Between the common good and our individual liberty

A Christian Science perspective: Balancing our individual liberties with decisions for the greater good.

Whether an individual considers himself or herself to be a Democrat or Republican, Northern or Southern, one writer explains that the greatest political division among Americans today is the question of whether an individual will vote for the common good or for individual liberty (see “The Universal Notebook: Colin Woodard explains it all,” The Forecaster). Perhaps what we really need to ask is whether these are mutually exclusive.

For me, it’s been worthwhile to approach these questions from the standpoint of the master Christian, Christ Jesus, because his teachings lead us to understand and express more of the qualities of God, another name for good. Looking to his teachings we find that he promoted the golden rule: “whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12).

To truly do unto others as we would want done to ourselves often requires selflessness. Selflessness means to have genuine concern for others – to be loving, benevolent, and devoted. But we don’t gain these constituents of thought simply because we wish to or because some people are naturally more selfless than others. These constituents of thought are achieved as we learn more about ourselves as the reflection of God, highlighted in the first chapter of Genesis. As divine Love, God is the source of all selflessness and its accompanying qualities such as purity, intelligence, and goodwill. And because God is their source, and we all are truly made by God, we have the ability to express them in our everyday experience – showing our love for others, equally and liberally. Since selflessness is not man-given nor man-made, but God-ordained, we can trust God to lead us rightly and to guide our desires, decisions, and acts – putting all self-will aside. Then we will find that we are promoting both the common good and our individual liberty, because to be truly free is to express God, which uplifts our own expression of good, while bringing good to others.

We are able to look out for the common good of all when we better understand that whatever blesses one, blesses everyone. Christ Jesus proved this many times throughout his career, for example, when giving thanks, he fed thousands with a small amount of bread and fish (see Matthew 15:32-39). When Jesus healed the tax collector Zacchæus of dishonesty, it was clear that reformation of one individual became a blessing to others (see Luke 19:1-10). Reflecting selflessness as God’s children, we are also able to look out for and protect individual liberty by understanding what St. Paul consistently preached when he said, “I was free born” (Acts 22:28). Certainly, this was a literal rebuke to the Roman government attempting to try him as a noncitizen, but it was also a spiritual statement that Paul proved many times, including when he was liberated from prison through prayer (see Acts 16:26).

Such proofs throughout history show that goodness and liberty truly come from God. God gives His goodness to all equally and without limitation. He blesses all impartially – withholding nothing good, or needed – because we each are His offspring, His divine creation. Likewise, God gives each one of us liberty and freedom to express Him fully and completely, without limitation. This liberty, because its source is in God, not mankind, cannot be encroached upon, taken away, or limited. It, too, is full and complete, and we discover this as we understand our real identity as God’s child. And so we find that common good and individual liberty are not mutually exclusive, but inclusive – working together to accomplish the purpose of divine Love.

A follower of Christ Jesus and the discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy writes, “Unselfish ambition, noble life-motives, and purity, – these constituents of thought, mingling, constitute individually and collectively true happiness, strength, and permanence” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 58). It’s divinely right that we understand our divine nature as God-given and perfect. Unselfishness is spiritual, God-ordained, and you and I have the ability to express it under all circumstances. Expressing the love of God in selflessness, goodness, and liberty is our divine right, and it not only brings individual blessings, but blessings for all.

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About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

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