Is Christianity Compatible with Democracy?
By Austin Cline,
Christianity's Compatibility with Democracy
Since there are obviously democratic nations with lots of engaged, involved Christians, that should settle the question before any debate begins, right? Doesn't that make it obvious that Christianity is compatible with democracy?
Well, there are also democratic nations with lots of engaged, involved Muslims and that hasn't settled the question for some Christians in America. So, no, they don't get to use that response. If Islam's compatibility with democracy is still up for debate, then so must Christianity's. Defending Authoritarian Political Christianity
Keith Peddie wrote a few years ago in the North Carolina News-Record (original is no longer online):
[C]ould there be another cause for the demise of Christianity -- that sacred cow, democracy? Just so long as morality is based on "majority opinion," then why would we need a Bible, God's Word? Surely that would be authoritarian and that's anathema in democracy.
If I am right, then democracy is the reason why, for example, the commandments, the very basis of law in this country, are being removed from courthouses. Democracy dictates that we should never offend other people, no matter how flatly they contradict God's Word.
After all, democratically speaking, their word, their vote, is just as valid as ours. How could we ever "force" our opinion on someone else? The Bible says that we should do God's work, let the chips fall where they may. Am I alone in thinking that these two are diametrically opposed?
I am very much afraid that, without an element of compulsion, the Christian Church, although not perhaps Christianity itself, is bound to die of anemia. The Bible, in this supposedly Christian society, should be a bedrock, whose authority is assured and guaranteed by politics. Instead the current political system seems bent upon destroying the very tenets upon which the country was founded.
I don't think that this is the most common opinion among Christians today, not even among conservative evangelical Christians, but historically isn't not an opinion that it completely out of step with Christianity.
On the contrary, the idea that some opinions are so wrong and so contrary to God's will that they should be suppressed by the government has historically been more the norm than the exception. The idea that there needs to be at least some compulsion on behalf of Christianity — both for the good of the person being compelled and for the good of those around them — has also been more the norm than the exception.
Democratic vs. Anti-Democratic Christianity
You can disagree with Keith Peddie's conclusions, but you can't disagree that his conclusions — not to mention far more extreme forms of them — were once widely accepted without much question and continue to be accepted by some Christians today. Anti-democratic, authoritarian politics is at least as compatible with Christianity as democratic politics is.
If we give any weight to factors like the number of governments and lengths of time, perhaps anti-democratic politics are more compatible. This shouldn't be surprising because Christianity itself is generally more authoritarian than democratic.
Christians don't vote on their god's identity, nature, or demands. Few Christians have ever voted on who will be their ministers or priests and what their churches will teach.
To the extent that Christian institutions have incorporated elements of democracy and popular sovereignty, it's always been a hard fight with lots of strong disagreement. Given that context, support for democracy and popular sovereignty in politics is the unusual development. If you don't need popular sovereignty in religious matters, why do you need it in political matters?
I'm not arguing that Christianity has to be authoritarian and anti-democratic. Instead, I want people to realize that the recent history of Christianity's acceptance of democracy and popular sovereignty is just that: recent. Contrary to what some Christians say, it's not inherent in or mandated by Christianity — especially since so many of the same Christians also work towards reductions in democratic liberty and personal autonomy in so many political contexts.
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