Beliefs Politics

God and politics: 4 famous voices on religion, society (COMMENTARY)

Religion News Service photo courtesy Milwaukee Journal/Marquette University Archives
Dorothy Day founded the Catholic Worker Movement in 1933 and became what  many consider to be an American saint. She is seen here in 1968.

Dorothy Day founded the Catholic Worker Movement in 1933 and became what
many consider to be an American saint. She is seen here in 1968.

(RNS) God’s role in our political system was prominently mentioned during the recent Republican debate, even more than the economy. Some presidential wannabes, sounding more like candidates for preacher-in-chief instead of commander-in-chief, believe God supports the Grand Old Party and their campaigns for the White House.

The debate forced me to seek the views of four famous religious leaders who grappled with the relationship between religion and society: Dorothy Day (1897-1980), a Catholic social activist and a candidate for sainthood, Moses Maimonides (1135-1204), a philosopher, rabbi and physician, Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), a Protestant theologian and champion of “Christian Realism,” and Stephen Wise (1874-1949), a prominent, politically active rabbi.

Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, staked out her position: “What we would like to do is change the world — make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do. And, by fighting for better conditions, we can, to a certain extent, change the world.”

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But she was no naive “do-gooder.” “Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system,” Day said.

Wise was equally clear: “To me neither religion nor politics was remote or sequestered from life. Religion is a vision or ideal of life. Politics is a method, or ‘modus vivendi.’ … One of the dangers of all of us is that we are willing to fight for justice for ourselves alone, forgetting that justice will be for all or none.”

Niebuhr asserted: “The sad duty of politics is to establish justice in a sinful world. … Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”

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Maimonides and Day criticized simple “charity.”

Day wrote: “(C)harity was a word to choke over. Who wanted charity?” What is required is “a strong sense of man’s dignity and worth, and what was due to him in justice.”

Medieval rabbi Maimonides advised: “Anticipate charity by preventing poverty.” And he supported what is today called vocational education and training: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

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Wise agreed: “The stricken ask not for the occasional tonic of charity, but the daily meat and substance of justice.”

(Date unknown) Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr, then dean emeritus of New York's Union Theological Seminary. Religion News Service file photo

Reinhold Niebuhr, then-dean emeritus of New York’s Union Theological Seminary. Religion News Service file photo

Many presidential candidates salute “the corporate sector” and “the marketplace.” But not Wise.

“Business (needs to) be completely moralized; we need to ethicize what might be called the processes of creating and production, of distribution and consumption.  …  No business … can long endure if it be bound up with the evil of unemployment … and all those other social maladjustments … which we lump together under the name of poverty …. The first business of democracy is to be the industry of turning out completely effective, completely free and self-determining citizens. … Conscience demands that business … recognize that articles of incorporation are not to be offered as a substitute for the Decalogue!” (Also known as the Ten Commandments)

Niebuhr hated political leaders who claimed that God was “on their side.”

“The tendency to claim God as an ally for our partisan value and ends is the source of all religious fanaticism,” he said. And he abhorred clergy who uncritically extol the political system and journalists who are cynics of society:

“I think there ought to be a club in which preachers and journalists could come together and have the sentimentalism of the one matched with the cynicism of the other. That ought to bring them pretty close to the truth.”

Maimonides was critical of leaders who are never in doubt: “Teach your tongue to say ‘I do not know,’ and you shall make progress.”

Rabbi A. James Rudin, the American Jewish Committee's senior interreligious adviser, is the author of "Cushing, Spellman, O'Connor: The Surprising Story of How Three American Cardinals Transformed Catholic-Jewish Relations." RNS photo courtesy of Rabbi A. James Rudin

Rabbi A. James Rudin, the American Jewish Committee’s senior interreligious adviser, is the author of “Cushing, Spellman, O’Connor: The Surprising Story of How Three American Cardinals Transformed Catholic-Jewish Relations.” RNS photo courtesy of Rabbi A. James Rudin

Nor was he impressed because someone wrote a book: “Do not consider it proof just because it is written in books, for a liar who will deceive with his tongue will not hesitate to do the same with his pen.” Maimonides had advice for our polarized society: “You must accept the truth from whatever source it comes.”

Day criticized people who admire political leaders because they “stick to their beliefs.” She warned: “We must recognize the fact that many Nazis, Marxists and Fascists believe passionately in their fundamental rightness, and allow nothing to hinder them from their goal.”

Finally, there is no doubt about what would be Day’s position in the current battle between newswoman Megyn Kelly and presidential candidate Donald Trump, who objected to her debate question about his disparaging comments about women.

“Women think with their whole bodies and they see things as a whole more than men do,” Day said.

