Morality and Politics: Do You Try to Make Moral Choices?

 

I am cringing while I write this post, in a way I never have. I don’t trust that we can have a civil conversation about this topic; that I may open old wounds and create havoc. I’ve asked myself over and over whether I can trust all of you to be decent, moral human beings. I think I can trust you; I hope I can because this question has been nagging at me for months, and I need your help to resolve it. Let’s make this an opportunity to do it together, in our search for truth and understanding. That means putting aside the need to win or be right; I don’t think either of those efforts will be successful.

All that said, I have been struggling with my own morality related to politics.

First, if you know anything about me at all, you know I strive to be a moral person. I’m not bragging about it; I feel compelled to do it. Most of the time, I think I do that with ease; I have clarity about my values in relation to how I act, what I do and how I treat others.

I bring up these questions as I’m nearly finished with a book by Charles Lane, called Freedom’s Detective , a book about Hiram Whitley, the man who began the Secret Service. That organization was originally started to find counterfeiters but eventually was key in rounding up the Ku Klux Klan during and following Reconstruction. It was a fascinating story, but I was especially struck by Whitley himself. He was an excellent manager and strategist, but he was also a liar, thief, finagler, and also showed many other disreputable attributes. Eventually, he was fired, but he did great things under the Grant administration. He was both celebrated and condemned in his time. He made me think of Donald Trump.

That led me to the issue that has been bothering me the last couple of years, particularly after 2016: how to frame and comprehend and hold true to my own morality, particularly in relation to politics. Part of my problem is that I hold people I connect with or feel connected to, to a high moral standard. If you want to be my friend, you have to be a decent person. Figuring out what a “decent person” is might be a key part of this discussion.

I also believe that most of you who participate on Ricochet are moral and principled people. I can’t think of a better place to initiate this discussion. So here it is:

In terms of morality, Donald Trump is a mixed bag. In fact, I guess I could say that most of us are. Some of you believe that G-d will be the final Judge of whether we pass muster on the morality measure.

I wonder how you weigh the question of who to support in any area of life when the person is far from the perfect person. Regarding Trump–

-I realize that many of you might have decided that you would vote for just about anyone who could “clean out the swamp,” no matter their moral attributes or limitations.

-You may have decided that morality was not an issue, that the country was in such dire straits that the questions about the morality of the person you voted for were irrelevant.

-Since we are all a mixed bag, you may have decided that Trump was sufficiently moral, given how he treated his family, how he cared for our veterans, how he loved America and wanted to help us, and the other moral traits he showed.

Please do not use this post as an opportunity to defend Trump or yourself, or to bash others who do not. And for those of you who don’t like Trump, this post may not be for you.

 

This post is primarily about the moral choices you make regarding politics and politicians, not necessarily attacking or defending particular officeholders or candidates. As a point of information, I didn’t vote for Trump or support him before the election (and I say that without judgment of those who did); I made judgments about his character and reputation. But the simple fact that he is president means for me that I will support him when he does good things, and criticize him when I think he doesn’t. On balance, I think he has done a good job.

To me, supporting him is a moral choice, because the country elected him.

In that vein, what did you think of Hiram Whitley mentioned earlier? What role, if any, does your morality play in your political choices? Does morality play a different role in the policies you support versus the persons for whom you vote?

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There are 182 comments.

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  1. David Foster Member

    If the Sheriff is attempting to keep a mob from lynching a (probably-innocent) prisoner, then the moral choice, in my view, is to support the Sheriff….even if he is known to take bribes and to seduce and abandon young virgins.

    • #1
    • May 7, 2019, at 12:28 PM PDT
    • 18 likes
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    David Foster (View Comment):

    If the Sheriff is attempting to keep a mob from lynching a (probably-innocent) prisoner, then the moral choice, in my view, is to support the Sheriff….even if he is known to take bribes and to seduce and abandon young virgins.

    I agree. The decisions that must be made in the moment are sometimes easier to make, since the consequences of our support or non-support are immediate; I think, too, that in life and death choices, our higher selves may be called into play. It’s when we have to look at the longer term that I struggle. Thanks, David.

    • #2
    • May 7, 2019, at 12:30 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  3. Gary McVey Contributor

    In public life, my morals are guided by a soldier, a statesman, and a man of God. 

    Bilko, Nixon, Richelieu…unconventional morality to be sure, but nations have a different moral code than individuals. 

