Saturday, April 20, 2019

Musings on the Resurrection of Altruistic Morality in Dying Democracies

 By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Easter is about resurrection--God’s promise to overcome death with new spiritual life.  In America and around the world democracies are dying because those responsible for keeping them healthy have abdicated their political power to populist demagogues who exploit fear, hate and anger to turn people against themselves and undermine democracy.

Democracies have no morality.  A democracy’s morality is derived from its dominant religion, whether it’s Christianity in America, Judaism in Israel, or Islam in Egypt and Turkey.  In all of those nations, the moral imperative of the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors--including our neighbors of other races and religions--as we love ourselves, is a common word of faith and politics that emphasizes providing for the common good.

That altruistic moral imperative has been ignored in all those democracies with the election of right-wing demagogues.  In America, Christians elected Trump, the antithesis of Christian morality. In Israel, Jews re-elected Netanyahu after he pledged a form of apartheid for Palestinian Israelis.  And In Egypt and Turkey, Muslims have given al-Sisi and Erdogan dictatorial powers even though both men have made a mockery of human rights.

The greatest challenge for any democracy is to balance individual and group rights with providing for the common good.  Globalization has exacerbated nativist tensions with increasing racial and religious diversity; and Trump and other populist demagogues have exploited nativist hostility generated by refugees and immigrants to promote their authoritarian nationalism.

The many variations of Christianity, Judaism and Islam have produced conflicting moral standards in each religion.  It will take a 21st century reformation for Christians to conform the conflicting moral standards of the myriad variations of Christianity to the moral imperatives of altruistic love taught by Jesus and summarized in the greatest commandment.

It will take a Christian reformation and a new moral majority to save American democracy from its demise.  The American civil religion is where religion and politics come together, and Christian morality shapes its concepts of political legitimacy.  But when Christians elected Trump in 2016, they threw Jesus under the bus and abandoned altruistic morality. That resulted in the polarized partisan politics that are the death knell of America’s democracy.

Any religious and political reformation in America must reconcile divisive issues of race.  Most black Christians vote Democratic, while most white Christians vote Republican. While white evangelicals actively support Trump and his Republican minions, more traditional white Christians avoid mixing religion and politics in church, but still vote Republican.

Christians must assume the stewardship of American democracy to save it from its demise.  They must relate the moral imperatives taught by Jesus to their politics and promote a politics of reconciliation that minimizes partisan polarization.  Only then can Congress balance individual rights and the demands of identity groups with providing for the common good.

As libertarian democracies around the world seem to be dying, Easter should remind us that authoritarian demagogues cannot destroy the transforming power of God’s will to reconcile and redeem humanity.  But Satan’s will to divide and conquer is formidable since Satan does a convincing imitation of God in the synagogue, church, and mosque--as well as in politics.

In the cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil, Satan seems to be winning the popularity contest with God.  While the ascendancy of evil is evident in the demise of democracy around the world, Easter should give us hope that God will ultimately resurrect good over evil, even in politics.  But in liberating democracies from demagogues, God needs our help.


America’s political values are taught in America’s public schools where there has been contentious debate over whether they are “democratic” or “core” values.  For instance, in Michigan the moral standards of democracy have been identified as a “...list of core values that the standards writers eventually agreed on was ‘equality; liberty; justice and fairness; unalienable individual rights (including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness); consent of the governed; truth; common good.’ And after months of sometimes bitter debate, the group decided these values could still be called ‘democratic.’”  See
David P. Gushee recalls when he first discovered that “some conservative Christians are not all that into democracy.”  He was shocked to discover that his daughter’s “...Christian school taught a neo-Puritan civics curriculum, which proclaimed that God’s design for human government is rule by ‘godly Christian men’ applying scripture under the sovereignty of God.”  Gushee described the American experiment in democracy being “...nourished deeply by Christian scripture, but not from any paradigm of government found in those sacred pages. ...Americans would create a government in which realistic biblical understandings both of human worth and human sinfulness would be wired into the structure of our institutions. ...Nobody ever guaranteed that our constitutional democracy would survive in perpetuity.  Our generation must decide, again, whether we will continue the flawed but extraordinary experiment in self-government begun in 1776.” David P. Gushee, The Trump Prophecy: Is the Christian Right Giving Up on Democracy?, Sojourners, May 2019, at pages 10,11.

