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Democracy CANNOT Exist Without Religion.

This is one of those essays that usually get 50 comments of knee-jerk reactions (or "Far-Side" cartoon posts from "Lamel Valy") . I'm hoping this time to see some intelligent counter-arguments- any takers?
Okay... recently the newspapers have been bursting with stories: Judges stripping the Ten Commandments from court-room walls and forbidding students in schools from pledging allegiance to our flag, and the republic for which it stands, "one nation, indivisible, under God."

But what happens when religion is pulled out from the foundations of the republic? Alexis de Tocqueville reflected more deeply on the inherent weaknesses of democracy, stripped of religion, than anybody at the ACLU today.

Tocqueville began with a shocker: That the first political institution of American democracy is religion. His thesis went something like this: The premises of secular materialism do not sustain democracy, but undermine it, while the premises of Judaism and Christianity include and by inductive experience lead to democracy, uplift it, carry it over its inherent weaknesses, and sustain it.

By its own inherent tendencies, democracy tends to lower tastes and passions, to devolve into materialistic preoccupations, and to undercut its own principles by a morally indifferent relativism. Further, democracy left to itself tends to surrender liberty to the passion for security and equality, and thus to end in a new soft despotism, tied down with a thousand silken threads by a benign authority.

Before the revolution of morals brought on by Judaism and Christianity, pagan philosophy held that most men are by nature slaves, and that "the strong do what they can, and the weak do what they must."

It was Christianity (drawing on Judaism) that established three necessary premises for modern democracy: the inherent dignity of each person, rooted in the freedom that makes each person an Imago Dei; the principle of the universal equality of all humans in the sight of God, whatever their natural inequalities; and the centrality of human liberty to the purposes and principles for which God created the cosmos.

In short, Christianity made the liberty of every individual before God the bright red thread of history, and its interpretive key. Underlying the chances of democracy, then, is its faith in the immortality of the human soul, which is the foundation of the concept of human rights and universal dignity. Lose this faith, and humans become harder and harder to distinguish from the other animals, and human rights become ever more difficult to define, defend, and uphold.

[On these three principles dignity, equality, and liberty John Locke equivocates. He sometimes seems to be arguing that his principles are antithetical to Christianity, and sometimes that they are consistent with a high and faithful reading of Christianity. His followers tend to be divided as to which side of this equivocation they support.]

In addition to these three founding premises, Tocqueville counts at least five other advantages that Judaism and Christianity bring to democracy.

First, Judaism and Christianity correct and strengthen morals and manners. While the laws of a free society allow a person to do almost anything, there are many things which religion prevents him from imagining or doing.

Second, fixed ideas about God and human nature are indispensable in the conduct of daily life, but daily life prevents most men from having time to work out these fixed ideas, and Christianity and Judaism present the findings of reason, tested in generations of experience, in forms that are clear, precise, intelligible to the crowd, and very durable. Moral clarity is a great gain in times of crisis.

Third, whereas democracy induces a taste for physical pleasures and tends to lower tastes, and thus weakens most people in their commitment to the high and difficult principles on which democratic life depends, religion of the Jewish and Christian type constantly point to that danger and demand that humans draw back, and attend to the fundamental things. Belief in immortality prods men to aspire upwards, and to aim for further moral progress along the line of their own dignity and self-government.

Fourth, faith adds to a morality of mere reason, whether of duty or utilitarian advantage, an acute sense of acting in the presence of a personal and undeceivable Judge, Who sees and knows even acts performed in secret. Thus faith adds to reason motives for doing things perfectly even when no one is looking; it gives reasons for painting the bottom of a chair, and in general for doing things as perfectly as possible. In this way, faith gives morals a personal dimension. A sin is not merely a failure to do one's duty, but in addition to that an injury to a person, who has extended the hand of friendship.

Fifth, in a democracy such as the United States, Tocqueville observes, religion does not direct the writing of laws or the formation of public opinion in detail, it does direct mores and shape the life of the home. It does this especially through women's influence upon family life and the stable morals and good order of the home. Politically incorrect as his views may appear in a feminist and relativist age, Tocqueville lays great stress on the tumultuous passions that disrupt home life in Europe, and thus render populations unfit for self-government in democracies and more prone to authoritarian forms, in comparison with the high honor paid the marriage bond and the greater severity of domestic mores observable in America. This quiet regulation of home life is another contribution of Jewish and Christian beliefs to the sustainability of American democracy.

For these eight reasons, then these three fundamental premises: personal dignity, universal equality in the sight of God, and the centrality of human liberty to the story of civilization; and the five additional advantages just listed it is clear that the first political institution of democracy, its most important institution, is religion. That is, religion of the Jewish and Christian type, as described. For not all world religions establish the premises of personal dignity, universal equality, and the centrality of individual liberty. Nor do all add to reason the precise advantages classically delivered by Judaism and Christianity. Those that do, or come closest, also bring to democracy certain contributions to its own stability and progress.