    • #3
    • May 7, 2019, at 12:31 PM PDT
    • 16 likes
  4. Seawriter Member

    David Foster (View Comment):

    If the Sheriff is attempting to keep a mob from lynching a (probably-innocent) prisoner, then the moral choice, in my view, is to support the Sheriff….even if he is known to take bribes and to seduce and abandon young virgins.

    Pretty much sums up my view. Another example – the Emperor Constantine. He was not a “good” man by most measures. Yet he is a Christian saint because he supported the Christian church at a time where it very much needed his support. Did he throw his support to the Christians for political reasons? Probably. The fruit of his decision was the flowering of Christianity, so the fruit was good.

    • #4
    • May 7, 2019, at 12:35 PM PDT
    • 12 likes
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    Bilko, Nixon, Richelieu…unconventional morality to be sure, but nations have a different moral code than individuals.

    That is one factor I was considering–the morals of a country vs. the morals of an individual. Certainly, America made a choice when it came to Trump, and I’m so disappointed that people won’t honor that choice.

    • #5
    • May 7, 2019, at 12:40 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  6. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    The fruit of his decision was the flowering of Christianity, so the fruit was good.

    Another very important consideration, @seawriter! Thank you!

    • #6
    • May 7, 2019, at 12:41 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  7. namlliT noD Member

    There are the comparative levels of morality of all the candidates running to consider.

    And if you know all the candidates personally, then fine.

    Otherwise, you’re making a judgement from possibly sketchy data.

    And many folks do make such a judgement.

    And a little economic modeling will suggest an effective war games tactic: For a political party that has the press on their side, it’s a simple matter of presenting their candidate as moral and presenting their opposition as immoral.

    • #7
    • May 7, 2019, at 12:48 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  8. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    Bilko, Nixon, Richelieu…unconventional morality to be sure, but nations have a different moral code than individuals. 

    @garymcvey, what was your reason for picking Nixon? His work with China?

    • #8
    • May 7, 2019, at 12:49 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  9. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    namlliT noD (View Comment):
    There’s the comparative levels of morality of all the candidates running to consider.

    @dontillman, could you elaborate on this point? Do you mean the moral set of each one, or the morality set when we compare all of them–or both? Yes, the media’s role, especially in these times, is despicable.

    • #9
    • May 7, 2019, at 12:52 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  10. Gary McVey Contributor

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    Bilko, Nixon, Richelieu…unconventional morality to be sure, but nations have a different moral code than individuals.

    @garymcvey, what was your reason for picking Nixon? His work with China?

    I’ve always thought he was an underrated president. His favorite movie was “Patton”, the story of a leader who performed admirably for our country, although he had flaws that would eventually bring him down. Nixon wasn’t amoral, but he was cynical and tough, willing to risk moral compromise to achieve the goals of statecraft. Everyone (almost) applauds his outreach to China. But he did it with eyes open; he knew, every bit as well as today’s human rights activists, that China does awful things to its own people. He knew he was betraying Taiwan, a protege of the US. But American interests were so clear to him that he accepted that. Peace and prosperity sometimes take artifice and skullduggery. 

    • #10
    • May 7, 2019, at 1:02 PM PDT
    • 11 likes
  11. JoelB Member

    I dislike the tendency today to make an unperson of every person who crosses a line, no matter when or how. I am thinking of Kate Smith. Bill Cosby had one of the greatest comedy shows ever – far more family-friendly than most of today’s fare, yet his show will surely disappear, if it hasn’t already. I could go on. If a person has transgressed, let him receive justice, but don’t impoverish society by removing the good things done.

    • #11
    • May 7, 2019, at 1:03 PM PDT
    • 22 likes
  12. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    On President Trump specifically, here is my post from the week before the 2016 election about my decision to vote for him, which includes the following:

    I recognize that Trump is a deeply flawed candidate. I will not belabor the point. He has serious issues of personal character. He departs from my preferences on some important issues, most notably trade. He often comes across as a boorish bully, and seems to confirm some of the worst stereotypes that the Left applies to Republicans and Conservatives. I don’t really trust him, and he still, sometimes, gives me the feeling that he is a conman.

    On the bright side, he presented a pretty good platform in his Gettysburg speech, and he’s said some excellent things on issues ranging from immigration to tax policy to regulation to abortion.

