This week’s question: Should a leader really love his country more than his soul? If so, does that mean country should come before faith?
Difficult decisions are not the exclusive domain of leaders. Every day is laced with intersections of conscience, from the minutiae of driving decisions to matters of moral ethics. We repeatedly must consider the micro, the personal, and the meta, the greater issue, in a search for a living balance, for homeostasis.
But our president must often make extra difficult choices. If he or she is not ready to take on the “sins of the situation,” they should not have taken the path of office. They must approach their terrible responsibilities with as much moral gravity as they can muster, else they fall prey to advisers with agendas beholden to powerful interests that care only for their own gain.
The aim of a good leader, according to Taoism, is not to subsume oneself to the people, but to guide them as a conduit that shapes interactions. A leader must have their own personal vision, while seeing through the eyes of others, always guiding toward not compromise, but commonality. A leader imbued with Taoism operates from a baseline of respect and seeks harmony, sets forth limits but also expectations.
According to the Tao Teh Ching, “As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, people honor and praise. The next, people fear, and the last people hate. When the best leader’s work is done, the people say ‘We did it ourselves!’.”
Let’s return to a theme we’ve talked about before, but one that is perennially challenging. And that is how people of faith are supposed to live out their lives publicly.
Specifically, I’m thinking about how our leaders are supposed to live out their religious convictions, if indeed they profess a set of beliefs. Most major religions adhere to the Golden Rule in one way or another. Many preach the value of forgiveness. And most focus on loving their Supreme Being with body, soul and mind.
But the world intervenes for leaders. They must make hard decisions for a larger group of people, many of whom may not share their religious beliefs. Potential conflict arises, for example, when a leader is called upon to protect his or her country, even when that could mean getting one’s hands dirty.
New York Times columnist David Brooks touches upon this theme in this essay. Here’s one excerpt:
“In the real world, a great leader is called upon to create a civilized order for the city he serves. To create that order, to defeat the forces of anarchy and savagery, the virtuous leader is compelled to do hard things, to take, as it were, the sins of the situation upon himself.
“The leader who does good things cannot always be good himself. Sometimes bad acts produce good outcomes. Sometimes a leader has to love his country more than his soul.”
That’s pretty disturbing. Should a leader really love his country more than his soul? If so, does that mean country should come before faith?
To me, this is one of the more challenging parts of the intersection of religion and politics. I would love to hear your thoughts about whether leaders must on occasion love their country more than their soul.