What would you think of a U.S. political leader who said, “I do not believe there is a problem in this country or the world today which could not be settled if approached through the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount?”
In today’s environment, one might think such a person was courting votes from the religious right or was naïve.
As some may recognize, however, the value accorded the Sermon on the Mount was preached by President Harry S. Truman.
If you spend time at the Truman Library in Independence, Mo., rummaging through Truman’s papers, you’ll find repeated references to the Sermon on the Mount, speaking to his Baptist roots and his penchant for being blunt and to the point.
But in today’s world, such a statement might be viewed by some as a violation of the principle of separation of church and state and by others as, at best, quaint.
While we might salute the principles from the New Testament Book of Matthew, as far as they go, we might also see a need to update them in light of the 21st century and our own values.
And why not? Revisionism is in vogue these days, what with the Texas Board of Education seeking to rewrite public school textbooks to better reflect what they see as conservative values and points of view — like dropping Thomas Jefferson from a list of people who inspired revolutions.
If the Texas board turns its attention to scripture after influencing textbook publishers, they might find this version of the Sermon on the Mount better suited to truths of the day:
Blessed are they who mock the poor and taunt the ill and infirm: for they shall have radio talk shows.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted with 15 seconds of celebrity on the nightly news and then years of waiting for promised relief.
Blessed are they reluctant to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s: for they shall get even more in the way of tax cuts.
Blessed are the geek: for they shall inherit not the earth, but maybe government contracts to rig voting machines.
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after Wall Street bonuses: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the unmerciful who would waterboard and torture: for they shall be excused, if not thanked, in the interests of national security.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall be spared having to make public apologies and being analyzed by pseudo shrinks on talk shows. (But that’s about it.)
Blessed are those who possess Colt Peacemakers and those who ardently demand the right to keep and bear arms: for theirs is the fear and obedience of Congress and state legislatures.
Blessed are they that have been persecuted and indicted for greed’s sake: for theirs is the kingdom of appearances on late night TV.
Blessed are ye when the news media shall reproach you, and persecute you and report all manner of evil against you.
Rejoice and be glad: for great is your reward in speaking honoraria, book sales and support from your political base.
If you spend time at the Truman Library, rummaging through his papers, you’ll know that Harry’s response to such a revised Sermon would be unBaptist and unprintable. But the likes of the Texas Board of Education would likely revise that, too.