Christians and Politics Part 4: Why Democracy?

In many discussions of politics, one often hears conservatives, including many Christians[1] arguing that certain policies or movements are threats to our democratic republic, including demagoguery, erosions of the system of checks and balances within the constitution. These arguments are often made on the basis of Detoquiville’s discussion on the end of America, and/or comparisons to other historical declines, of democratic principles (most famously the fall of the Roman Republic).[2] The basis of these arguments is outside the scope of Truth in the Trenches, but is nevertheless worth studying.[3] And yet, it raises the important question, why would a Christian care about democracy (or for that matter “limited government”) at all? After all, the Bible no where discusses democracy, and the government described in the Old Testament is not democratic.[4]


The Image of God and the Evil of Man

                  The answer to the question is theological rather than interpretational. Theology is a step that moves beyond the text of the Christian Scriptures to synthesize them into a comprehensive and holistic worldview. Systematic theology draws not only from the Scriptures, but also from discussions of the sciences, history and other sources of information.[5] The reason for a preference to democratic forms of government, (and even moreso limited government, and the checks and balances of the US Constitution) is found in a combination of the study of history, and the nature of man. If man is basically evil (or as Christians put it, “fallen”), then it stands to reason that when men are given power, they will tend to misuse that power towards selfish ends. If a king were perfectly righteous, then monarchy would not differ substantially from a democratic republic; a perfectly just person given complete political power would have only to contend with his or her limited knowledge, but kings are not perfectly righteous, they have concerns to maintain or expand their powers, which leads them to injustice against human beings who are made in the image of God. The old saying, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” indicates the severe problem that arises from giving a single human being or a small group of human beings excessive power. And this is why democratic concerns with regular elections, term limits, or the various freedoms of speech (guaranteed to include speech considered obnoxious or immoral) are important. If the goal is to prevent the harm to individual men (being made in the image of God), then a democratic republic, with a balance of powers intended to prevent abuses seems to be the most effective means of honoring that goal.


This, in fact, was a major concern for the founders who were highly cognizant of the fall of the Roman Republic to political interests, and was noted by American apologists Alexis de Tocqueville concerns America would eventually fall to a “democratic despotism,” something many modern conservatives treat as prophetic.


Atheism has no such view

When Unitarian John Adams first heard about the French Revolution, he pondered whether atheists would be able to maintain a democracy, and the result of the French Revolution was more typical than the American one; most revolutions end in people suffering more grievously at the hands of their “liberators” than they did at the hands of older, established tyrants. The same is true of Vladmir Lenin and chairman Mao.


Sometimes, Christians are attacked for noting the numbers of atheistic regimes involved in mass slaughters (of course, this does not make atheists more circumspect in their own similar assessments of Christians committing atrocities, often including Hitler, who figures as often in Christian arguments). There is a general tendency to view this as a problem with “Fundamentalism,” referring to men like Richard Dawkins as “fundamentalist atheism” but in recent years that term has lost all useful meaning for rational discussions, in much the same way as racial slurs. But rather than simply noting the stalemate exists on questions of atrocities, there is a deeper issue. Christians who commit atrocities are what I term as “inconsistent monsters,” yes, some Christians have justified abysmal actions, but when you examine the New Testament, one has a difficult time arguing such justifications are in line with the Master’s dictates. Yet, one has a greater difficulty when arguing that somehow the atrocities committed by atheists such as Lenin are different in kind. Not only was Atheism central to Lenin and Stalin’s worldview (while not all Marxists are atheists, Marxism requires atheism to function), but there was no replacement for the idea that man was in the image of God and therefore no rational basis for treating human life as sacred in its own right. Atheistic humanists (as opposed to Christian Humanism) is as contradictory in supporting democracy as it is in arguing for the dignity of man. Atheists argue that evolutionary biology, survival of the fittest is the law of nature; they argue that this is the basis of human thought, and then contradict this position by trying to create an society that guarantees the dignity of man that, once again, their worldview does not sustain.



[1]One facet of these discussions will be based on a particular element of end-time prophecies. There are a number of different approaches taken to Christian discussions of the endtimes, the two most common today being premillenialism and amillenialism. Many premillenialists view certain movements within US policy as preparatory for the end times kingdom of the anti-Christ, myself included. Unfortunately, in many cases, the laylevel version of these debates differs significantly from more scholarly treatments, even within premillenial statements.

[2]To those interested in the constitution, the Roman Repulic’s conversion to the Roman empire, and the events leading up to that point beginning with the Gracci (two brothers who used concerns over soldier’s returning after extended service in the Roman legions to find their families in poverty as a means to win elections to the post of Tribune and to expand the tribune’s powerbase) because this was a major inspiration for the concepts of checks and balances for the founders. Additional concerns were noted by American apologist Alexis de Tocqueville concerns America would eventually fall to a “democratic despotism,” something many modern conservatives treat as prophetic.

[3] Similarly, one will hear defenses of American “individualism” and various arguments raised against such a rugged individualist structure in favor of noting the needs of a collective, and still others argue obscure debates about egalitarianism versus equal treatment under the law. I am not quite sure how these persons define individualism, to my way of thinking, individualism, in economics and elsewhere is a matter of rights and equal treatment under the law.

[4]The Torah is organized as a treaty between Israel and Yahweh; it is known that many of the customs and practices appear to predate the Torah. Likely, then, what we have in the Torah is not necessarily a new form of government, but modifications to an existing culture (in part to protect human rights, see previous articles on Matthew 19). And yet, the role of the elders in Hebrew society may be analogous at points, for example the role of elders in tribal society.


What this means for modern discussions is going to vary, since there are two major schools of discussions in the relationship between the OT and NT, the church is the new Israel (Covenant Theology), and the church is not Israel (Dispensationalism), and different subsets exist within each approach (for example, within dispensationalism there is the “classical dispensationalist” approach championed most recently by Charles Ryrie, and the “Progressive dispensationalist” approach).

[5]A Systematic theologian will refer to these as “natural revelation” as opposed to Scripture which is “special revelation.”