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I understand that Christianity does not enforce any way of governing. And that democracy has been invented by the Greeks before Jesus. But my question his this: Does Christianity teaches the values for democracy to work?

As an example the United States Declaration of Independence states that all humans have rights because they were created equals by God :

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. (source)

The idea of religious liberty has been defended from Calvin and on.

Also the Acts present texts that could be understood has democracy in the church. Acts 13 presents the whole church sending Paul and Barnabas.

Therefore are Christian values the reason democracy was a viable way of governing?

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the "American Civil Rights movement" did not declare all humans have rights, our Declaration of Independence did. –  warren Jan 17 '12 at 14:58
    
Sorry I'm Canadian. –  David Laberge Jan 17 '12 at 15:11
    
that's ok - just wanted to clarify it for you :) –  warren Jan 17 '12 at 16:01
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5 Answers 5

up vote 12 down vote accepted

I tend to agree with Marc Gravell's answer on this, but I would like to add that I don't think that any religious influence or moral framework could make a true democracy work. True democracy, history has shown, always degenerates into what Lord Acton described as "the tyranny of the majority" in which the rights of the minority get trampled by the opinion of the majority.

I'd also like to point out that the quote that you used was not intended by the founding fathers of the United States to support a democracy. It was used to state that they felt that the government of Britain had trampled certain rights.

The idea of unalienable rights was an important part of providing the form of government that was eventually established here - not a democracy, but a Constitutional Republic with some democratic elements. A form of government in which the Constitution is the rule of law, and the protection of freedoms established in the Constitution were designed, specifically, to limit what the government is able to do, and thereby protect the country from the pitfalls of a true Democracy.

As Marc pointed out, The U.S. is now fractured and divided among may lines, which is, in my opinion, a result of the fact that we've lost sight of the fact that we're not a democracy.

People on all sides seem to have forgotten the fact that we're not a democracy, that might (whether in strength, or in numbers) doesn't make right, and that there's a reason we are supposed to have a limited government. The fact that we've forgotten the idea of unalienable rights is allowing us to slip into the "tyranny of the Majority" and it's only the fact that both sides have approximately equal support that we're not there already.

Also agreeing with other's sentiments, Christianity itself is split among too many lines. This site is a small representation of Christianity as a whole, but even among the Christians here we're split. Even on this site, there is a concern about the tyranny of the majority, and I think it's a valid concern.

So, in summary, I believe the answer is "no". Christianity might be able to provide some good moral foundations, and certain teachings that coincide with what's best in us, but no religion can form as the basis of a government. I personally believe that the idea of unalienable rights, endowed by our Creator is a very good starting point, but that's something that could have come from other sources than Christianity.

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Speaking as a Wisconsinite with a popularly elected governor facing a recall for doing what he thought he was elected to do while everyone opposing him chants, "This is what democracy looks like", you're exactly right. –  Peter Turner Jan 17 '12 at 14:47
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Read Rodney Stark's The Victory of Reason. His entire book is an argument that says the answer is yes. From respect for humanity's images dei to an understanding of property rights being grounded by a common transcendent God, he makes the argument you're looking for.

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There are mixed reviews though - here's one that suggests the book is not quite an even representation. I haven't read it personally, so I can't say more. –  Marc Gravell Jan 17 '12 at 12:32
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I was about to recommend this book myself. I think a little more detail on this thesis would be good. –  DJClayworth Jan 17 '12 at 14:59
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There are a few problems with this approach; firstly, democracy cannot make sense if there is something with a super-vote; if we ignore the Christian hot-points, and say that (silly example) there's a religious law that says "chairs must be blue". At this point, it doesn't matter if 95%+ of the population wants to use different colour chairs - they are trumped by religious law. Thus, true democracy does not exist while there is somebody with an absolute trump.

The second issue is that what you say is not specifically a Christian value (rather: it is applied much wider than that by many cultures and people - I had a discussion here about the definition of "Christian values", but never articulated it as a site question), and indeed it is not even strictly applied as a Christian value by all; there are various sections of Christianity that have (both past and present) shown significant issues with gender roles, and the worth/righteousness of individuals acting entirely within the law of the land (starts with "h"...). While this is true of all society, religion tends to slow-moving on issues like this, since changes here (or anywhere) challenge doctrine and dogma.

The third issue is that Christianity hasn't exactly done a good job of showing a working democracy; instead, every time there's a difference of opinion it has fragmented into different factions, schisms and sects. Showing this level of inability to work as a cohesive democratic body on policy in the Christian domain does not bode well as an example for setting policy outside core Christian arenas.

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I agreed with you on different levels. First your super-vote example is good and fair. The second argument, is lacking in showing that the values that I presented in the question are borned out of Christianity. And thirdly, all arenas of though (Islam, Atheist, Hindus ...) brings with it his faction, sects. –  David Laberge Jan 17 '12 at 12:26
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@David re the second, all you have to do is look at the Greek democracy that pre-dates Christianity; for the 3rd - absolutely! but it is easier to reach a rational concensus without the overtone of things like religious edicts and absolutes (which are born from dogma, rather than empirical data, with the result that it is hard to debate them pragmatically and evaluate their validity and impact, or indeed to reach compromise) –  Marc Gravell Jan 17 '12 at 12:37
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The term "democracy" comes from ancient Greece, where what is generally considered the first democracy was established in Athens in 507 BCE. Democracy thus predates Christianity by a significant margin.

As for "Christian values" having an influence on the success of democracies, note that many of these democracies, especially in Europe, were created by overthrowing monarchies which often had close ties to the Church.

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Just don't forget the following: 1. most of those monarchies, were not absolutists, but had a Parliament before they turned into democracies. 2. Town officials were elected by the people. 3. Nearly all of the European monarchies transformed into democracies peacefully. 4. If there were no correlation between Christian values and the success of Western democracies, then why didn't all, non-Christian monarchies turn into democracies (or democratic monarchies, where the monarch is left only for ceremonial roles)? –  vsz Jan 17 '12 at 16:03
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Christianity, or at least Catholicism, teaches us to honor and respect our traditions. It is a corporal work of mercy to bury the dead and a spiritual work to pray for them and tradition, as G.K. Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy is the "Democracy of the Dead". Tobit was ruined because he persevered in burying the dead.

Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of their birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy - Chapter 4

This is our faith, being continually built upon by men with good ideas and others who accept them. The heresies pass away, not because they're not popular, but because they're wrong and right thinking men and women come to find them distasteful. So too with bad laws, and that is the point of democracy.

Catholicism provides sacraments, sacred oaths, which bind adherents to the Church with public disgrace, and private shame as the penalties for breaking them. When the Church was first forming, Pliny the Younger used the word Sacramentum to describe the oaths which the followers of the Way took to avoid bad behavior and to provide for the needs of the group. Sacramentum is also the word used for the oath that Roman soldiers would take when enlisting themselves. It's just a few words that actually change your status.

So, to answer the question, in a democracy, all men are the king, in baptism, we are baptized into Christ's Kingship. In a democracy, everyone must be informed, in baptism, we are baptized into Christ's role as prophet - giving us direct access to the Holy Spirit. In a democracy, all men and women need to be prepared to sacrifice themselves for the good of all, in baptism we are baptized into Christ's priesthood and His sacrifice and ours ought to be the underpinnings of a just society that reflects the glory of Heaven as best it can given our limited means and fallen nature.


(More on "Sacramentum", Scott Hahn, Swear to God)

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