    I have become much more supportive of the President since then, as he has delivered on very solid conservative governance.

    As a matter of political philosophy, our Founders were very wise on this point, seeking to create a system that would harness people’s interest to the common good, rather than relying on virtue. Using President Trump as an example, his desire to maintain popularity and gain re-election constrains his actions in significant ways.

    President Trump is also driven strongly by loyalty. He wants loyalty from others, but he also returns that loyalty. Many people are suspicious of this characteristic, in a way that I am not. I view it as a part of good leadership. A good leader is loyal to his people and serves their interests, and reasonably expects loyalty and support in return.

    As a matter of faith, the Christian view may actually be easier than your Jewish background, Susan. Christianity teaches that we are all sinners, and that my primary concern should be my own failings, not those of others. I admit that I’m not always very good at following this teaching, but it is the foundation. Christianity is a faith of grace and forgiveness, to a degree that Judaism is not. I know that there is a great deal of Judaism in Christianity, but I think that St. Paul makes the key distinction. Judaism is about obeying the Law; Christianity is about dealing with the fact that we are unable to obey the Law.

    • #12
    • May 7, 2019, at 1:05 PM PDT
    • 11 likes
  13. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    Bilko, Nixon, Richelieu…unconventional morality to be sure, but nations have a different moral code than individuals.

    @garymcvey, what was your reason for picking Nixon? His work with China?

    I’ve always thought he was an underrated president. His favorite movie was “Patton”, the story of a leader who performed admirably for our country, although he had flaws that would eventually bring him down. Nixon wasn’t amoral, but he was cynical and tough, willing to risk moral compromise to achieve the goals of statecraft. Everyone (almost) applauds his outreach to China. But he did it with eyes open; he knew, every bit as well as today’s human rights activists, that China does awful things to its own people. He knew he was betraying Taiwan, a protege of the US. But American interests were so clear to him that he accepted that. Peace and prosperity sometimes take artifice and skullduggery.

    I hadn’t thought that our moral choices might actually conflict with each other–duh! And a person may literally not have a moral option about how to actualize that choice. That is a valuable point, @garymcvey. Thanks!

    • #13
    • May 7, 2019, at 1:06 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  14. namlliT noD Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    namlliT noD (View Comment):
    There’s the comparative levels of morality of all the candidates running to consider.

    @dontillman, could you elaborate on this point? Do you mean the moral set of each one, or the morality set when we compare all of them–or both? Yes, the media’s role, especially in these times, is despicable.

    Several candidates running. “A” has some colorful history that you might judge as not the best. Okay. Do you then vote for “B” regardless of “B”‘s morals? Probably not. Because as bad as “A” is, by your judgement, which we’ll assume is fine, “B” could be much, much worse. But you might not know.

    So you’d have to consider the comparative levels of morality (for whatever definition…) of both candidates “A” and “B”, with similar amounts of knowledge.

    Next, “B” is presented in the press as Mother Theresa. That makes it tempting to go with “B”.

    But the members of the press happen to be in bed with “B”. Possibly, literally.

    And “B” could, in fact, be really dangerous. And even more dangerous with the press in tow.

    So I guess I’m saying that it’s difficult to make a reasonable decision this way.

    • #14
    • May 7, 2019, at 1:07 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  15. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    JoelB (View Comment):
    If a person has transgressed, let him receive justice, but don’t impoverish society by removing the good things done.

    I agree, @joelb. Especially when we’re not choosing them to govern the country! These exclusions, in many cases are petty and harmful. Thanks.

    • #15
    • May 7, 2019, at 1:08 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  16. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    I have a personal example as well, about a particular married couple in my own circle of friends — I’ll call them Mark and Betty. Betty had two prior marriages between her late teens and early 30s, which were terrible, and I think that she had a total of three children from those two marriages. She was raised in a strict Christian denomination, and these circumstances caused a serious falling out with her family. 

    Betty then began dating Mark while he was still married to his first wife, with whom he had a young son. At the time, he was not a believer. Mark left his family to move in with Betty. His son was so upset that they have not spoken in decades.

    This is quite a terrible background, frankly.

    While living together, Betty wanted to go to church, not because she believed any of it, but because she thought that the Sunday School was good for her kids. Mark started going with her. The message of the Gospel got through to Mark, and he became a believer. Betty followed soon thereafter.

