AN ENCOURAGING WORD written for January 7, 2010, by Dr. Thomas Lane Butts.
There is an interesting story of a mountaineer who came home hungry one night. He lit a candle and began to eat an apple from a bowl of four apples. He soon discovered that the apple was inhabited by a lively worm. He threw it away and selected another, which he soon discovered to be wormy. He tried the third apple, but again found a worm. Whereupon, he blew out the candle and ate the fourth apple in the dark.
Sometimes it is easier to live in the dark than to face uncertain realities of life in the light. Some call it 'putting one's head in the sand'. Others call it 'looking the other way'. Psychologists call it 'denial'. Whatever you call it, it is dangerous. It can lead to eating a lot of bad apples without knowing it.
Several years ago I was a delegate to a law-making conference of the church. The dynamics of the procedure were not much different from the sessions of the Alabama State Legislature, which I have observed many times. I found myself ill-disposed to come home and tell the people who had sent me what really went on. It would shatter too many illusions and create too much anxiety.
I was reminded of the old German adage: "It is better not to know how sausages and laws are made". I had never really understood that adage before, but my experience made it painfully clear. To know how sausages and laws are made tends to make you lose your taste for sausage and your respect for laws.
We are living in complex and potentially dangerous times. Even a democracy can be an ineffective and sometimes dangerous form of government in the absence of the studied attention of an informed citizenry. We take great pride and sometimes exaggerated comfort in the fact that we live in a democratic society. [I use the term "democracy" because that is how we commonly think of our form of government. Technically, we live in a constitutional republic.] It is easy to forget that whatever you call our form of government, it needs "tending to". It cannot be put on auto-pilot and left to function unobserved and unattended.
Speaking to the House of Commons in 1947 Winston Churchill made an astute "tongue in cheek" observation regarding democracy. He said: "Many forms of government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."
Any student of history and any observer of the rise and fall of governments over time would agree with that "Churchillian" observation. Our enthusiasm about our form of government has sometimes led us to mistakenly think that we could export it, unaltered, to other countries whose culture is complicated and radically different from our own, and that such a change would be received with universal appreciation and function with great success. We have had occasion to experience great disappointment in the practical application of that philosophy. We tend to forget, if we ever knew, Churchill's caveat regarding the universal and immediate application of democracy as we know it. In a conversation with President Eisenhower in August of 1954, Churchill opined: "I am a bit skeptical about universal suffrage for undeveloped nations [actually, he used the word 'Hottentots' which I am hesitant to use] even if refined by proportional representation..The British and American Democracies were slowly and painfully forged, and even they are not perfect yet."
Our form of government is a "work in progress" and is dangerously fragile when left to float unattended. When 'the people' do not know, or do not care, what is happening at city hall or in the state legislature or in Washington, our democratic society (constitutional republic) can not only become ineffective, it can fail. When we blindly elect officials who become increasingly beholden to the army of self-interested lobbyists who prowl the halls of our law-making bodies, looking for law-makers who are morally weak, financially needy and fearful of not being re-elected, our government is in mortal danger. An informed and vigilant populace is an essential ingredient of our democracy. Ignorance and indifference are the greatest enemies of good government..
The fabric of integrity in our social and political life is kept intact by the people who keep the lights on while eating apples; and who are willing to watch diligently to see how sausages and laws are made. Ignorance may momentarily soothe our anxieties and accommodate our laziness when we have to take a bite of something about which we are not sure, but it will cause us to end up swallowing wormy apples, bad sausage and equally unpalatable laws. Blissfully blind ignorance can cause illness and lawlessness and the loss of our most precious possession - freedom.
Keep the candle burning bright when you eat apples. Keep an eye on how your sausages and laws are made. It is the key to the survival of our form of government and our way of life.
Speaking on the right of the election of Lord Mayor of Dublin over 200 years ago, John P. Curran said: " The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance, which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.."
Don't blow out the candle!!!