How to Build a Better Society
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"The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches." Another parable He spoke to them: "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened." (Matt. 13:31-33)
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Human beings are not perfect, so we should not expect a human society to be perfect. To witness a nation of over 300 million people struggling to function smoothly, therefore, should not come as a surprise to anyone.
What faces our country now, however, is an existential threat that involves more than mere human imperfection. Two starkly different visions of how to deal with our social failings are competing for dominance. One view insists that societal dysfunctions can only be fixed by dismantling and rebuilding the institutions that form the foundation of society. Destroy it all, and start over. In its current manifestation, this Utopian project highlights tribal identity; some groups must be demoted and punished based entirely on their innate characteristics, while other groups are to be promoted based solely on their group markers. The result, predictably, is open warfare--with no winners.
Jesus advocated a different view. He taught that society is a reflection of the character of the individuals who comprise it. For society to change for the better, the people in it must change for the better. The standard of measurement that defines character is moral integrity, a value that transcends group identity. Using the illustrations of a growing mustard seed and leaven in a loaf of bread, Jesus taught that a society is slowly transformed as individual hearts and lives are transformed. The changes may be small, slow, and imperceptible, but they are real--and involve a minimum of destructive disruption.
The men who built our nation understood that principle, and designed a system of government around it. John Adams, the second president, wrote, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Under this system of governance, personal character and responsibility are given more weight than government edict. This is as it should be.
Social critic Dennis Prager summed up the challenge facing us thusly: "You can't make society better unless you first make its people better." But in the current crisis, that is the very thing that is being ignored, even denigrated. As a nation we first abandoned God; now we are struggling to replace Him with something else. It will never work.
If I want to make society better, that's a laudable goal. But it starts with making ME a better person.