    This did not solve all of their problems. They were soon married, and Mark seems to have been a pretty good step-dad to Betty’s kids.

    Now that’s quite a mess. But I love these two friends of mine, and they’re a very fine couple. I firmly believe that they repented of their sins and errors, and were forgiven by God. That’s good enough for me.

    If I’m only going to associate with moral paragons, I’m going to be very lonely. And my hair will be a mess, because I’ll have to get rid of all of my mirrors.

    There’s actually a problem in associating only with those we consider to be “good people.” Nobody is really a good person. Many are pretty good by human standards, but I think that we’re all a mess. I know that I am. But hanging around with “good people” and thinking of myself as a “good person” blinds me to my own flaws, errors, sins, malice, and deception.

    • #16
    • May 7, 2019, at 1:18 PM PDT
    • 16 likes
  17. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    namlliT noD (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    namlliT noD (View Comment):
    There’s the comparative levels of morality of all the candidates running to consider.

    @dontillman, could you elaborate on this point? Do you mean the moral set of each one, or the morality set when we compare all of them–or both? Yes, the media’s role, especially in these times, is despicable.

    Several candidates running. “A” has some colorful history that you might judge as not the best. Okay. Do you then vote for “B” regardless of “B”‘s morals? Probably not. Because as bad as “A” is, by your judgement, which we’ll assume is fine, “B” could be much, much worse. But you might not know.

    So you’d have to consider the comparative levels of morality (for whatever definition…) of both candidates “A” and “B”, with similar amounts of knowledge.

    Next, “B” is presented in the press as Mother Theresa. That makes it tempting to go with “B”.

    But the members of the press happen to be in bed with “B”. Possibly, literally.

    And “B” could, in fact, be really dangerous. And even more dangerous with the press in tow.

    So I guess I’m saying that it’s difficult to make a reasonable decision this way.

    It is hard. But it sounds like we have to try to be clear aboutour own moral set to make any kind of consistent judgment about any of them. I think too many people just rely on their “feelings,” or their “intuition.” I need a lot more to back up both of those. Thanks!

    • #17
    • May 7, 2019, at 1:18 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  18. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    President Trump is also driven strongly by loyalty. He wants loyalty from others, but he also returns that loyalty. Many people are suspicious of this characteristic, in a way that I am not. I view it as a part of good leadership. A good leader is loyal to his people and serves their interests, and reasonably expects loyalty and support in return.

    I appreciate this attribute as well, although I think sometimes his sense of loyalty doesn’t always help him. But that’s beside the point. Thanks, @arizonapatriot

    • #18
    • May 7, 2019, at 1:20 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  19. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    But hanging around with “good people” and thinking of myself as a “good person” blinds me to my own flaws, errors, sins, malice, and deception.

    I don’t think I can agree. Or maybe I need to qualify it. To be a good person, one can still be flawed; I certainly am. That applies to me or my friends. That is especially true if we all try to be better. If a person behaved badly but was unrepentant, that would be difficult to accept. But I think we should all try to be better people, not perfect people. I hope that clarifies my point.

    • #19
    • May 7, 2019, at 1:24 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  20. Full Size Tabby Member

    G-d Himself used immoral people to further His ends, including to discipline and to teach His People, the Israelites. Therefore, I do not consider it necessarily wrong to use or work with immoral people when I am fulfilling my role of doing the work of His Kingdom that G-d has placed before me.

    One of the tasks I perceive G-d has placed before me (since He caused me to be birthed in the United States, where I have the ability to influence the laws) is to vote for politicians that will enact laws that will allow people to find, to love, and to follow G-d as G-d calls to them. Note that is very different from voting for politicians who will enact laws that implement specific policies that I consider the way of G-d. Sometimes an immoral politician appears to me most likely to favor laws that best allow people to find, to love, and to follow G-d. A politician who seeks the liberty to have sex with porn stars, or to make outlandish statements, may also be a politician who is most willing to allow me and others the liberty to find, to love, and to follow G-d as G-d calls to us. 

    I (unlike G-d) of course have extremely limited knowledge, and so I operate with the risk that I can be seduced by the immoral, or that what I think is work of G-d’s Kingdom is in fact not. So, while honesty and morality are attributes I value in politicians, and will vote for [all else being equal, which it almost never is], I see no absolute moral prohibition against voting for an immoral politician if I perceive that immoral politician as likely to help a larger goal. 