(Rabbi A. James Rudin is the American Jewish Committee’s senior interreligious adviser. His latest book, “Pillar of Fire: A Biography of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise,” will be published by Texas Tech University Press this fall.)


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  • A 21st century summary of god and Christianity:

    The Apostles’/Agnostics’ Creed 2014: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

    Continued below:

  • Said Jesus’ story was embellished and “mythicized” by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    (references used are available upon request)

  • God’s only supported government is his kingdom or government which has been established in the heavens with his son, Christ Jesus, as its King.

    After that government soon puts an end to all human governments and their corrupt politics (Daniel 2:44), then it will replace their rule and definitely be the only government for all humans (Isaiah 11:1-9) on earth.

  • Fran, Thumping OT passages from ancient fortune tellers does not pass rational thinking in the 21st century.

  • The fascination of the “Jesus” story as unfolded by Bernardo is not that the life of Jesus may actually have been as mundane as he relates it, but that the story is alive and growing some 2000 years later with some 1.5 billion followers called Christians! There may be no God, but that’s one powerful story!

  • Bernardo,

    Maimonides was a Jewish nutball physician who was terrified of being offed by his Muslim owners. He has nothing whatsoever to do with Christian life. Other than to reference as yet another whackjadoodle that couldn’t read the Tanakh the way it was written.

  • Bernardo,

    There is far more sense in the Bible than anything presented under the lunatic guise of “freethinking.” Criticizing the “Thumping” of OT passages is little more than a bobblehead doll doing what it does when the table it is resting on is shoved.

  • Be Brave (odd name you’ve picked), insulting sincere posters such as Bernardo clearly is does not help your case. Really. The OT is a very poor document in regard to rules to live by, in its time and even more so now. Those that promote it now, such as Fran apparently does chronically here, deserve to be strongly criticized. I give Bernardo full thumbs up for that.

    Do get out and sacrifice that fatted calf …

  • Carl, per the ad populum fallacy, popularity does not prove veracity. The story may have a big following, but it is ultimately silly and false re its claims of any divine involvement, as well as unoriginal. How is it again that an omnipotent being couldn’t do his saving bit without the whole silly Jesus rigamarole? Even the virgin birth story is stolen from earlier blood cults. And how was Jesus’ death a “sacrifice”, when an omnipotent being could just pop up a replacement son any time with less than a snap of his fingers? Pretty pathetic “god” that Christians have made there.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
    Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.

  • Speaking of crazy stories, the whole Jesus-sacrifice thing is a steaming pile of nonsense. How is it again that your omnipotent being couldn’t do his saving bit without the whole silly Jesus hoopla? And how was Jesus’ death a “sacrifice”, when an omnipotent being could just pop up a replacement son any time with less than a snap of his fingers? Pretty pathetic “god” that you’ve made for yourself there.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
    Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.

  • One wonders exactly how that would work: no doubt a lot of the religious right pastors and grifters imagine themselves as beneficiaries of a patronage system of sorts, kind of like in Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Such writings are often called “dystopian” by critics, but to would-be christofascists, it’s a cookbook!

  • Some find any reference to God to be offensive. That is because they do not want their delusional “world without God” to be disturbed. Whiners. References by people to God and what He wants and expects from us are normal. What is abnormal is to ignore Him. To act as though He isn’t there.To pretend that you will not have to face Him. That is abnormal. That is delusional. We are made in His image and His image we will remain no matter how much we may buck it. Repent from your delusions and rebellions. Receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Follow him through His Word and by His blessed Holy Spirit. Then life will make sense. You won’t be so angry and agitated all the time with those who speak of God. Stop being miserable and be filled with His awesome joy and peace.

  • Its called the 1st Amendment.

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”

    Government officials are not defenders of the faith. They are servants of the entire public. Until some overly obnoxious religious believers can reference God in a way which is not sectarian bias, it is better not to bother. Ecumenialism, embracing all faiths is a bit much for that type.. But it is also the most acceptable way to make such references. The idea that all religions are equally worthy of consideration is apparently offensive to that type of believer.

    Its because of this aversion to religious freedom and basic respect to others, that we generally avoid official references to God in government actions except in the most absolutely non-specific general, ecumenial fashion.

  • The problem is that myths take time to develop…..they don’t emerge within the lifetime of contemporaries of the person allegedly being mythologized — for the obvious reason that too many of those contemporaries would be still alive and thus capable of refuting such myths.

    And since three and probably all four Gospels were written within the life spans of contemporaries of Jesus, the likelihood of their being largely mythological is extremely small.

