The comfort of moral certainty


As I approach the occasion of my 60th birthday in a couple of days, I am mindful that with each passing year I am less certain about anything, and less judgmental about my fellow citizens than I have ever been before.

A key lesson has been that when it comes to politics and government in particular, I have learned never to claim that God is on my side, or that I am ever smart enough to be on God’s side, even when I try.

When I was younger, I possessed much greater moral certitude than I do now. Many of the columns I wrote two or three decades ago reflected my view of a black and white world. I knew I was right, and you were wrong if you disagreed, and I slept peacefully in the warm blanket of my own righteousness.

That is no longer the case, and has not been the case for many years. I still privately adhere to many of the same moral and philosophical foundations to which I have always clung, but I am less inclined to insist publicly that my personal beliefs should necessarily apply to the masses.

I am impressed when I read columns or comments from people who obviously possess a different attitude. Their unshakeable assurance in their own conclusions, which empowers them to carry high the black and white banner of moral judgment, is a thing of wonder to me.

I am always reminded of this when there are political or governmental controversies, manifested in recent years, for instance, by controversies involving the mayor of Hillsboro.

A few who have devoted themselves to bringing about Drew Hastings’ demise over the past four years insist they do not hate him, and they bristle at the suggestion that they do. Some even pray for him, they say. They want nothing but the best for our town, they insist, as they continue to seek new ways (and revisit some old ways – residency, anyone?) to eliminate the mayor.

They are courageously doing the right thing, we are told. They don’t want to do it, but they are called to do it. They have a moral obligation to do it. There is no question in their minds that they are on the side of the angels. In fact, in December, council learned that it is quite unworthy in the eyes of the Lord, according to an impromptu sermon.

Just as filled with moral clarity were some of Drew’s supporters, although it has been interesting to watch a few in that category vacillate over the last two or three weeks, as they keep a close eye on the bandwagon to see if there might be room for one or two more just in case they need to jump on. You can almost hear them say, “Don’t worry, Drew, I’m still behind you 20 percent, and if there are no charges filed, I’ll be right back at 100 in no time.”

But there are others who are unshaken. They support Drew’s fight against the members of a status quo who, as they see it, will do anything to avoid change and who will resort to almost any means to politically disable him. The stance taken by Drew’s supporters puts them on the side of the angels, and of that they are sure.

Can God be on both sides? I do not know, but examples such as this convinced me long ago not to claim God’s support in anything political or governmental.

God is invoked often in state and national politics. If I have drawn any firm conclusions over the last three or four decades in journalism and politics, it is that politics and government at the highest levels are not the places to attempt to apply high moral values or claim to have obtained God’s favor. The political world’s corrupting influences will always be victorious over any effort to reform them. It has been that way forever, and it will never change.

Better to undertake good works through projects that are driven by our churches, civic groups or non-profit organizations than through elective office. Success in elective offices – especially the higher offices – is based on advancement through the glorification of the ego, and achievement through the destruction and demonization of the other side.

Do we need good people in Columbus and Washington? Ideally. Unfortunately, when we elect good people we are doing no favors for them or for us, because they are quickly consumed by the status quo and the system, and emerge indistinguishable from everyone else. Forgive my cynicism, but it is born of experience.

I have noticed a lot of Bible verses making their way through social media lately, which is a fine thing because scripture can often lend comfort to those going through challenging times. Here is a favorite of mine, a familiar verse on the subject of government rulers, from Romans 13:1: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.”

In other words, kings, dictators, presidents, governors and even mayors only exist for the period of time that God permits them to exist. For the Christian, it should be comforting to know that if a change is needed, God will handle it.

Everyone else can relax, and pursue more worthwhile projects in the meantime, unless they are certain that God has instructed them otherwise, of course – which gets really tricky when both sides are convinced that God is on their side.

Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.

By Gary Abernathy

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