     

    • #20
    • May 7, 2019, at 1:37 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  21. Stad Thatcher

    Susan Quinn: What role, if any, does your morality play in your political choices?

    We’ve heard a lot of never-Trumpers talk about morality, values, and principles (MVP) when it comes to conservatism. However, politics is a different beast when it comes to electing our House representatives, Senators, and President (focusing on nation level, but this concept applies down the line).

    We have to ask ourselves, “What is better? A candidate who meets all of our MVP criteria but can’t get stuff done, or a candidate whom we wouldn’t want dating our daughters, but advances our conservative agenda in spite of his personal failings?

    I opt for the latter. It’s all about results. There has to be an element of pragmatism involved . . .

    • #21
    • May 7, 2019, at 1:39 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  22. EJHill Podcaster

    Basically you’re dealing with scaling the doctrine of “just war,” i.e., exactly how much can one individual sin in order to advance a greater good? But that also demands that you first take serious consideration of what you constitute as “sin.” And then, after you consider what the “sin” is, who is responsible for judging it and who is responsible for for making one pay for that sin and what is the limit to the punishment. 

    You’re also tip-toeing into the intersection of religious and political life and how much they should overlap. If Christ commands me to take care of the poor and the sick, is that a political directive or a personal one? If I support laws of excessive taxation to take from the rich and give to the poor and yet give very little myself, have I fulfilled that order? 

    Remember the trap that was set for Jesus on the matter of tribute to Caesar? If he had said the tribute was appropriate he was a traitor to those who proclaimed him King. If he had said it was illegitimate he was a political criminal in the eyes of Rome. His answer was brilliant. “Whose image and inscription is this?” he asked as he held up the coin. When they answered “Caesar,” he then replied “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s; and to God, the things that are God’s.” It’s the ultimate declaration on the separation of church and state. 

    Quite frankly, I’m not going to let anyone use my religious beliefs as a tool for their political goals. That goes equally for the likes of David French and the likes of Pete Buttigieg. 

    • #22
    • May 7, 2019, at 1:42 PM PDT
    • 14 likes
  23. MarciN Member

    My husband and I have been watching Person of Interest this spring, partly due to my new fascination with artificial intelligence. The story is interesting on many levels, but one of the most interesting to me is the theme of redemption for former assassins John Reece (Jim Caviezel) and Sameen Shah (Sarah Shahi).

    They were led down the wrong moral road by our own CIA, so they weren’t completely responsible for their prior evil deeds. However, the story is a bit more nuanced in that both of them kinda knew they weren’t doing good deeds. :-) So they feel some personal guilt about their past lives. Harold Finch offers them a chance to redirect their lives, which they take advantage of.

    The story has made me think of Saint Paul:

    Paul spent much of the first half of his life persecuting the nascent Christian movement, an activity to which he refers several times. . . .

    Paul was on his way to Damascus when he had a vision that changed his life: according to Galatians 1:16, God revealed his Son to him. More specifically, Paul states that he saw the Lord (1 Corinthians 9:1), though Acts claims that near Damascus he saw a blinding bright light. Following this revelation, which convinced Paul that God had indeed chosen Jesus to be the promised messiah, he went into Arabia—probably Coele-Syria, west of Damascus (Galatians 1:17).

    Saint Paul’s is one of hundreds of stories about Christendom’s saints–people who began in life doing bad things coming to see the error of their ways and finding redemption.

    I think Christians preserve these stories to give all of us hope, that no matter how bad we think we are, not to ever give up. It’s so easy to keep going in a negative direction because we think, “Oh, well. What’s the point of changing now?” I think the offer of forgiveness and redemption are Christianity’s greatest strength and the reason it has endured for centuries.

    I do not know how Judaism treats waywardness, so I can only refer to Christianity’s treatment of it. But I am moved by the offer of G-D’s hand to all of us, no matter how far we think we have strayed.

    That does not answer Susan’s original question, of course, which asks how I think about politicians’ morality.

    I tend to ignore all of the sexual politics stories as well as the graft and corruption stories about the politicians. I find so many of those stories to be motivated by political animus that I disregard them.

    However, I cannot forgive traitorous actions–thus John Kerry’s selling out and denigrating the U.S. military during his Vietnam protests will never find forgiveness in me. Nor will Al Gore’s going around the world trashing the United States for our supposed fault in “global warming” while the world was against us during the Iraq War.

