The presidential election is only six months away, but the political rhetoric is already hot. It appears that it will remain this way until the election in November. The rise of an Evangelical left has caused much room for confusion in the church about politics at a time when clarity is needed. While the world of non-believers may use any of a number of standards to judge a politician, we as followers of Jesus Christ must use another standard.
To help us understand the issues more clearly, let’s employ the ideas of three different political philosophers: Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and Machiavelli. Aristotle viewed politics as a sub-discipline of ethics. The medieval Christian philosopher/ theologian Thomas Aquinas agreed with Aristotle. The modern atheistic political philosopher, Machiavelli viewed ethics and politics as two different and unrelated disciplines.
Mary Keys points out in her excellent book Aquinas Aristotle and the Common Good that in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (NE) and in his Politics we find that there are different virtues for a man and for a statesman. Hence, one can be a good man and not be a good statesman. Similarly, for Aristotle, one can be a good statesman and not necessarily be a good man. Many countries around the world accept this view of things and have politicians who they might view as good statesman, but who are obviously immoral people of low character.
There was a time, not so long ago, when if a candidate had a moral flaw, he was unelectable. But when Bill Clinton ran for president of the United States against George Herbert Walker Bush, his campaign staff declared that “character does’nt matter” and that “it’s the economy stupid.” Since then, we have only lowered the standard for political office in this country.
Machiavelli argued that it is only important that a statesman appear to be virtuous so that he can successfully wield power. Sadly, far too many people who claim to be Christians agree with him. Amazingly, some of these were shocked at the whole Monica Lewinski affair.
When Thomas Aquinas wrote his commentary on Aristotle’s Politics, he agreed that the job of the statesman is to work for the common good. He also agreed with Aristotle that this common good is justice, which is a virtue that all men need in abundance. Aquinas concluded, however that Aristotle was wrong to divide the character of the statesman from the character of a man.
Aquinas understood that that every man, whether common citizen or statesman is accountable to God to work for justice and righteousness. All are to work for the common good. Hence, the Christian view of politics is that one can be a good statesman only if he is a good man. The Christian view of a statesman requires that a person have integrity. Such integrity does not allow a bifurcation in character.
Machiavelli, on the other hand, believed that the goal of the statesman is to obtain and keep power, so he rejected Aquinas’ ideas. Not surprisingly, he also believed that Christianity was responsible for the decline of the Roman Republic.
When Thomas Aquinas disagreed with Aristotle, it was because he ultimately agreed with the scriptures. The closest that we get to a biblical political philosopher is king Solomon, who is responsible for the book of Proverbs.
In the Proverbs we find that politics is not separated from morality. So in Proverbs 21: 3 we find “To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.” In other words, every citizen should strive for justice and righteousness rather than whatever the changing wind of popularity approves of.
In Proverbs, one finds that the duty of the king is to ensure justice and righteousness. In verse 20:8, we find “A king who sits on the throne of judgment winnows all evil with his eyes.” Likewise, we also find in 20:26 “A wise king winnows the wicked and drives the wheel over them.” In other words, a good statesman separates the good from the wicked and does all that he can to punish wicked men.
Proverbs 25: 2-5 reinforces these ideas by concluding “take away the wicked from the presence of the king and his throne will be established in righteousness.” The Thomistic statesman can see the difference between right and wrong and acts accordingly. They obtain honor, because they serve with humility. In fact, the concept of the servant-king comes from the Judeo-Christian tradition. The servant statesman serves both God and man by doing justice and righteousness.
In contrast, Proverbs 28:5 tells us that “Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it completely.” Many statesmen in our country do not work for the common good. Instead, they work for the good of some constituency or another at the expense of the whole country. They seek honor from these different constituencies because they think themselves deserving of it.
Proverbs 24: 23 says that “partiality in judging is not good.” Such partiality can be for those who are not citizens, some class or another, some race or another, or for homosexuality or some other group. This partiality results in the gross debt that this country has. It also results in a public school system that teaches our children all kinds of immorality. Finally, it results in a lack of courage and will to defend ourselves from terrorists.
According to Proverbs 24: 24-25, “Whoever says to the wicked, “you are right.” Will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations, but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them.” Isn’t it strange how politicians have a different sense of morality from you and me? Aristotle believed that the law comes from nature and in an impersonal unmoved mover that orders nature. Thomas Aquinas understood that the natural law comes from our God and is, as a result, in accordance with His word.
Machiavelli, on the other hand, believed that the law comes from the state. Statesmen who pass laws for homosexuality, abortion or any other immoral thing act contrary to nature and to the God who set everything in order. These kinds of men clearly do not understand justice and righteousness. We find in Proverbs 28: 16, “A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor, but he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days.”
A bad statesman is confused and might think that he is doing good when he is actually oppressing good citizens by his actions. This is the kind of man who endorses communism or socialism, which robs men of their lives, their liberty and/ or their property. These political leanings are contrary to justice and righteousness.
The Machiavellian statesmen know that they are doing wrong, but they don’t care. Such men have counselors with a distorted sense of morality and they listen to all the wrong type of lobbyists. They seek honor and feign humility to gain approval from a media that is corrupt and godless.
So it is not surprising to find in Proverbs 29:12 “If a ruler listens to falsehood, all of his officials will be wicked.” These kinds of people have no interest in the common good. While they might occasionally do something good for the country, they only truly care about their own good.
The ideal Christian citizen is exemplified in Ezekiel 9: 4 who “sighed and groaned over all the abominations” of the people. These men loved what God loved and hated what He hated. The godly citizen of any country will see things for what they are and will properly judge between good and bad statesmen.
Proverbs 29:16 tells us that “When the wicked increase, transgression increases, but the righteous will look upon their downfall.” The godly citizen of any country will pray for the removal of bad statesmen. Further, the godly citizen understands that justice ultimately comes from God, as stated in Proverb 29:26-27. “Many seek the face of a ruler, but it is from the Lord that a man gets justice. An unjust man is an abomination to the righteous, but one whose way is straight is an abomination to the wicked.”
Bad statesmen may claim to be the friend of the “righteous person,” but in reality, he is not. They might say that the most important thing to them is “the Word,” but if they rule contrary to His direction in scripture, they demonstrate that they do not know Him (At a Catholic Community Conference on Capital Hill, May 6, 2010 Nancy Pelosi claimed that “My favorite word is the Word.” ).
Let’s not kid ourselves, everyone knows that our country is going in the wrong direction. We are in this situation because we keep electing people who promise utopia or a free lunch, but we are suckers (and unvirtuous) if we believe them. In this life we can be certain of only death and taxes, utopia comes only when Christ returns.
If we belong to Christ we will not allow there to be a bifurcation between what we believe and how we vote. We must be able to separate the good leaders from the bad ones. The Christian must also pray for those in authority, while realizing that the best of men are men at best. We do neither ourselves nor our country any good when we do not desire the wicked to leave office and desire the truly good ones to stay. Finally, we must remember that justice and righteousness comes from God and not man.