Wisdom of History

Building Houses on Rock: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

A good civilization will be built on a foundation of Wisdom—everyone will do everything in a way that they want it done to themselves. Such a civilization will, therefore, secure Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness by putting into practice the words of Jesus—and the words of all those who have Wisdom.

At the end of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explained why everyone should put his words into practice.  He said:

“[E]veryone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise [person] who built [their] house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25).

One word in this teaching by Jesus merits special attention.

Everyone means EVERYONE!!!

The timeless wisdom in the Sermon on the Mount is not solely meant for those who follow the Way of Jesus. The timeless wisdom in the Sermon on the Mount is for everyone. Those who follow a different religion. Or those who reject all religions.

It is well known that most religions and philosophies agree about the wisdom that should guide us. Details vary. But they reach the same bottom line: “in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12).

One word in this teaching by Jesus merits special attention.

Everything means EVERYTHING!!!

This teaching is not limited to how we behave in our personal lives. This teaching applies to everything in a civilization. Families. Charities. Businesses. Governments.

In a civilization that is good, that is very good, everyone does everything in a way that they want it done to themselves.

This timeless wisdom is not the teaching of any one religion or philosophy. It is the consensus wisdom of most religions and philosophies.

For example, for those interested in a rigorous analysis of why governments exist to secure Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, I urge you to read George Will’s recent book: The Conservative Sensibility.

My views generally agree with the views of George Will about securing Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Yet George Will describes himself as “an amiable atheist” while I describe myself as a follower of the Way of Jesus.

In The Conservative Sensibility, George Will devotes an entire chapter to explain that securing Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness does not depend on religion. It is a conclusion that every person of goodwill can reach by using the reasoning of the Enlightenment that spawned free societies.

How can an atheist and a Christian reach such similar views about securing Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness?

Because Wisdom is not a religious doctrine. Wisdom is not limited to one religious or philosophical outlook.

Wisdom becomes self-evident when everyone heeds this wisdom from the Prophet Isaiah: “Come now, and let us reason together.” (Isaiah 1:18 (KJV)).

A passenger plane illustrates the difference between religion and wisdom.

Without the insights of science, people looking out the window of their plane could only speculate about how it manages to fly.

Are there multitudes of birds hidden from view inside cages? Are there gigantic balloons hidden from view? Are the balloons full of hydrogen? Helium? Hot air?

Perhaps the hot air comes from the endless speculations about religion and philosophy that cannot be resolved by science.

In contrast, even if they don’t understand scientifically how it is possible for the plane to fly, reason and experience can discern timeless wisdom about how the passengers on the plane should treat each other.

This consensus about wise behavior would be embraced by most religions and philosophies, despite their disagreements about matters that science cannot discern: for example, whether there is life after death, and whether God, angels, heaven, and hell exist.

What is this wise consensus?

In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.

In my illustration about passengers on a plane, reason and experience can discern a number of wise behaviors.

Help each other pass food and drinks.

Be fair when distributing food and drinks.

Don’t make too much noise.

Give each passenger as much privacy as feasible.

Give each passenger as large a seat as possible so that they are as free as possible to pursue happiness.

The liberty of each passenger should be limited only when absolutely necessary to secure their life and the lives of others by requiring seat belts to be fastened during turbulent times.

To be sure, some people are not wise.  They’ll hog the food. Belch. Snore. And argue too loudly about religion!

Fortunately, when people come and reason together, most of us realize that in everything it is best to treat everyone the way that we want to be treated—whether on a plane or in a civilization.

When Americans came together to form a nation in 1776, we came to reason together. And we reasoned that it is wise for the government to secure Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

But the essential task of securing Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness should not depend solely on the government.

It is wise for everything about the civilization to be framed so as to secure Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Because everything about a good civilization has a role to play in securing Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Families. Charities. Businesses. Governments.

Everything in a good civilization must be guided by Wisdom so that everyone is treated the way that each of us wants to be treated.

Each of us benefits when all the “seats” on our “plane” are as large as possible!

Unfortunately, efforts to secure Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness often focus solely on the role of the government and the role of the people.  But considering only these two things about the civilization—as important as they are—means that we have already made a fundamental mistake. We’re ignoring the many other things about a good civilization that are necessary and desirable to secure Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

A skilled negotiator told me that he loves to offer people a choice between only two things. There often is a third alternative that would be far better for the other person than the two choices he’s suggesting. But rarely do they see it. They usually limit themselves to considering only the two options he planted in their brains.

When building a civilization that is good, we must not limit ourselves to focusing on only two things about the civilization—even two things as important as the role of the government and the role of the people.

That is like asking if we want to eat apples and oranges.

Instead of eating only apples and oranges, we should eat every fruit in the large fruit basket of Wisdom.

We should eat every fruit that helps to secure Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

We should eat every fruit that helps to secure a civilization that is healthy—and good!

This flexibility and diversity is essential in order to build good civilizations that span all cultures and times.

For example, the Freedom of Speech and the Freedom of Religion are necessary to secure Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. But there are a number of ways to secure Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion.

England secures the Freedom of Religion. Yet England has an established church (the Church of England) while the U.S. Constitution forbids having an established church.

England secures the Freedom of Speech. Yet there are significant differences between laws affecting privacy, slander and libel in England compared to the United States.

Thomas Jefferson and others recognized long ago that securing liberties on paper is ineffective unless people are secure enough financially to stand up to the government, stand up to rich people, and stand up to powerful people.

Families and charities must help people be wise enough to secure their liberties.

Families, charities and businesses must help people be secure enough financially to stand up to the government, stand up to rich people, and stand up to powerful people.

Which principles of the Sermon on the Mount are essential to securing Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—not merely by the government, but by everything about our civilization?

One key is turning the other cheek. (Matthew 5:39). In order to secure Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, we must cooperate with each other instead of retaliating against each other.

One key is seeking reconciliation with those who have something against us or who are our adversaries. (Matthew 5:23-26). In order to secure Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, we must shake hands with each other instead of raising fists at each other.

One key is loving our enemies. (Matthew 5:44).  In order to secure Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, we must do good to those who oppose us rather than doing good only to those who support us.

One key is being satisfied with what we have so we do not take what belongs to others. (Matthew 5:27-30). In order to secure Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, we must secure financial justice for each individual as well as securing financial opportunity for each individual.

One key is building a civilization whose ultimate goal is not to increase wealth or power, but whose ultimate goal is to increase good fruit such as love, joy, peace, and kindness. (Matthew 6:19-21,24; Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4; Galatians 5:22).

Such a civilization will be built on a foundation of Wisdom—everyone will do everything in a way that they want it done to themselves.

Such a civilization will, therefore, secure Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness by putting into practice the words of Jesus—and the words of all those who have Wisdom.

When the rain comes down, when the streams rise, and when the winds blow and beat against that wise civilization, it will not fall.

Wisdom will secure Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Wisdom will secure a civilization that is good—that is very good.

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For related ideas, please read my blogs “How Do We Build A Civilization That Is Good—That Is Very Good?” and “It’s All About People”.

For additional ideas about Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, please see my book, Visions of America, especially at pages 23-30; 39-56; and 71-77.