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What about Love? The Two-Fold Commandment and the South Carolina Primary

Government then, should exist to create a sense of justice and equity, to protect the weak and restrain the strong, and to allow human beings to flourish. It should help us to put our own wants and needs in perspective, to recognize the wants and needs of others.

Strangely enough, even a secular government could help us to be more Christian.

We could use it. My colleague at Patheos, Roger S. Gottlieb, has responded to this 2012 primary season by asking if Mr. Gingrich or any of the Republican candidates for president are truly Christian, despite their continued protestations of faith. Christianity, he notes, is a challenging ethical system that calls us to pay attention to much more than ourselves, our ambitions, and our desires: "If Christianity is really too demanding, extreme, or idealistic to shape public life, let these men stop pretending it shapes theirs."

These are harsh words, and words that could be lobbed at Democratic candidates who profess faith as well. But it is often said that we get the elected officials we deserve: if we elect candidates who pander to our self-interest instead of demanding they seek the public good, then we might as well leave faith out of politics. If we elect candidates who have pursued profit above all, who have used public office to pad their own wallets, the government we'll get, even if we voters call ourselves people of faith, will be informed more by the secular goals of our commodity culture than anything else.

It's true that imperfect human beings will always create imperfect human institutions. But if we ask our politicians to reward (or exemplify!) our selfishness, we should not be surprised that they do so. That's how they stay in office—rewarding constituents who want but do not want to give. It's as irrational to expect politicians to be just and generous while we ourselves are seeking our own good, as it is to expect corporations to seek the common good if profit is all we, the shareholders, demand of them. As a recent editorial in The Independent puts it, if institutional change is ever going to come, "it is up to shareholders to do something about it."

And so it is. If we ask of our politicians and of ourselves what Jesus taught as our highest good—the love of God and of each other—we can most certainly achieve more peace, more justice, and more happiness than we see now in a world seeking its own glory, in individuals glorying in their own selves. We can offer a broken world more wholeness, restore more respectful conversation to the political process, and model in our entire lives the faith that too often we confine to private devotion.

Until next week, I pray God's blessing on all of us.

1/26/2012 5:00:00 AM
Greg Garrett
About Greg Garrett
Greg Garrett is (according to BBC Radio) one of America's leading voices on religion and culture. He is the author or co-author of over twenty books of fiction, theology, cultural criticism, and spiritual autobiography. His most recent books are The Prodigal, written with the legendary Brennan Manning, Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination, and My Church Is Not Dying: Episcopalians in the 21st Century. A contributor to Patheos since 2010, Greg also writes for the Huffington Post, Salon.com, OnFaith, The Tablet, Reform, and other web and print publications in the US and UK.