  • The spread of Christianity from a tiny first-century sect in Judea and Galilee to a world faith is nothing short of remarkable, all the more so when we realize that its most dramatic periods of growth came before and after the long and dark period when it was Europe’s state religion. Add to this reality the fact that Jesus said it would be preached to all nations — many hundred of years before that was even thought possible.

    None of this proves veracity, but all of it is exactly what one would expect were it veracious.

    And as to claims of veracity, I realize that folks like you are afraid of apologetics, but there is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to books written by some of the greatest minds of western civilization on the veracity of the Bible and of Christianity.

  • Larry, I don’t see what Mark’s post has to do with impingements on freedom of conscience or religion. I think you’re confusing apples with oranges in this instance.

  • Bernardo, like many radical skeptics, you talk a good game about rational thought, but never seem to display it. All you’ve been posting are dogmatic dismissals of the Bible’s veracity, without advancing in your own words a single argument in favor of them.

  • As usual, there is another personal attack by Jack. That’s the best he has to offer in support of his superstitions.

  • Actually, Jack, there is an embarrassing lack of modern evidence for your BOMITS story. Zero evidence, actually. And there have been other, similarly popular myths, some much older. Yours has no more substance to it than those.

    The contradictions and absurdity of your entire superstition, and your admitted lack of evidence, is exactly what one would expect if it were NOT veracious.

    So how’s finding that recent evidence coming along? Thought so.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
    Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.

  • Jack, your ongoing personal attacks on others, not just Bernardo, say more about you and your own inability to handle reality.

  • False. Their likelihood of being myth is 100%. Even early accounts can transmit wrong information. Your crazy Christian tales that you want us to believe are thousands of years old. Funny that your negligent BOMITS hasn’t shown his face since to reassure us. Your tall tales even threaten us with torture.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
    Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.

  • Jack, generally what you consider, “infringements on freedom” and “conscience” leaves a lot to be desired.

    Many people here have a nasty habit of forgetting about the establishment clause and over-inflate the applicability of free exercise (for Christians but not for other faiths). Its a common malady.

  • Bernardo,

    The prophet Daniel foretold, with complete accuracy, world powers and successions re: a dream King Nebuchadnezzar had:

    1. BABYLON: In 607 B.C.E, King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem (Daniel 2:32, 36-38; 7:4). It became the first world power.

    2. MEDO-PERSIA: In 539 B.C.E, Cyrus conquered Babylon and in 537 B.C.E., he decreed the return of the Jews to Jerusalem (Daniel 2:32, 39; 7:5).

    3. GREECE: Alexander the Great conquered Persia (Daniel 2:32, 39; 7:6).

    4. ROME: In 63 B.C.E., Rome ruled over Israel and in 70 C.E., destroyed Jerusalem (Daniel 2:33, 40; 7:7). The last world power will be discussed last.

    A century in advance, God’s Word foretold Babylon’s position of world dominance, how its power would be broken, and its capital would never again be inhabited (Isaiah 13:17-22).

    Nearly 2 centuries in advance, even before Cyrus was born, the Bible foretold him by name as well as his role in international affairs (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1,2).

  • Before Medo-Persia became a world power, its ascendancy, dual nature and how it would end were foretold.

    Over 2 centuries in advance, the course of the Grecian world empire under its first King, Alexander the Great, was foretold, as well as the subsequent division of his empire into 4 parts (Daniel 8:1-8; 20-22).

    Archeological evidence also points to the existence of King Nebuchadnezzar, who received this dream. A cameo made of onyx stone is on display in Florence, Italy, bearing an inscription that says, in part: “In honor of Merodach, his Lord, Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, in his lifetime had this made.” The King ruled from 624 to 582 B.C.E.

    But what about the LAST WORLD POWER? That would be:

    5. ANGLO-AMERICA: From 1914 to 1918, during World War II, this dual world power came into existence (Daniel 2:33; 41-43).

    All human governments will soon come to their end at the hands of God, and his Kingdom will rule over mankind (Daniel 2:44,45; 7:13,14).

  • The intolerant do not want any references to be made to God. “In God we trust”. Have you ever read that? You try to use the constitution to promote your godless agenda. It doesn’t work. You need to get a clue. Why do you fight God? Do you really think any good can come of that? I know some people do wrestle with God. Even Jacob wrestled with God. But in the end He asked for the Lord’s blessing. And God blessed Him. You need to repent, and seek His blessing rather than bring about the opposite upon yourself.

  • I am an atheist, but I understand that people, since the beginning of recorded time, have had the need to satisfy their concept of a God. One will never break their chains of faith. It is important to understand that need and realize that faith, by definition, defies the requirement for Socratic explanation. Attempts to “convert” Christians to atheism is as fruitless as trying to convince people that everyone can’t, in fact, “be whatever you want to be if you work hard enough!”