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How can we shore up ‘the promises of democracy’?

From the July 2019 issue of The Christian Science Journal

This interview was originally recorded as a podcast on January 28, 2019 and was adapted for the July 2019 issue of The Christian Science Journal

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In a speech at the Lincoln Memorial for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Martin Luther King, Jr., urged America “to make real the promises of democracy.” 

In this Christian Science Sentinel podcast, Rita Polatin talked with Christian Science practitioner and teacher Bill Moody about how our prayers can support global desires for a more just and universal experience of democracy, equality, and freedom, by helping us understand God and our role as His creation.

The following is an edited transcript of their conversation. 


Thanks for joining us today, Bill. 

Good to be with you today, Rita. In so many ways democracy is a bedrock of individual freedoms. And it really needs our thoughtful care in standing up for the right of everyone to have a voice in how our government and our political leaders are representing us all. 

In the late 19th century, Mary Baker Eddy established the Church of Christ, Scientist. In 1904 she wrote an article for the Journal that speaks to the purpose of the Church she founded: “The Magna Charta of Christian Science means much, multum in parvo,—all-in-one and one-in-all. It stands for the inalienable, universal rights of men. Essentially democratic, its government is administered by the common consent of the governed, wherein and whereby man governed by his creator is self-governed. The church is the mouthpiece of Christian Science,—its law and gospel are according to Christ Jesus; its rules are health, holiness, and immortality,—equal rights and privileges, equality of the sexes, rotation in office” (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, pp. 254–255). 

Well, I’ve always appreciated that particular view of democracy, where the government is administered by the common consent of the people who are being governed, but also with a higher recognition that we are all ultimately governed by God. And to me that means we truly are essentially self-governed. In other words, we are each free to follow God’s direction and purpose in our lives and not be subjected to any oppressive human sense of government that would undermine that right. 

Just a couple more thoughts on this. You know, when we look at the institutions of civil government throughout human history, we can see that really every system of human law is limited to some extent in its capacity to establish unfailing justice and freedom. 

The best we may hope to do humanly is to take the system of law currently available to us and then work diligently through all available legal channels to clarify, purify, and ennoble it. And to the extent that the law and democratic institutions are infused with genuine fairness, compassion, and wisdom, then I think true and lasting freedom will progressively become a practical reality for the people. 

In her Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, Mrs. Eddy wrote: “Unconstitutional and unjust coercive legislation and laws, infringing individual rights, must be ‘of few days, and full of trouble.’ The vox populi, through the providence of God, promotes and impels all true reform; and, at the best time, will redress wrongs and rectify injustice” (p. 80). 

Vox populi means the voice of the people. Mrs. Eddy clearly saw the effect of divine power at work to transform human thought and action, and then through the providence of God, the correct course of action would be seen and followed. And I believe that as our present systems of government, our democratic institutions, are progressively informed by both wisdom and by God’s love, human codes and individual rights will more closely adhere to what I call the divine standard. This standard is the standard of complete liberty and justice for all of God’s children. 

That leads into this question, “How can we strive to see equality demonstrated locally, nationally, and around the world, especially when cultural and political differences are so pervasive today?”

I’m thinking back some two thousand years ago. It was also a time of turbulent politics and insecurity about where society was heading. As the disciples of Jesus were first spreading the gospel of God’s kingdom, the young Christian community in the Middle East still labored under the rule of a foreign, invading government whose political and cultural center was the great city of Rome.

Today what we call “culture wars” would certainly have also been troubling to many people living throughout the vast Roman Empire at that time. And I think of the Apostle Paul, St. Paul, who traveled widely in the region spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. He took a keen interest in that Christian community working to establish itself in the very heart of the Roman capital city. In his letter to Jesus’ followers there, Paul clearly wasn’t attempting to convince them to somehow expend their efforts merely along the lines of conventional power politics. 

No, time and again, I think he was encouraging these dedicated men and women to grasp how vital prayer and spiritual-mindedness could be in truly changing their world for the better. His letter to these Roman Christians, the book of Romans in the Bible, offers a really stirring testament to the transforming spiritual power that the gospel of Christ could have. I think that one particular verse from Paul’s letter to the Romans could be seen as especially pertinent today. For me it provides both spiritual and practical guidance on how to make our way through this jungle of divergent political viewpoints. 

We are each free to follow God’s direction and purpose in our lives and not be subjected to any oppressive human sense of government that would undermine that right. 

This is a verse from the King James Version of the Bible—Romans 12, verse 2. It says, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” I looked at some other translations, Rita, for that verse and found some additional insight. For example, the New Living Translation offers this: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” And then the J. B. Phillips translation states very directly, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould” (The New Testament in Modern English, Revised Student Edition). Don’t you love that? 

