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TEXAS FAITH 94: Should leaders love their country more than their souls?

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Dallas Morning News,

Each week we will post a question to a panel of about two dozen clergy, laity and theologians, all of whom are based in Texas or are from Texas. They will chime in with their responses to the question of the week. And you, readers, will be able to respond to their answers through the comment box.

Let’s return to a theme we’ve talked about before, but one that is perennially challenging. And that is how people of faith are supposed to live out their lives publicly.

Specifically, I’m thinking about how our leaders are supposed to live out their religious convictions, if indeed they profess a set of beliefs. Most major religions adhere to the Golden Rule in one way or another. Many preach the value of forgiveness. And most focus on loving their Supreme Being with body, soul and mind.

But the world intervenes for leaders. They must make hard decisions for a larger group of people, many of whom may not share their religious beliefs. Potential conflict arises, for example, when a leader is called upon to protect his or her country, even when that could mean getting one’s hands dirty.

New York Times columnist David Brooks touches upon this theme in this essay. Here’s one excerpt:

“In the real world, a great leader is called upon to create a civilized order for the city he serves. To create that order, to defeat the forces of anarchy and savagery, the virtuous leader is compelled to do hard things, to take, as it were, the sins of the situation upon himself.

“The leader who does good things cannot always be good himself. Sometimes bad acts produce good outcomes. Sometimes a leader has to love his country more than his soul.”

That’s pretty disturbing. Should a leader really love his country more than his soul? If so, does that mean country should come before faith?

To me, this is one of the more challenging parts of the intersection of religion and politics. I would love to hear your thoughts about whether leaders must on occasion love their country more than their soul.

NITYANANDA CHANDRA DAS, minister of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), Dallas 

If a leader does not have spiritual vision he will be like a blind man leading other blind men. Those who have clarity and do not have a false conception of self are qualified to lead others.

For example if a man is drowning and I save his coat, what use is my heroism? I must understand that the man is not the coat and save the man himself.

Similarly the very first basic lesson of life is understanding the distinction between the body and the soul/self. The body is always changing, every cell is replaced over the years, but the owner of the body remains the same. That same conscious observer exist in the body at age five and by the age of 20 the body is entirely different. But the conscious observer remains the same.

The leader who has clarity of vision knows how to benefit the owner of the vehicle of the body and the vehicle itself. Whereas those who do not have clarity may aim to enhance the vehicle but at the expense of the owner. Just like if you have a bird in a cage you cannot just polish the cage and neglect the bird.

To see all responses of the TEXAS Faith panel click here.