    • #23
    • May 7, 2019, at 1:42 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  24. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):
    So, while honesty and morality are attributes I value in politicians, and will vote for [all else being equal, which it almost never is], I see no absolute moral prohibition against voting for an immoral politician if I perceive that immoral politician as likely to help a larger goal. 

    Thanks so much, @fullsizetabby. It’s clear that you have given this topic much more thought than I have, up to this point! I appreciate your sharing and guidance. It is truly helpful as I formulate my own thoughts.

    • #24
    • May 7, 2019, at 1:48 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  25. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Stad (View Comment):
    We have to ask ourselves, “What is better? A candidate who meets all of our MVP criteria but can’t get stuff done, or a candidate whom we wouldn’t want dating our daughters, but advances our conservative agenda in spite of his personal failings?

    Thanks, @stad. The “doing” part, to do great things, is very important!

    • #25
    • May 7, 2019, at 1:49 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  26. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Basically you’re dealing with scaling the doctrine of “just war,” i.e., exactly how much can one individual sin in order to advance a greater good? But that also demands that you first take serious consideration of what you constitute as “sin.” And then, after you consider what the “sin” is, who is responsible for judging it and who is responsible for for making one pay for that sin and what is the limit to the punishment.

    You’re also tip-toeing into the intersection of religious and political life and how much they should overlap. If Christ commands me to take care of the poor and the sick, is that a political directive or a personal one? If I support laws of excessive taxation to take from the rich and give to the poor and yet give very little myself, have I fulfilled that order?

    Remember the trap that was set for Jesus on the matter of tribute to Caesar? If he had said the tribute was appropriate he was a traitor to those who proclaimed him King. If he had said it was illegitimate he was a political criminal in the eyes of Rome. His answer was brilliant. “Whose image and inscription is this?” he asked as he held up the coin. When they answered “Caesar,” he then replied “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s; and to God, the things that are God’s.” It’s the ultimate declaration on the separation of church and state.

    Quite frankly, I’m not going to let anyone use my religious beliefs as a tool for their political goals. That goes equally for the likes of David French and the likes of Pete Buttigieg.

    Excellent, @ejhill! You’ve covered a number of important facets of morality. Your comments on sin are especially thoughtful. Thank you.

    • #26
    • May 7, 2019, at 1:51 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  27. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    MarciN (View Comment):

    My husband and I have been watching Person of Interest this spring, partly due to my new interest in artificial intelligence. The story is interesting on many levels, but one of the most interesting to me is the theme of redemption for former assassins John Reece (Jim Caviezel) and Sameen Shah (Sarah Shahi).

    Setting aside for the moment the fact that they were led down the wrong road by our own CIA, so they weren’t completely responsible for their prior evil deeds, the story is a bit more nuanced in that both kinda knew they weren’t doing good deeds. :-) So they feel some personal guilt about their past lives. Harold Finch offers them a chance to redirect their lives, which they take advantage of.

    The story has made me think of Saint Paul:

    Paul spent much of the first half of his life persecuting the nascent Christian movement, an activity to which he refers several times. . . .

    Paul was on his way to Damascus when he had a vision that changed his life: according to Galatians 1:16, God revealed his Son to him. More specifically, Paul states that he saw the Lord (1 Corinthians 9:1), though Acts claims that near Damascus he saw a blinding bright light. Following this revelation, which convinced Paul that God had indeed chosen Jesus to be the promised messiah, he went into Arabia—probably Coele-Syria, west of Damascus (Galatians 1:17).

    Saint Paul’s is one of hundreds of stories about Christendom’s saints–people who began in life doing bad things coming to see the error of their ways and finding redemption.

    I think Christians preserve these stories to give all of us hope, that no matter how bad we think we are, not to ever give up. It’s so easy to keep going in a negative direction because we think, “Oh, well. What’s the point of changing now?” I think the offer of forgiveness and redemption are Christianity’s greatest strength and the reason is has endured for centuries.

    I do not know how Judaism treats waywardness, so I can only refer to Christianity’s treatment of it. But I am moved by the offer of G-D’s hand to all of us, no matter how far we think we have strayed.

    This does not answer Susan’s original question, of course, which addresses how I think about politicians’ morality.

