Now, I am aware that few things are more divisive and explosive than politics–especially around election time. However, I am wading into these waters gently, without being polemical, simply to articulate something that I have been thinking about for the past few days.
These thoughts were prompted by this Op-Ed piece in the Sunday New York times:
It’s a story about a guy who makes some bad decisions–including quitting his job and deciding not to pay for health insurance–and ends up with Stage 4 prostate cancer. [He died the Monday after the piece was published.] A couple quotes from the author really stayed with me.
Here’s the quote from the first piece:
“We all make mistakes, and a humane government tries to compensate for our misjudgments. That’s why highways have guardrails, why drivers must wear seat belts, why police officers pull over speeders, why we have fire codes.”
In a later column on the same issue, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/18/opinion/kristof-scotts-story-and-the-election.html?ref=sunday, the author [Nicholas Kristof] said this:
“…a civilized society compensates for the human propensity to screw up. That’s why we have single-payer firefighters and police officers. That’s why we require seat belts. When someone who has been speeding gets in a car accident, the 911 operator doesn’t sneer: “You were irresponsible, so figure out your own way to the hospital” — and hang up.
To err is human, but so is to forgive. Living in a community means being interconnected in myriad ways — including by empathy. To feel undiminished by the deaths of those around us isn’t heroic Ayn Rand individualism. It’s sociopathic. Compassion isn’t a sign of weakness, but of civilization.”
I have to say, all of this really resonates with me as a Lutheran. Lutherans are nothing if not profoundly aware of the depth of human sinfulness; and thus we know that we do not do the good we should–not for ourselves and not for others. Although many of us try very hard [and although many of us don’t try very hard at all], we simply cannot be the people we know we should be; and, if left to our own devices, we will continually sin against God and against our neighbor–and even against ourselves. We will make stupid, selfish decisions out of both ignorance and malice, and we will justify our actions with all sorts of confluted arguments and verbal machinations. Greed, self-absorption, and narrow-mindedness will win the day every time, with tragic and sometimes fatal consequences. We simply are unable, on our own, to do the right thing consistently and throughly.
So, again, as a Lutheran, I believe in big government, because I believe that one of the main functions of our government is to protect us from our worst, most selfish impulses and instead create the possiblity for us to be the kind of people we want to be. So, for example, I appreciate our system of taxation, because I know if left to make my own decisions about such matters, I would not give as generously as I should to help those who need it the most, nor even to help society function at a healthy level. Here’s an example: I don’t drive my car very much–I live in Gettysburg, so I walk as much as I can. If it were up to me to donate an amount for highway upkeep, I might balk a bit, and reason that people who drive more than I do should pay more. Here’s another one: I don’t have children, so if it were up to me to donate an amount to support the schools in our area, I might balk again, and reason that people who have children should pay more. Do you see where this is going?
We are all “incurvatus in se”–curved in upon ourselves, as Luther says–and we always seek first to further our own interests, even when, in the end, we all are hurt by our short-sightedness [It negatively impacts everyone if children don’t get a good education!]. We are all interconnected, and a robust government helps foster those connections in positive ways–ways beyond what I can even imagine on my own–assuring that society as a whole flourishes and no one gets left behind. Now obviously, I know the government isn’t without sin itself: no government and no political party function perfectly. Nevertheless, in spite of failings and failures, in spite of mistakes and missteps, I continue to believe that we are all, each one of us, better off with a bigger government that helps protect us not only from our own misdeeds of commission and omision, but from those of others as well. A big government promotes compassion, not indifference; it fosters connection, not alienation; and yes, it models forgiveness and grace. We need more of both in our society.