Jesus The Game Changer

Jesus the Game Changer 5 of 10: DEMOCRACY

This is the fifth post in a series of posts running parallel to weekly screening of the series Jesus the Game Changer on Shine TV.


Democracy and Christianity

Democracy in America

In 1831 a Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville traveled to America to undertake a study of American Society. He wanted to understand why the French democratic experiment had failed, and to identify what things America was implementing to protect democracy. He wrote a work called De La Démocratie en Amérique, otherwise known as Democracy in America.

In Democracy in America, Tocqueville identified various threats to democracy, the first of which was an excessive love for equality. The idea of equality implies that because no person has any more right to rule than another, the only just way to run society is by the will of the majority; however, this can lead to despotism or tyranny. In a purely democratic society, whatever most people consider to be right, is what is right since if you go against what the majority have said, you proclaim that your opinion is superior. People are expected to agree with the majority while at the same time, abandoning rational thought. As Tocqueville comments:

“Formerly tyranny used the clumsy weapons of chains and hangmen; nowadays even despotism, though it seemed to have nothing to learn, has been perfected by civilization…Under the absolute government of a single man, despotism, to reach the soul, clumsily struck at the body, and the soul, escaping from such glows, rose gloriously above it; but in democratic republics that is not at all how tyranny behaves; it leaves the body alone and goes straight for the soul.”

A second threat he identified, was an overemphasis on individualism. As people become more equal, they begin to focus in on themselves. In an aristocratic society, people have societal bonds and duties toward each other; if all men are equal, duties beyond that to your family and friends become less important to maintain. Citizens who become too individualistic soon begin to lose the will and motivation to fulfill civic duties and exercise their freedom. A third threat he saw was a tendency of the people towards materialism. As equality grows, individuals begin to believe that they should have as much as everyone else. Further, people may willingly abandon their freedom in exchange for a benevolent despotism which will protect their own personal peace and prosperity.

However, at the same time, Tocqueville also identified elements that can combat the undesired side-effects of equality including religion, the education of women, and freedom of association and of the press. Alexis argues that religion is the most important because of the things it teaches. First of all, religion teaches citizens of the nation how to use and not abuse their freedom. Because the government provides no absolute standards, it is necessary for religion to provide moral boundaries, and as such, teach citizens how to use their freedom. He argues:

“Despotism may be able to do without faith, but freedom cannot … How could a society escape destruction if, when political ties are relaxed, moral ties are not tightened? And what can be done with a people master of itself if it is not subject to God?”

The second reason why religion is a true defender of democracy, is that it stands against the spirit of individualism. Because religion brings people into a community of common belief, it encourages individuals to think about the local and broader community of which they are a member. Finally, because religion draws people’s thoughts beyond the physical toward the eternal and immaterial, it leads them away from materialism. For these reasons and more, Tocqueville strongly warns the leaders of society to not disturb the faith of the people for fear that “the soul may for a moment be found empty of faith and love of physical pleasures come and spread and fill all.”

Tocqueville concludes his work with the following:

“The nations of our day cannot prevent conditions of equality from spreading in their midst. But it depends upon themselves whether equality is to lead to servitude or freedom, knowledge or barbarism, prosperity or wretchedness.” [0]

Democracy and Christianity

So, how does Christianity fit into all this? In this next section, we will look at how the Christian religion provides a sure foundation for democracy and equality.

In the first chapter of Genesis we read:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27 ESV)

Right in the beginning, God affirms that all humans are made in the image of God and in so doing declares the equal value and dignity of every person. Yet the dignity of man is marred, for in the third chapter of Genesis we read:

Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. (Genesis 3:22-23 ESV)

Right at the start, the Bible affirms the nobility of man, yet at the same time the wretchedness of man. From this we reason that because all men are equal, no person has the right to rule with absolute authority, yet because we are fallen, limits on the power of government are necessary. The will of the majority is not necessarily right, and the individual has the right and even a duty to go against the majority opinion when he or she believes the majority is wrong. Second, the Genesis narrative demonstrates to us that every human being is accountable before God to obey the moral law. There is a God in heaven who will judge, and as Adam and Eve were judged for their transgressions, so God will judge every person on either their own deeds, or upon the finished work of Christ as the New Testament affirms. Third, we see that the Bible does not affirm individualism :

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. (Genesis 1:28-29 ESV)

In this first chapter, God commands Adam and Eve to populate the earth and bring it under their authority and rule. As such they have a duty to each other and to the earth, a responsibility to obey God and look after that which has been entrusted to them. This is not individualism, but a focus on community and a clear picture of obedience and interdependence. Finally, Christianity clearly speaks out against materialism by teaching that every human being will one day die and spend eternity in either heaven or hell. Any possession in this life we possess for a limited time; the one who is consumed with temporal things may forfeit the next life, yet one who has an eternal perspective understands that this life is only a brief moment when compared with eternity.

In the Final Analysis

As you can see, the Christian perspective provides a sure foundation for the preservation of democracy. In fact, everything that has been said thus far can be summarized in this statement:

And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27 ESV)

Each individual is to love and serve every other individual, to obey God, to think of others before the self, and to love only God and people. What does this mean for us? We need to get involved in government and pray that others may also get involved who are Christians. We need to share the gospel, and bring people into the kingdom so that they may also be governed by Christ. And finally, we need to examine our own lives, and see if we are truly loving God and people, or if we are succumbing to individualism and materialism. If we are, then we must repent and seek the forgiveness and strength of the Lord. Democracy sure has problems, but it’s the best we have, as Churchill once remarked before the House of Commons:

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time…” [1]


References

[0] – http://www.gradesaver.com/democracy-in-america

[1] – https://richardlangworth.com/worst-form-of-government

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