    I tend to ignore all of the sexual politics stories as well as the graft and corruption stories about the politicians. I find so many of those stories to be motivated by political animus that I disregard them.

    However, I cannot forgive traitorous actions–thus John Kerry’s selling out and denigrating the U.S. military during his Vietnam protests will never find forgiveness in me. Nor will Al Gore’s going around the world trashing the United States for our supposed fault in “global warming” while the world was against us during the Iraq War.

     

    A well-thought out and fascinating answer, @marcin. G-d is always open to taking us back when we go astray in Judaism. The stories are many in the Torah that show that truth. Thanks!

    • #27
    • May 7, 2019, at 1:55 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  28. Franco Member

    I have come to believe in these past 4 or 5 years that it’s a mistake , possibly a moral one, to conflate one’s perceived moral obligations with one’s political choices in voting for representatives.

    For one thing – and I think there is plenty of evidence for this – there is the temptation and tendency to use politics as proxy for morality. This practice is rampant on the left, but we also see it on the right with certain people (ahem). 

    This approach reveals a certain naïveté regarding politics, a certain arrogance as to our own knowledge and judging abilities and a disrespect for the possibility of redemption. 

    I’ve got a post still formulating on this subject. It’s a great question and very timely. Part of my essay is predicated on our modern delusions of the importance of our vote, as though it has some special importance and significance. It doesn’t. It’s just one vote. In my religion, no one goes to hell for voting for the wrong guy or gal.

    Ultimately, I think people should vote their interests and not what they project as society’s interests. It’s up to our representatives to make those decisions, we voters have little control. Moreover, political types have hacked this moral voter approach. If they keep their noses clean in their personal life they can lie cheat and steal with abandon in the public sphere. 

    We must also remember that there’s such a thing as political morality and dare I say, professionalism. Let’s stipulate that Barack Obama never cheated on Michelle, but he deliberately lied to the American people about a crucial element of a policy that took over 15% of the US economy and degraded our healthcare system.

     

    • #28
    • May 7, 2019, at 2:06 PM PDT
    • 15 likes
  29. SkipSul Moderator

    I’ve had this debate many times. My wife used to insist that she could never vote for a known philanderer, while I pointed out that Hitler was an abstemious prig, so I’d take the philanderer. (Just getting ole’ Godwin out of the way early here).

    The hard truth is that all of us have (to put this in Christian parlance) our own besetting sins and passions, and those sins differ from one person to the next. One person may be free from anger and jealousy and vanity, but struggle all his life with lust. The next may be free from all sins but pride alone, but their pride is so overwhelming that they’ve become a moral monster, and a tyrant to others, their pride being fed by their “freedom” from more fleshly passions. You have to take the whole person (as much as you can know anyway), and you have to judge them by their actions and what they reveal of their motivations. 

    But those decisions also come secondary to their jobs, and “Politician” is as much a job title as Janitor. If I’m hiring a janitor, I want a janitor who shows up on time and does his work well. Matters of the heart, or of his marriage, or his pride, are all secondary to that job until they bleed into his work. So it is with politicians – if they do what I voted for them to do, and their other passions don’t infect their work or spoil it, let it lie. The fact is that until very recent times we remained happily ignorant of their infidelities – how many people knew of FDR’s affairs while he was in office? Were the American people owed that information at the time? Or might we have gone into WWII with a hamstrung and isolationist administration instead?

    To this day, a couple of my friends still fret and worry in genuine rage at people like me who fail to be as outraged as they are over “Trump’s Bad Character”. Every week they find some new outrage and try to get me to join in on it. I honestly don’t care, so long as they don’t affect his job (and I don’t count the media fainting couch types and gossipers dredging it up endlessly as affecting the job – that’s muckraking in an attempt to create a story). Do what I voted for you to do, it’s your job, it’s what I hired you for in the first place. I have enough besetting sins of my own to worry about, rather than being daily scandalized by someone else’s.

    • #29
    • May 7, 2019, at 2:11 PM PDT
    • 16 likes
  30. SkipSul Moderator

    Franco (View Comment):

    Ultimately, I think people should vote their interests and not what they project as society’s interests. It’s up to our representatives to make those decisions, we voters have little control. Moreover, political types have hacked this moral voter approach. If they keep their noses clean in their personal life they can lie cheat and steal with abandon in the public sphere. 

     

    Yup.

    • #30
    • May 7, 2019, at 2:13 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
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