Should religious people steer clear of politics?

March 12th, 2015 Posted by Ask the Rabbi No Comment yet

Question:

Should religious people be involved in politics? Isn’t it better to stay above activities that are so sordid and filled with corruption?

∼ Mitch R.

Answer:

Dear Mitch,

Ancient Jewish wisdom puts a lot of emphasis on the damage we can do with our ability to speak. We can hurt people badly, destroy livelihoods, damage communities and more by misusing the gift of speech. When you think about it, you might come to the conclusion that we’d be better off moving to a remote cabin in an unknown region where there would be no one with whom to speak. Wrong! We are encouraged to interact with others and try our best to use speech wisely.

How does this answer your question? As we often say, “Politics is nothing other than the practical application of our most deeply held values.” There is corruption and sordidess in politics – but it is a magnificent way of human beings to figure out how to live together. Greedy, evil and power hungry people are always going to try to use politics for their personal aggrandizement. Misguided idealists will use politics to try to advance their agendas. If religious people throw up their hands and declare politics to be beneath them,  they abandon the field to the fools and fiends and are thus making a decision to support evil and wrong..

Sadly, good people in politics do stumble. When the Bible repeatedly warns against the perils judges and leaders face in staying honest, upright and holy, it is recognizing human nature. Nonetheless, staying out of politics is not a neutral, pious act. It is an act of betrayal of good.

Ancient Jewish wisdom mentions four people who never sinned. You don’t know much about them. They lived in a way that kept them from sin, but it also kept them from contributing to society and being great. They are not our role models. People who jumped into life with both feet and repeatedly stumbled and picked themselves up are the ones whose lives we study and try to emulate.

Ecclesiastes 7:20 doesn’t say there is nobody who doesn’t sin. It says that nobody who achieves good doesn’t also sin.  It is a given that, as human beings, imperfection comes along with accomplishment.

Stay involved,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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