Related commentary:

On the greatest commandment and love over law:
(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(1/18/15): Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(3/31/18): Altruism: The Missing Ingredient in American Christianity and Democracy
(10/13/18): Musings on a Common Word of Faith and Politics for Christians and Muslims
(2/23/19): Musings on Loving Your Enemy, Including the Enemy Within

On religion and politics:
(12/29/14): Religion, Violence and Military Legitimacy
(4/12/15): Faith as a Source of Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy
(6/28/15): Confronting the Evil Among Us
(7/12/15): Reconciliation in Race and Religion: The Need for Compatibility, not Conformity
(8/9/15): Balancing Individual Rights with Collective Responsibilities
(8/23/15): Legitimacy as a Context and Paradigm to Resolve Religious Conflict
(11/15/15): American Exceptionalism: The Power of Persuasion or Coercion?
(1/16/16): Religion, Politics and Public Expectations
(3/26/16): Religion, Democracy, Diversity and Demagoguery
4/30/16): The Relevance of Religion to Politics
(5/7/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation
(5/28/16): Nihilism as a Threat to Politics, Religion and Morality
(7/2/16): The Need for a Politics of Reconciliation in the Wake of Globalization
(8/5/16): How Religion Can Bridge Our Political and Cultural Divide
(9/24/16): The Evolution of Religion and Politics from Oppression to Freedom
(11/5/16): Religion, Liberty and Justice at Home and Abroad
(12/31/16): E Pluribus Unum, Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation
(1/7/17): Religion and Reason as Sources of Political Legitimacy, and Why They Matter
(1/21/17): Religion and Reason Redux: Religion Is Ridiculous
(3/4/17): Ignorance and Reason in Religion and Politics
(3/18/17): Moral Ambiguity in Religion and Politics
(4/22/17): The Relevance of Jesus and the Irrelevance of the Church in Today’s World
(7/1/17): Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy
(7/15/17): Religion and Progressive Politics
(7/29/17): Speaking God’s Truth to Man’s Power
(8/5/17): Does Religion Seek to Reconcile and Redeem or to Divide and Conquer?
(8/12/17): The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism  
(8/19/17): Hate, History and the Need for a Politics of Reconciliation
(10/7/17): A 21st Century Reformation to Restore Reason to American Civil Religion
(10/21/17): The Symbiotic Relationship between Freedom and Religion
(11/18/17): Radical Religion and the Demise of Democracy
(12/2/17): How Religious Standards of Legitimacy Shape Politics, for Good or Bad
(12/16/17): Can Democracy Survive the Trump Era?
(12/23/17): If Democracy Survives the Trump Era, Can the Church Survive Democracy?
(1/6/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Diversity in Democracy
(1/13/18): Nationalist Politics and Exclusivist Religion: Obstacles to Reconciliation and Peace
(1/27/18): Musings on Conflicting Concepts of Christian Morality in Politics
(2/24/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religion, Freedom and Legitimacy
(3/31/18): Altruism: The Missing Ingredient in American Christianity and Democracy
(4/7/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Need for a Moral Reformation
(4/28/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Virtues and Vices of Christian Morality
(5/12/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christianity and Making America Great Again
(5/19/18): Musings on Morality and Law as Symbiotic but Conflicting Standards of Legitimacy
(7/21/18): Musings on America’s Moral and Political Mess and Who Should Clean It Up
(8/4/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religious Problems and Solutions in Politics
(8/11/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Changing Morality in Religion and Politics
(8/25/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Moral Priorities in Religion and Politics
(9/1/18): Musings on the American Civil Religion and Christianity at a Crossroads
(9/29/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Resurrection of Christian Universalism
(10/6/18): Musings on Moral Universalism in Religion and Politics
(10/27/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Migrant Tidal Wave
(11/24/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christianity and the Legitimacy of Democracy
(1/5/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Building Political Walls or Bridges
(2/16/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on America the Blessed and Beautiful--or is it?
(3/30/19): Musings on What the Mueller Report Doesn’t Say About Trump’s Wrongdoing
(4/12/19): Musings on Religion, Nationalism and Libertarian Democracy

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