Saturday, March 31, 2018

Altruism: The Missing Ingredient in American Christianity and Democracy

 By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Both Christianity and Democracy share an essential ingredient: altruism.  It’s defined as concern for the public welfare, and it’s conspicuously absent in American religion and politics.  Jesus taught altruism as a moral imperative of faith in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves, including our neighbors of other races and religions; and it is recognized as a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

Providing for the public welfare, or common good, is as much a priority in democratic politics as it is in religion; but that civic value is missing in America’s increasingly self-centered, materialistic and hedonistic culture.  That became evident in 2016 when America elected a narcissist as its president, and this past year Trump confirmed his utter lack of altruism.

On Easter eve 2018, in a nation where the vast majority of voters consider themselves Christians, there is little sense of common purpose, much less concern for the public welfare.  America is now more polarized by partisan politics along racial lines than since the Civil War, and Trump’s election has exacerbated that polarization. We can only hope that America can be resurrected, reconciled and redeemed as a nation of people who truly care for one another.

Unfortunately, American politics are becoming even more polarized, with little evidence of reconciliation.  Demographic data indicates a decrease in white voters, an increase in voters over 50 years old, an increase in college educated voters, and an increase in those who claim no religious preferences, all of which have widened political and religious differences in America.

The percentage of white voters in the U.S. has dropped by 14%, with a decrease of 16% among Democrats and 9% among Republicans.  Among voters over 50 years old, there has been an overall increase of 10%, with 18% among Republicans and only 5% among Democrats.  Overall there has been an 8% increase of those with a college education, with a 15% increase among Democrats, but no change among Republicans.  As for religion, Americans claiming no religion has increased by 16%, with 24% among Democrats and 8% among Republicans.

Partisan politics are becoming more polarized with competing identity groups, and the church is not promoting the altruism needed for political reconciliation.  Instead, the evangelical wing of the church actively supports divisive radical-right politics, while mainstream Christian denominations avoid political issues, even those essential to providing for the common good.

This can be attributed to the church emphasizing exclusivist beliefs, such as Paul’s atonement doctrine, rather than the universalist and altruistic teachings of Jesus summarized in the greatest commandment.  While that emphasis has allowed Christianity to become the world’s most popular religion, it has ignoring the self-denial and sacrificial love taught by Jesus.

America has always been diverse, but that diversity has become a weakness rather than a strength.  America seems to have lost its sense of common destiny and purpose, with divisive identity groups in both political parties promoting tribalism rather than political reconciliation.  Republicans have become a white radical-right party, while Democrats have become a leftist conglomeration of minority groups. Neither party relates to moderate conservatives.

A nationwide nonpartisan moral revival is needed to restore altruism as a religious and political virtue in America, and that will require religious and political revolutionaries willing to challenge the divisive tribal norms of  religious and political institutions. It will take a 21st century reformation to resurrect the altruistic spirit that gave birth to American democracy.


After 20 years, data shows dramatic changes in party alignment based on fewer white voters, more voters over 50, more with a college education and more disclaiming religion.  See

Political reconciliation is needed for our polarized politics, but it must be based on shared altruistic values; and the values of Donald Trump and his supporters are not altruistic, but divisive and hostile to providing the common good.  In response to Henry Olsen urging conservatives “to make peace with a Trump dominated movement” and seek “fusionism” with them, Michael Gerson has advised conservatives to forego any “fusion” with the Trump regime because of the damage they have done “in the realm of values and norms.”  Gerson urged elected leaders to “affirm our common bonds,” and “for principled conservatives to hear the call of moral duty and stand up for their beliefs until this madness passes. As it will.” See

In a recent poll “61% of Republicans considered Trump a good role model for their children.”  The dramatic difference in values and lack of altruism in Trump’s “Christian” supporters and those  conservatives before them is evident in recent interviews of Trump supporters. See

In 1834 Alex DeTocqueville observed that Democracy in America flourished with a diversity of social and religious organizations and was dependent on shared altruistic religious and political values that balanced individual rights with providing for the common good.  That was before the Civil War and the residual racial animosity that has haunted America ever since.

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