My Opinion of the Duties of Religion and Morality, comprehends a very extensive Connection with society at large, and the great Interest of the public. Does not natural Morality, and much more Christian Benevolence, make it our indispensible Duty to lay ourselves out, to serve our fellow Creatures to the Utmost of our Power, in promoting and supporting those great Political systems, and general Regulations upon which the Happiness of Multitudes depends. The Benevolence, Charity, Capacity and Industry which exerted in private Life, would make a family, a Parish or a Town Happy, employed upon a larger Scale, in Support of the great Principles of Virtue and Freedom of political Regulations might secure whole Nations and Generations from Misery, Want and Contempt. Public Virtues, and political Qualities therefore should be incessantly cherished in our Children.
John Adams to Abigail Adams, 29 October 1775
This quote is referring to Abigail’s mother, who had recently died. It challenges my prejudice against public service as inherently corrupting.
It also challenges the modern, secularist notion of how religion influences public life, since Adams thinks it means to benefit the general public with “Benevolence, Charity, Capacity and Industry.” That is generally known as a “Christian witness,” and was formerly expected to be true of anyone claiming to be a Christian. Quakers, in particular, became known in the 17th century for deliberately exemplifying such behavior in public life, which should indicate how rare it actually was at the time.
Nowadays, everyone is expected to be hypocritical and self-serving, cynically pursuing a narrow political agenda. That is precisely why I despise the belief that “everything is political” and “ideas have consequences.” Behavior has consequences, and ideas are merely the window-dressing that people choose for themselves.