It’s so important to be willing to think for ourselves from a more spiritual basis, not to be influenced by selfish outside interests, not to be squeezed into a mold of untested human opinions.

I’m actually going to combine these next two questions. The first questioner writes, “How can we stay true to divine Love and also point out practices that we think impede fairness and democracy?” And the next question goes right along with that: “Should we call our Congressional representatives to share our views and opinions?” 

We certainly can and, from my perspective, should turn to God in prayer for direction for when and how best to proceed, knowing that ultimately the laws of God will prevail. I always go back to that. The laws of God will prevail. 

In thinking more about this question, I’d like to talk about something that I call Golden Rule democracy. It’s been so important to me. The J. B. Phillips translation explains the Golden Rule this way in Matthew 7:12: “Treat other people exactly as you would like to be treated by them—this is the essence of all true religion.”

You know, much as at the beginning of other eras, the turn of the 19th century into the 20th century prompted many thinkers to contemplate the future and the challenges confronting society. Some observers were impelled to analyze the social trends of their day and then attempt to determine what the coming years would bring to society. Would there be greater peace or strife, happiness or despair, greater abundance or poverty? Would society experience a period of progress and enlightenment or decay and disillusion? And then how might democracy be a greater influence for good throughout the world? 

Mary Baker Eddy had something to say about the new century. She was among a number of public figures and religious leaders who were asked by a major newspaper, the New York World, to share their views on the dangers that might confront humanity in the years to come. Many wrote of their deep concerns about the selfish pursuit of monetary gain and the rise of imperialism and autocratic governments. 

Mrs. Eddy, in her response, did not try to paint either a rose-colored future or a dark and bleak horizon. Instead, she insightfully pointed out certain pitfalls that mankind would have to recognize and overcome in order to advance to a higher and even a more spiritual standard of living. Now, Mrs. Eddy certainly took a keen interest in what was occurring in society throughout her lifetime. 

So, she contributed a short item for the December 30, 1900, issue of the New York World newspaper. It appears in The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany as follows: “To my sense, the most imminent dangers confronting the coming century are: the robbing of people of life and liberty under the warrant of the Scriptures; the claims of politics and of human power, industrial slavery, and insufficient freedom of honest competition; and ritual, creed, and trusts in place of the Golden Rule, ‘Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them’ ” (p. 266). This statement is really worth thinking about. 

To love one another as we would be loved, to do and to speak with the Golden Rule in thought—now this has a transformative effect in human life.

I think Mrs. Eddy clearly foresaw the dangers inherent in divisive politics and how the mere pursuit of human power would attempt to overshadow the higher purpose of considering the legitimate interests and welfare of others. And that’s where she offered this simple yet powerful model for human action and progress. The thing I call Golden Rule democracy. What a model for democracy.

So when we’re considering any human steps, such as contacting our Congressional representatives or reporting instances of corruption, I think that as we first turn to God for direction and then allow the Golden Rule to inform our actions, we’ll gain courage, we’ll gain conviction. We can stand up for what is morally principled and right. And it will make a difference. I know it will. 

This next question is, “I respect the laws of our land and the principles of democracy, but in a democracy if one’s own beliefs are not in the majority, it can be uncomfortable. Do you have thoughts on how we can pray to be good and law-abiding citizens while also honoring our own values and principles?” 

These are such timely questions. You can see how people are really thinking deeply about what’s going on in our society today. I think we can encourage everyone to contribute in a positive way to the public discourse and to communicate in a productive way with those whose viewpoints may differ from ours, even radically. I can’t think of anything more effective than learning by heart and following the Golden Rule. Not only to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, but to speak unto others in a manner that we would have them speak to us. And according to Christian Science, such unselfish consideration for our fellow men and women is really empowered by our understanding of the true nature of God and His creation. It’s empowered by knowing that God as pure Spirit and divine Love has created each of us as the reflection of that very Love. 

To love one another as we would be loved, to do and to speak with the Golden Rule in thought—now this has a transformative effect in human life. Especially when it’s based on the spiritual acknowledgment that we are all the children of God, that we are each God’s expression of divine Life, Truth, and Love. This means that no one is left out of God’s kingdom or is unworthy of His care. 

This may seem really simple in some ways in its approach, but it’s also radical. It steps outside the conformity that puts us in a mold of materially minded self-interest. The kind of mentality that too often tries to direct our politics and to determine social policies. We don’t need to be squeezed into that mold of hardened personal opinions. 

Our next question is, “How can we more effectively pray for Truth to be a foundation in all action, in our own lives and in the actions and decisions of our national and world leaders?” 

