On a few occasions now, I have ventured to Blogging Theology to discuss an oft-repeated topic – democracy. Incidently, these discussions have served as the basis for this page, which is a series of articles exploring the merits of democracy vs other forms of government.
The author of articles such as this one decries democracy as a form of tyranny, even though democracies do not tend to be anywhere as near restrictive of people’s rights and freedoms as other forms of government are. If you live in the communist regimes of China or North Korea, you are heavily restricted on the form of criticism you can make against the government (assuming you can do so at all), you cannot get information from or about the world beyond your borders without it being heavily filtered, and any rights you have are entirely down to the whim of rulers who have more in common with monarches of old than the elected officials of democratic countries.
Theocracies don’t provide the same measure of freedom for their people either. As you will see by my discussion on Blogging Theology, and my own page, they too are highly dependent upon the whim of whomever is heading up the ruling authority, and laws drawn up from religious texts are open to much interpretation (as are the texts themselves). Ruling from a theocentric position won’t work either – it is still a matter of determining which interpretation of which religion is followed, and as such, a consensus is nigh impossible.
The latest anti-democracy post from Blogging Theology is actually quoting another article, found here. I will make reference to one particular line that comes directly from BT, but I shall address that in due course. Meanwhile, let’s take a look at the Salisbury Review’s article:
In a tricky question such as this, it’s good idea to begin by getting the terms of reference clear. There are two such terms in particular: “Christianity” and “democracy.” What, specifically, does Christianity have to say? From its beginning, Christianity has consistently proclaimed belief in one God, maker of heaven and earth and in God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ who died and rose again to save us from our sins. I hope you will agree that that’s a fair summary of Christianity’s basic teaching. Christian authorities do not add the word “probably” to the content of their religious profession. In fact these authorities have stated the content of faith in what we call the Athanasian Creed and, having so stated it, they go on to caution: “Which faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled: without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.”
I notice that word “everyone.” The truth of the Christian faith is not then the preserve of those who attend the Catholic church across the road, the Methodist chapel or any one of the tin tabernacles belonging to the numerous Non-conforming sects. The Creed is plain – one might almost say to the point of sounding disrespectful. The Christian faith is a statement about the nature and destiny of everyone. It concerns the relationship between God and all humankind. Moreover, it is not a teaching that was very true in the 5th century, a bit less true in the 16th; still less is it something which all the best people today take with a pinch of salt, a nudge and a wink in these enlightened times.
Now, what happens when a Christian states his faith to a believer in democracy? The democrat, being one of the best people, will reply, politely: “So you say. You are free to believe that if you like, but others are free to hold quite different opinions and even to deny the truth of Christianity. Our democratic society contains many such people and we are proud of this fact as evidence of a wholesome diversity.”
There’s nothing that, to my mind, is immediately disagreeable about the first few paragraphs of the article. However, when we look at the next couple…
Thus from the democrat’s point of view, Christianity is quite compatible with the democratic principle, “Everyone has a right to his own opinions.” But that’s not quite what Christianity says. Indeed, it does agree with the democrat that we all have the right to hold such opinions as we fancy; but it goes on to say – with the sort of indelicacy frowned on by all the best people – that, if you hold the wrong opinions, you will perish everlastingly. So, from the Christian perspective, the faith is not compatible with democracy.
Christianity robustly, uncompromisingly, speaks of the truth. Democracy has no concept of truth. For the democrat, there is no such thing as objective truth; there is only the infinite variety of subjective “truths” – your truth, my truth, the believer’s truth, the atheist’s truth; pick where you like in the supermarket of opinions. Which just means that the democrat denudes the word “truth” of all meaning. Most certainly then, from the Christian’s perspective, his faith is not compatible with democracy.
… we see where the article is leaning. Christianity is objective truth and democracy isn’t – which creates an interesting compatibility question with what is said on Blogging Theology. If Christianity is objective truth, and Islam is objective truth, and Judaism, and all the other religions all happen to be objective truth… well, they can’t all be now can they? So what’s the fairest and most reasonable means for settling which religion forms the basis of laws and rules? Answer – none of them.
Back to the article itself. It affirms Christianity as objective truth and democracy as subjective. The misnomer here is that democracy itself isn’t a religion – the individual beliefs of people who believe in democracy will differ greatly, and in that number will include atheists, agnostics, Christians, Muslims, Jews, gays, transgender individuals, and well, pretty much everyone. To each and every one of these groups, their individual and collective experiences are unique. In that sense, their idea of the ‘truth’ will be different. Who am I to say to any of them ‘you are wrong, and must live your life in accordance to my belief system’?
But there’s more to be said. The Archbishop spoke of “freedom and democracy,” as if these two went together like fish and chips. All the best people would agree with him. But these two concepts don’t go together. You can have democracy or you can have freedom, but you can’t have both. The democracy which we inhabit is actually a tyranny – certainly to the practising Christian. Our democracy will allow the Christian to practise his faith only until this faith comes into intellectual conflict with the nostrums of secular society. The Christian is free to go to matins or to put on a jumble sale to raise funds for the church roof. But let the Christian, judging by the lights his faith provides him, declare publicly that there can be no such thing as homosexual marriage and he may well find that, under the supposed benignity of “democracy and freedom,” he is punished by the courts or loses his job.
Let’s flip this around. In parts of the USA right now, a push toward the religious right means in some states you can be denied jobs or fired from jobs if you are homosexual. You can be refused service in places of business under the guise of religious freedom. In Uganda, where Christianity is used as the basis of law, being homosexual can land you in prison. Discrimination against the LGBT community is often backed up with the argument of ‘religious freedom’, and damn the rights of the LGBT community. When someone uses their faith as an excuse to try and deny others their rights, that’s wrong, and thankfully, in countries like the UK, we have laws to prevent this.
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