Teaching By Example

I no longer consider myself a Christian, having gone onto what I believe to be a larger view of things; but many of their teachings are well founded. In particular, I recall the method they chose to spread the word, and that was to teach by example. In their view, Christ led an exemplary life, teaching us by his example, and we were obligated to carry on in that same vein.

A few sects and denominations today choose more aggressive methods of proselytizing. There are those that ring your doorbell and push their literature at you, and those that trumpet loudly from various media pedestals. But my guess is that they alienate many for every one they convert. Proceeding to quietly do right by your fellow human beings and then letting the chips fall where they may seems to me a more effective way to gain respect, admiration, and possibly adherents.

In the over two hundred year history of our nation, all of our presidents have been men and at least, claimed to be Christians. It is doubtful that they could have been elected without those two designations. The day will come when that is no longer the case, but as of this writing it has yet to arrive. As Christians, many of them were exposed to, and understood, the advantages of teaching by example. They realized that not only is this a good rule of conduct on an interpersonal level for spreading a religious philosophy, but it is also effective on an international level for spreading a political philosophy.

The United States is a form of democracy and we believe that democracies in general are a highly beneficial form of government. We recommend them, but we have not, for the most part, aggressively pushed them on others. Today there are approximately 125 democracies in the world, of which we are the oldest, and I believe this is in no small part due to our example. We have provided an environment for our citizens that has liberty, opportunity, and a fair amount of justice. And although we are not perfect, our systems are continually improved through public debate and citizen participation. As a result, we have become a wealthy and powerful nation.

Other peoples of other nations have had a long period to observe our progress and witness our success. Many have decided that we are on the right track and worthy of imitation. Admittedly this is a slow process, but the progress has been steady and always the numbers increase. Sometimes this has been accomplished by revolution and sometimes by gradual reforms, but when complete, the people of the nation involved take pride in having brought about this change on their own, and rightly so.

In the few instances where a democracy has been imposed upon another nation, it was a result of defending ourselves or our allies against aggression from those nations. The aggressor nations were defeated and a democracy was installed. The defeated nations were in no position to object, having brought about the conflict in the first place. However, they came to appreciate their new form of government and are now among the most peace-loving nations on earth.

This brings up another benefit characteristic of democratic nations. They are usually nations that place a high value on peace. On becoming a democracy, they join a community of like-minded nations. Trade and cultural exchanges ensue and this provides a firm and stable basis for prosperity. By and large, democracies do not start wars. Wars are almost always started by nations with authoritarian governments.

The early Christians were relatively powerless. The only means they had at their disposal for spreading the word were persuasion and teaching by example. Using these methods, they were able to expand the movement rapidly throughout the Western world. Later, when Christianity became the established religion of powerful states, other methods were tried. In particular the crusades spring to mind. Powerful western nations attempted to impose Christianity on other people through military force. Their record of success was not impressive. Desirable ends do not justify undesirable means.

We need to keep this in mind when we are tempted to speed up the process of democratization in the world by imposing it where it does not currently exist. It will be more readily accepted and more highly valued where people bring about the change themselves. In the long run, nothing changes in society in a fundamental way unless individual minds change first. Circumstances can get out of balance in the short run when a government tries to force change from the top down, but if officials get too far out of line, they are voted out of office or there is a revolution.

Fundamental change is a bottom up process and converts are made one at a time. People must be convinced, and one of the best ways to do that is to show them a good example. At times this will mean we must endure what seems to be the interminable reign of some despot, but with the recent advances in worldwide communication, time is very much on our side. And while we wait, we can concentrate on becoming an even better example. This will not go unnoticed.

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Wednesday, January 7th, 2009 Teaching By Example No Comments