It seems to me that more than a century after Mrs. Eddy wrote to the New York World, as I mentioned earlier, it’s not difficult to look back and observe those instances where the heavy hand of politics and human power, as Mrs. Eddy put it, has stifled freedoms. 

And then history certainly shows, during this last century, that when authoritarian political systems undermine the value of individual worth and initiative, people are deprived of many cherished privileges, rights, and opportunities. Yet on the other side during this past century, there have also been remarkable advances in many areas, haven’t there? We’ve scaled the highest mountains. We’ve explored the depths of oceans. We’ve even stepped onto the surface of the moon, gaining new perspectives of our own world and of the universe. We’ve seen great progress in civil rights and equal opportunities being extended to larger numbers of men and women, and I find today there’s a deeper yearning to progress even further in spite of all the divisiveness we’ve seen in the political discourse. 

I think we need to see that a root error, a root mistake, that would support the divisions in society, that would support even despotism or political tyranny, is, simply put, materialism. 

Mankind generally believes that materiality is what sustains life. That it gives it meaning, gives us pleasure, and satisfies our human yearning. But I think this is a fundamental misconception that we need to challenge. If true liberty and equal rights for all are to be established on a stronger foundation, material power or economic advantage cannot dominate us. 

We really make progress when the truth is understood that God is the only Mind and that reality and substance are actually spiritual, not material.

I’m going to say something a little different here. We really make progress when the truth is understood that God is the only Mind; that reality and substance are actually spiritual, not material; and that each of us has equal access to this one divine Mind. Now why is that important? Why should I bring that point up? Well, divine Mind is the source of our true intelligence, and we reflect this Mind. It’s where our spiritual freedom originates and is sustained, and as we express that one Mind, we become satisfied with our lives in following God’s purpose. We see that we are the expression of unbounded, omnipotent Spirit. 

You and I and everyone can progressively express the abundance and substance of spiritual good as we understand these fundamental truths. I think we can break the bondage of the claims of material power and of self-serving politics, and our democratic institutions will surely be strengthened. 

Yes, even catching a little glimpse of this can change our lives. The next questioner asks what qualities make a good citizen. 

Honesty, integrity, a kind of moral perspective that respects others and doesn’t seek to dominate others, and, something that I think is crucial, is humility. A good citizen is a humble citizen. Mrs. Eddy in one place spoke of humility as “the genius of Christian Science” (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 356). She saw it as so important to being a good Christian. To be a good Christian, a good person, a good citizen—humility, to me, is right at the core of it.

That makes me think of Christ Jesus and his humility. 

Right, and didn’t he say, “I can of mine own self do nothing” (John 5:30)? It was that humble reliance on God, and think of what that would mean for our democratic institutions. 

The next questioner writes, “I pray continually that TV news networks will report the truth. I’m appalled when I switch channels and what I’ve just listened to is being reported or distorted from what I know to be actual truth. How are we to know what is really going on if each station doesn’t report accurately?” 

That’s a big question. And I think it concerns us all. This clearly relates to what has been so often called “fake news.” To me the category of fake news includes both unintentionally inaccurate reporting and also the intentional distortions or false reports intended to injure someone’s reputation or produce a predetermined consequence. 

The Bible has offered me some very good moral guidance to help pray about this issue. For example, in the book of Exodus where we read that one of the Ten Commandments is, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (20:16), that should certainly include our neighbors of different political persuasions. And the book of Exodus also counsels us, “Thou shalt not raise a false report” (23:1). I just loved that when I saw that in the Bible.

In her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mrs. Eddy has written that “we cannot build safely on false foundations” (p. 201), and she also writes that “Truth destroys falsity and error, for light and darkness cannot dwell together” (p. 474). Well, that said something new to me. To me the fake or distorted media reporting is like darkness, and truth is the light that pierces through the darkness. It simply cannot persist in the presence of the light. The Bible points to God’s Word. Remember this Bible verse from Ezekiel: “I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it: and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him” (21:27). I like to think of this as Truth overturning every falsehood until the light is seen and acknowledged. 

And all of this is one of the things that makes me so grateful for the work of the international newspaper The Christian Science Monitor, including its online journalism

When Mrs. Eddy established this newspaper, she gave it a very high purpose: “The object of the Monitor is to injure no man, but to bless all mankind” (Miscellany, p. 353). Rita, I think we can each approach our own prayers with that same high purpose, to injure no one but to bless all. I believe it would surely bring more light to the whole situation, and we ourselves would be more discerning to be able to distinguish between the light and the dark, the truth and the falsehood. 

The book of Proverbs in the Bible offers this verse: “As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country” (25:25). I’m going to be praying for more good news. How about you?

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