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Democracy is a Christian Value

Who could have imagined only a few years ago that there would be controversy in the United States of America about the importance of democracy?  Yet here we are with a former president and presidential candidate who has suggested suspending the constitution and becoming a dictator (like the many autocratic world leaders he expresses admiration for).  That has gotten me thinking not only about why democracy is important but also whether or not, as Christians, we have the responsibility to promote democracy.

The founding fathers of our nation declared independence from the king of England in 1776.  In the Declaration of Independence, they cited “a long train of abuses and usurpations” from the despotic and tyrannical king as the reason for forming this new government, a democracy.  The founders went to great lengths to create a government with numerous guardrails to prevent power from consolidating in a person or elite group of persons.  Our government was designed to be “for the people by the people.”

Autocratic rule by monarchs and dictators has been the norm ever since humankind’s earliest hunter-gatherer days, and unfortunately the norm also has been for leaders typically to be more interested in their own power and self-interests than for the common good.  Like with other animal species, the history of human civilization is replete with examples of alpha males ruling over the rest of the populace who were powerless and inconsequential. 

The late political scientist R.J. Rummel, in his book Death by Government, investigated democide, which is murder by governments of its own people.  Rummel estimated that 169 million people were killed by their own governments during the 20th century. He concluded from his research that autocracies are inherently violent, and democracies are not.  He concluded that there is an inverse correlation between violence and freedom, i.e., the more freedom people have, the less violence.  “The problem is power. The solution is democracy.  The course of action is to foster freedom.”

Psychologist Steven Pinker in his book Enlightenment Now writes “A good government allows people to pursue their lives in safety, protected from the violence of anarchy, and in freedom, protected from the violence of tyranny.  For that reason alone, democracy is a major contributor to human flourishing.  But it’s not the only reason: democracies also have higher rates of economic growth, fewer wars and genocides, healthier and better-educated citizens, and virtually no famines.”

Thomas Jefferson declared in the U.S. Declaration of Independence that people have certain unalienable rights that were given to them by God, namely life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  He asserted that “all men are created equal.”  In addition, the preamble to the U.S. Constitution states that the purpose of our government is to establish justice, ensure tranquility, promote the general welfare, and secure liberty.

What this means to me is that all of us are important and equal.  We all deserve to have freedom to live our lives as we see fit.  It means that we have the right to think what we think, feel what we feel, speak what we feel the need to speak, behave in the way we choose, and be who we are- as long as it does not interfere with the rights of others. 

These freedoms, I believe, lead us to a “more perfect union” and a more perfect world.  In fact, I believe it sounds very much like what Jesus talked about when he preached about the “kingdom of God.”  New Testament scholar Marcus Borg said this was the central theme of Jesus’ teachings: “It is about a transformed world, a world of justice and plenty and peace, where everybody has enough and where, in the striking phrase from the prophet Micah, ‘No one shall make them afraid.”’ 

It is democracies, not autocracies, that create such a world.  Millions of people have given their lives in pursuit of democracy.  Democracies are worth fighting for.  Democracies are worth dying for.  Democracies promote evolution.  Democracies bring us closer to the vision of Jesus.


Dr. Vander Maas is a clinical psychologist whose vocational specialties are neuropsychology and psychopharmacology and his research and writing interests are evolutionary psychology, developmental psychology (especially spiritual development), and transpersonal psychology.  He is the author of the recently published book Beyond Religion: Finding Meaning in Evolution.

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