World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts

Editor, Andrew Wilson


Chapter 20: Good Government And The Welfare Of Society

1. The Pillars of Society
2. The Prophet and Reformer
3. War Against Evil
4. Respect for Legitimate Government
5. Government by Divine Law
6. Consideration for the People
7. Leadership by Example and Honest Government
8. Judgments and Punishments
9. Providence and the Mandate of Heaven

Besides general ethical teaching, the scriptures contain specific guidance for building a peaceful and prosperous society. Individual citizens have responsibilities beyond their private lives to contribute to the public good. Rulers and governments are likewise admonished to use their office and authority to promote justice and the common welfare in accordance with divine law. Public authority is not to be taken lightly; the scriptures testify to God's providential hand which controls the destinies of nations and brings them to judgment according to their ways.

The opening sections deal with four roles for the individual citizen in fostering the weal of society. These are: the quiet and unheralded work of a spiritual guide, an invisible "pillar" of society who leavens the community by his spirit and example; the prophet or reformer who confronts the governing authorities with words of admonition and takes an active role in correcting injustice; and the soldier who fights, risking his life in order to defeat a tyrant and rescue the oppressed. In addition, it is the duty of every citizen to respect and obey the lawfully constituted authorities, who are worthy of support because they preserve peace and order.

The next several sections discuss the standards of good government. Although most of the world's religions were founded in ancient times when the prevailing form of government was monarchy, the principles of government enunciated in the scriptures are still valid for today's democracies. These are universal principles of good government which apply regardless of its form. Topics include: government as subject to divine law and responsible to honor the rule of law; the responsibility of government for the welfare of the people and especially for the poor and defenseless among them; honest government and the ruler's standard of conduct; and the role of government to enforce the law and mete out fair punishments.

The last section discusses the providence of God which guides the destinies of nations. Heaven gives prosperity to peoples and nations which promote justice, righteousness, and religion, while nations which oppress the poor and persecute religion are inevitably destroyed. The destinies of nations may be understood to be under the hand of God's providence, or influenced by the blessings and judgments of gods and spirits of the land, or as responding to the Mandate of Heaven.

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