prophet Micah: "He hath shown thee, O man, what is good. What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" And, instead of "O man," let’s insert "O America."
This quotation from Micah (thanks Gary, I always knew the passage but forgot the author) is perhaps my favorite of all of the Prophets (and there are a lot of great ones); perhaps my favorite in the entire Tanach (Bible). That quotation tells you all you need to know about how to live well and how to be a good human being.