World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts

Editor, Andrew Wilson


Respect For Legitimate Government

The responsibilities of the citizen begin with respect for legitimate government. In some of the passages on this topic, there is an implicit social contract: the people surrender part of their autonomy to the government, which in turn establishes law and order among an unruly and violent population. Other passages distinguish the claims of religion from the claims of government; each is sovereign in its own sphere, and hence we may "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." Thus religions teach that the good citizen should respect and cooperate with government, bearing with its policies with which he disagrees, and even enduring occasions when its weight is oppressive. Yet as we have already noted, there are limits to obedience to a government when it goes against the will of Heaven.

Lack of respect to the constituted authority is the source of most conflicts in the world.

African Traditional Religions. Yoruba Proverb (Nigeria)

Rabbi Hanina the deputy of the priests, said, "Pray for the peace of the government; for, except for the fear of that, we should have swallowed each other alive."

Judaism. Mishnah, Abot 3.2

Abot 3.2: This is not a mild platitude suitable for ordinary citizens, but a deliberate choice in the midst of a controversy over how to regard the Roman Empire, which severely oppressed the Jews under its control. Jews who chafed under Roman rule were calling for rebellion, which when it came was disastrous; the Jewish War (68-70 <c.e.) ended with the destruction of the Temple, and later the Bar Kochba rebellion (132-34 <c.e.) would be brutally crushed. But the rabbis whose words were compiled in the Mishnah called for resignation to Roman rule.

Rabbi Simeon ben Lachish said, "'And behold, it was very good' [Genesis 1.4]: this is the kingdom of Heaven; this is also the kingdom of earth. Is then the earthly kingdom good? Yes, for it exacts justice of mankind. As it is said: 'I made the earth and created Rome [reading Edom in place of Adam] upon it.' [Isaiah 45.12]."

Judaism. Midrash, Genesis Rabbah 9

Ibn Umar reported the Prophet as saying, "The sultan is God's shade on earth to which each one of His servants who is wronged repairs. When he is just he will have a reward, and it is the duty of the common people to be grateful; but when he acts tyrannically the burden rests on him, and it is the duty of the common people to show endurance."

Islam. Hadith of Baihaqi

Hearing and obeying [those in government] are the duty of a Muslim both regarding what he likes and what he dislikes, as long as he is not commanded to perform an act of disobedience to God, in which case he must neither hear nor obey.

Islam. Hadith of Bukhari and Muslim

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

Christianity. Romans 13.1-7

Genesis Rabbah 9: The pun on Adam, 'man' in the verse from Isaiah, is possible because both words are formed from the same Hebrew letters: aleph, dalet, mem. This is in accordance with the interpretive principle that close study of the Hebrew letters can reveal hidden meanings of scripture. The sentiment is the same as in the previous passage. Hadith of Baihaqi: Cf. Mencius I.B.4, p. 902. Hadith of Bukhari and Muslim: Cf. Hadith of Muslim, p. 899.

Then the people gathered together and lamented, saying, "Evil ways are rife among the people--theft, censure, false speech, and punishment have appeared among us. Let us choose one man from among us, to dispense wrath, censure, and banishment when they are right and proper, and give him a share of our rice in return." So they chose the most handsome, attractive, and capable among them and invited him to dispense anger, censure, and banishment. He consented and did so, and they gave him a share of their rice. Mahasammata meanse elected (sammata) by the whole people (mahajana), and hence Mahasammata was the first name to be given to a ruler. He was lord of the fields (khettanam) and hence Khattiya was his second name. He pleases (ranjeti) others by his righteousness, and hence his third name, Raja. This was the origin of the nobility, according to the tale of long ago.

Buddhism. Digha Nikaya iii.92-93, Agganna Suttanta

And they sent some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to entrap Jesus in his talk. And they came and said to him, "Teacher, we know that you are true, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?" But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, "Why put me to the test? Bring me a coin, and let me look at it." And they brought one. And he said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" They said to him, "Caesar's." Jesus said to them, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."

Christianity. Mark 12.13-17

The king Wu Ting (c. 1323 <b.c.) appointed Yueh prime minister. He gave Yueh his instructions, "Morning and evening, send in your reprimands, and so help me to patch up my personal virtue. Imagine that I am a steel weapon: I will use you for a whetstone. Imagine I have to cross a big river: I will use you for a boat and oars. Imagine I am a year of record drought: I will use you as a copious rain... "You, yes you, teach me what should be my aims. You be the malt that works up the brew. Imagine we are making a good soup, you be the salt and prunes.... "If a talented man is unjust, the ruler should give him no share in the royal responsibility. If the ruler is unjust, the talented man should not eat his food."

Confucianism. Book of History 4.8.1-3

Digha Nikaya ii.92-93: This is a Buddhist version of the social contract. These etymologies of khattiya (Skt. ksatriya) and raja help signify the meaning of the office, even if they are not historically correct. Book of History 4.8.1-3: In the Confucian relation between prince and minister, the able minister serves his lord with good, honest advice and covers for his shortcomings. The prince, in turn, should be attentive and accepting of his minister's wise counsel. Cf. Doctrine of the Mean 20.8, p. 216; Book of Ritual 7.2.19, p. 216; Chuang Tzu 4, p. 616; Analects 14.8, p. 877.


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