You know how it is when you get a puzzle buzzing in your brain and you can’t rest until, as they say, you’ve got your head round it? I have such a pestering question in my head – it’s been there for the best part of a week: is Christianity compatible with democracy? Usually when I’m bothered by one of these teasers, I look to all the best people for enlightenment. And on this subject I find that all the best people seem to think – though I am using the word “think” here in an unusual sense – that democratic values are Christian values. I could quote you a dozen or more authorities who think this but, since we’re talking about the best people, let me quote some words of Archbishop Justin Welby – for they don’t come better than him. Last June he spoke of:
“…the deeply Christian principles that have shaped us. They are principles that show us at our best, as an example to other countries, as a home of freedom and democracy.”
Problem solved! There’s my answer in plain English. So democracy is one of our Christian principles. I wonder why, now that I have received this authoritative answer, my head is still buzzing and the conundrum won’t go away? I like to think of myself as a respectful sort of bloke and not the type to question the statements of my betters. But in this case I’m afraid I can’t help it. I keep coming back to the central question: what’s Christian about democracy?
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.”
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.
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.
In practice in Britain today, democracy is the tyranny of secular values. It is certainly not compatible with Christianity – and most uncomfortable for the practising Christian.
There – at last the buzzing has stopped!
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