On Service

Over the weekend I have been thinking about how my three main academic foci, these being History, Theology, and Politics, can intersect and cooperate. I find it far easier to find the intersection of History with Politics, after all much of my work has been in the realm of Political History. That only leaves the gap between Politics and Theology.

Earlier this evening I realised that it is Martin Luther King, Jr day back home in the United States. Dr King’s lifework was a direct human embodiment of the correlations between Theology and Politics. While I firmly support maintaining the separation of Church and State, and preserving the secular nature of American politics, as dictated in the early years of our republic, I recognise one vital theme which flows within the hearts of both disciplines: that of service.

Good theology centres on themes of selfless service. To quote the Gospel of John, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down [one’s] life for [one’s] friends.” In this case, as is more common, the laying down of a life is not actual martyrdom, but rather sacrificial service, a giving up of some liberty or possession or individual possibility for the good of another or of the whole community.

Good politics in turn is founded upon a similar principle. To devote one’s life to public service is not only a great choice but also a great sacrifice. Once one has chosen to align one’s individual interests fully with those of the public, one loses a degree of independence yet gains a greater appreciation for others. Marcus Aurelius writes in his Meditations, “Let no act be done without a purpose, nor otherwise than according to the perfect principles of art.” (Med. IV:2). As an actor on the political stage, be sure to have a reason as to one’s presence on that stage, but let that reason be founded upon one’s role as a citizen, a “member of a civil community.” (Med. III:7).

As Marcus Aurelius writes, “Nothing is evil which is according to nature” (Med. II:17), so too with good theology and good politics. One might say that some policies, such as support for same-sex marriage is contrary to nature, yet I disagree with that assessment, after all if nature is an element of the divine, accepting that all that is natural was created by a Divine Essence far in the past, through what science has called the Big Bang, then one cannot say with verity that anything non-artificial, that is anything not made by humans, is contrary to nature.

Nature is something which is too vast a concept to truly define in a few words, though we certainly have come up with ways to explain elements of it. Among these are theology; an  explanation of nature’s relationship with the Divine, and politics; an explanation of how human societies can organise and survive in light of the whimsical manner of nature.

Perhaps the best manner in which one can act for the good of nature, and the good of others is through public service. In this way theology and politics do intersect in a common purpose: the betterment of individual lives, and the promotion of common liberties.

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