In an especially beautiful passage Tocqueville summarizes his view as follows:

"I have already said enough to put Anglo-American civilization in its true light. It is the product of two perfectly distinct elements which elsewhere have often been at war with one another but which in America it was somehow possible to incorporate into each other, forming a marvelous combination. I mean the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom. . . . Far from harming each other, these two apparently opposed tendencies work in harmony and seem to lend mutual support.

Religion regards civil liberty as a noble exercise of men's faculties, the world of politics being a sphere intended by the Creator for the free play of intelligence. Religion, being free and powerful within its own sphere and content with the position reserved for it, realized that its sway is all the better established because it relies only on its own powers and rules men's hearts without external support.

Freedom sees religion as the companion of its struggles and triumphs, the cradle of its infancy, and the divine source of its rights. Religion is considered as the guardian of mores, and mores are regarded as the guarantee of the laws and pledge for the maintenance of freedom itself."
Hmmmm.... 03.Oct.2002 07:10

Jeremy

I do not think it is religion at all that establishes personal sovereignty, that is just natural law. Anyone who defies it, regardless of their religion or lack therof, is fooling somebody, not to mention themselves.
Was it not the Christians who brought us such great historical events as the witch trials, slavery, and the crusades?
Whereas Christianity does tell people to restrain themselves from certain material pleasures, it does so using guilt, as opposed to allowing people to make their own decision based on their own feelings of right and wrong, which is inherent in all people. This is very unhealthy for the human psyche and not very conducive of a happy and stress-free life.
Take a look at our "In god we trust" society. There is nothing fundamantal about it. Nearly every aspect of every person's life is based in illusion. Buy this and buy that, give me money and I will take away your sorrows with a brand new (fill in the blank). Every time, the promise of happiness is "just around the corner" or "just over this last hill" No, I think it's been in front of us all along. Christianity itself may not have created this backwards set of morals, but it supports it. And if this country purports to be a country founded in christianity, or at least run by it, maybe it should practice what it preaches.

"In every country and in every age the priest has been hostile to liberty; he is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own." -Thomas Jefferson

religion/ politics have no place in governmen 03.Oct.2002 08:18

free man

Both are acts. Plays for the benefit of themselves and some inspiration sic. for the the crowds to suck on while being fleeced. when the photo op shows #1 at church the sheep trust his word.
Do you believe in the bible? Do you believe in religion? Do you believe in ufo's? Do you believe in santa claus, the tooth fairy, and honest washington "lawmakers" No Way

How wrong you are! 03.Oct.2002 13:05

Jeff

What you fail to see is that when Christianity was closely linked to political systems in the past it only created Tyranny! Read up on the burning of so-called witches in the middle ages or the Spanish inquisition and you will see what I am talking about. Christians would burn whole families in the name of Christ. They would start with the mother, cutting off her breasts in front of her child, then stuffing them in her husbands mouth and impaling him through the anus with a spike while he was still alive, they would then burn the mother and throw the child on for good measure. This is why our founding fathers explicitly created the separation of church and state.

How would you feel if the "Wiccan Creed" was posted on school walls. You would throw a FIT! The "Wiccan Creed" is just as moral as any of the ten commandments and it does not derive its power from Christ. The creed is "Do what thou will, lest no harm come to others". In other words, do what you will, but harm none. Sounds good to me, lets post it next to the ten comandments (sarcasm)!

By posting the Ten Comandments on School walls, you are looking for special treatment and influence for Christianity above all else. This discriminates against other religions and places them in a lower hierarchical level, second best, thus creating inequality and a kind of caste system. This does not sound like the principles of democracy to me!

Christianity is Schizophrenic! 03.Oct.2002 13:11

Dude

Christianity seems very schizophrenic to me and would bring that schizo personality to our government if allowed too much power. When Christians want to use "turn the other cheek" they qoute the new testament, when they want to use "eye for an eye" they quote the old testament. How come you are not confused about this and many other contradictions between the old and new testament. Why did there have to be a New Testament giving different rules from the old testament in the first place, did god make a mistake with the old testament? I thought your god did not make mistakes?

Let me see... 03.Oct.2002 13:12

Kateshvara

Conclusion: No democracy can exist without Judeism (The foundation of Christianity).
I think that would be easy enough to refute. All I need to do is come up with ONE instance of a country operating on democratic principles, without the need of Judeism as a foundation.
1. Pegan Greece (Pre-Christian)
2. Modern day India (Primarily Hindu I believe).