For thousands of years men have debated, argued, fought and killed each other on behalf of their political or religious beliefs.
Politics can be fascinating to debate in the public square, as we often see right here on the pages of the Vail Daily, even when it devolves into incivility.
Religion, too, can make for interesting discussion, but one's faith or belief system is even more highly charged than discussing politics. However, combining the two makes rational discussion, especially when there are opposing viewpoints, virtually impossible.
Sometime back, friends invited my wife and I to dinner. Also in attendance was another couple whose politics were diametrically opposed to mine. As we were finishing our meal, our host casually commented he thought my views were somewhat libertarian, prompting the other gentleman guest to interject, "That means you don't believe in Social Security, do you?"
I recall saying to myself, Whoa Nellie. How did this guy go from a casual comment about me having somewhat of a libertarian viewpoint to concluding I wanted a 77-year-old law that provides income to millions of seniors overturned?
Our host sensed the potential for a row and wisely asked if we wanted coffee with dessert.
On another occasion while attending a Fourth of July picnic, a member of a particular religious sect cornered me and for some unknown reason began proselytizing. Foolishly, I allowed myself to be sucked in - big mistake. After about 20 minutes listening to the woman (it seemed like hours), I finally extricated myself by saying, "Do you need a refill? I'm going to get another beer," smiled, walked away and never looked back.
In retrospect, instead of engaging in the first place I should have said, "Let's make a deal. I won't discuss my religious beliefs with you if you promise to do the same with me."
Perhaps an even wiser response would have been to state my wife's position on religion - that is, whatever belief system helps one cope with our daily challenges should be of no concern to others so long as it doesn't infringe upon the rights or dignity of another human being.
But regardless of our host's actions at the dinner party or my response at the picnic, the fact remains that political and religious discussions are fraught with peril. That's why I'm stupefied when I read an opinion piece about the responsibilities of government that incorporate the author's opinion about what Jesus would do or what the Bible tells us.
Jesus taught extraordinary lessons, and one can find timeless precepts in the Bible, a tome written by about 40 authors over a period of approximately 1,600 years. No one can argue that humanity in general wouldn't benefit if everyone embraced those lessons and precepts as a matter of broad-brush morality, but predicating specific social policy upon Jesus' words or the Bible is ideologically tendentious.
Nonetheless, not too long ago I read a political opinion piece wherein the author underpinned his position regarding the role of government by doing just that. He first referenced Jesus' words, and then followed it with a passage from the Bible.
I can only speculate what Jesus' ideology might be regarding governmental responsibilities in 21st century American politics, much less what thoughts 40 different authors might have on the subject. So I default to the viewpoint of Susan B. Anthony, who once opined, "I always distrust people who know so much about what God wants them to do to their fellows."
One can argue that most of the founders were deists, which is to say they thought the universe had a creator. However, they never inserted God's name in the Constitution and made reference to the almighty just four times in the Declaration of Independence: "The laws of nature and nature's God," "Creator," "Supreme Judge of the World," and "Divine Providence."
Perhaps those who invoke Jesus or the Bible when arguing about what government should provide are unaware there is no stated right to happiness in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. Our founding documents tell us we have the right to "pursue" happiness. There is a difference.
In their collective genius, the founders understood happiness was a state of being that is earned by individual actions, not government fiat.
Quote of the day: "Life has many good things. The problem is that most of these good things can be gotten only by sacrificing other good things. We all recognize this in our daily lives. It is only in politics that this simple, common sense fact is routinely ignored." - Thomas Sowell
Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes regularly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.