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Indiana Leadership Prayer Breakfast
Governor Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr.
February 19, 2008
Transcribed from extemporaneous remarks
Thank you, Geoffrey [Miller, Indiana FFA president], for a generous introduction. It would have been a welcome introduction under any circumstances. It’s especially timely this morning; I don’t know about you but I always need a minute to gather myself after “Because He Lives.”
Again this year we thank the organizers for this opportunity of reflection, and restoration, renewal of our sense of duty, our sense of humility, our sense of faith. Again this year we thank the organizers for a well chosen theme to take us back as it did to the two greatest commandments of our faith, and to the story which summons us to the highest duties to which our faith commands us. And so I hope, like you, this assignment caused me to reflect on the parable and on its meaning. What does it mean to be a Good Samaritan? Where does that impulse come from? To me, what The Book is telling us in that story has much to do not just what the Good Samaritan did, but how and why.
He did what he did on his own; he gave of himself. He didn’t spot the injured traveler and rush back to Samaria to create a Department of Highway Rescue. He didn’t rush back and tax two denarii away from his neighbors, and probably another couple for administrative costs. He gave of himself. This is the compassion that most impresses me, that I think is most deserving of the word. When we do things collectively, when we take from A to come to the aid of B, this quite often is worthy, and quite often good policy, but it is not the compassion to which we are called.
And why did the Samaritan act as he did? To me it makes such a difference that he sought no recognition or even repayment for the substance that he gave. In earlier words from Mathew, he “sounded no trumpet.” He was not among “those hypocrites who give so that they may be honored by men.” He did not let his left hand know what his right hand was doing.
It has been said that whatever else you do, always try to do the duty nearest you. That day on the road to Jericho this man found his duty near at hand and did it when no one would know, when no one would honor him, when no one would repay him, when no one else would help him do it. This I think is the instruction of the second of the two great commandments.
Now, in the year since we met last, in case you didn’t notice, 2007 was a big year for atheists. I don’t know if they’re having a breakfast to celebrate somewhere at this moment, but they’d be entitled to. By my count, and I may have missed some, at least three important books reached the New York Times Best Seller List. They came with provocative names like The End of Faith, The God Delusion, and the number one best seller, God is Not Great. If you read them, and I have, you will find the contention that faith does grievous harm to this world. Elsewhere it is written that faith is not just wrong but deadly.
These books are written in an air of intellectual superiority, condescension, disdain, contempt. Here and there I thought I detected out-and-out hatred. The phrase that caught my attention among all the others was in that number one best seller, in which the author proudly announces, “This is the atheists’ moment.” When I read that, I thought, does he really know so little of history? Does he not know that this is a timeless argument, a timeless difference? Does he not know that we just finished a century of atheists’ moments?
A different author named Richard Dawkins wrote that, as he sees it, religion has been responsible for, “the worst of human atrocities.” Well, tell that to the victims of Hitler. Tell that to the victims of Stalin, the victims of Mao, the victims of Pol Pot. Atheists all: murderers of hundreds of millions.
You see, cruelty and selfishness is always at the end of the atheists’ road. People of faith, sinners that we are, err and sometimes horribly. But it doesn’t flow from the logic of what we believe. Once one concludes that we are all just accidental protoplasm, that there is no higher authority to which we ought to be obedient, then only the self matters, only power over others matters. C.S. Lewis wrote, “When all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains.”
I know that the authors of these books are sincere. They believe they have a formula that is superior for the human future. They believe that their mission is to liberate us from spiritual tyranny. A friend of mine in response wrote that, “This is like liberating a plant from the soil, a whale from the ocean. In this kind of freedom, something dies.” What dies is the voice that summons us to the aid of our neighbor and to the love of our God.
Those of us in this room who are temporarily tasked with public responsibility serve people of faith and those of no belief equally. We respect them equally. We must love them, whatever their view of us.
There are very many people, many good people, good Samaritans that reject the idea of any power larger than themselves. They would tell you that they serve their neighbor and do good deeds out of reason; it is simply wiser to organize society when people treat each other with care. Or, that there are evolutionary instincts which lead us to cooperation: this is better for the success of the species long term. But there are far more powerful, and far more prevalent biological urges that lead humans—fallen humans—to cruelty and to selfishness and disregard of the neighbor in need on the road.
The man on the road to Jericho was not responding to a biological urge. He didn’t reason his way to the good deed that he did. He didn’t say I will help this man and one day he will help me in return. He didn’t say I will help this man or else maybe he will one day decide to harm me. The Good Samaritan answered to a voice in the heart—a voice placed there by a Creator who loves us and instructs us to love each other. Not because it is in our self interest, not because we have reasoned our way to this conclusion, but because it is right and it is just and it is as He wills it.
I hope that, with the benefit of this day and the words we are about to hear from a great Hoosier leader, when that voice next speaks to each of us we will listen a little more carefully, heed it a little more often.
Bill and Gloria Gaither have been calling on their fellow citizens to heed that voice now for a half a century. The list of their accomplishments is staggering: eight Grammies, Gospel Music Association Songwriters of the Year eight times, ASCAP’s Songwriters of the Century across all genres. The Christian Book Sellers Hall of Honor has only four plaques: the long time chaplain of the U.S. Senate, Richard Halbertson; Dr. Kenneth Taylor, author of the Living Bible; Billy Graham; and our next speaker.
With all this success and all this achievement, the Gaithers still live with us in Alexandria, in the house in which they raised their children, in the way in which they raised those children, in the way in which they and their music have spoken to us to the better angels of our nature now for fifty plus years. God bless you Bill Gaither and thank you for joining us this morning.