By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
The inadequacy of religious moral standards in democracy transcends Christianity. Ancient Jewish prophets, Jesus and Muhammad all left timeless moral principles for their followers, but they never addressed the ultimate issue in democracy: the supremacy of popular sovereignty, or the will of the people, over divine sovereignty, or the will of God.
The divine right to rule governed politics until the 17th century, when the Enlightenment asserted that reason and advances in knowledge justified giving the people the freedom to govern themselves with libertarian democracy. But divesting God of political control raised the issue of defining the moral standards for political legitimacy in democracy.
The closest the prophets came to defining political legitimacy in democracy was with the timeless greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves (see Luke 10;23-37). It was taken from the Hebrew Bible, taught by Jesus, and has been accepted by Islamic scholars as a common word of faith.
In politics the altruistic moral imperative of the greatest commandment is to provide for the common good, but in America’s polarized politics the common good has been defined along more narrow partisan lines. The altruism taught by Jesus has been corrupted in politics by the self-centered values that prevail in America’s materialistic and hedonistic culture.
The inadequacy of religious moral standards in America’s democracy was evident in the polarized politics that led to its Civil War. America was a predominantly Christian nation in both the North and South; but the morality of slavery was not addressed in the Bible, so it remained an ambiguous moral issue to be defined by partisan politics and decided by a terrible war.
Slavery is no longer an issue, but it left a legacy of racism that continues to plague American democracy. Unless America adopts moral standards to provide for the common good, it’s doomed to dangerous divisions. Since most of America’s churches remain racially segregated, churches are likely to remain more a part of the racial problem than its solution.
Too often racism is defined as a danger to democracy, but racism is a moral issue. When 80% of white Christians elected an immoral Donald Trump as President in 2016, it demonstrated that they had subordinated the altruistic moral teachings of Jesus to exclusivist church doctrines that were never taught by Jesus, and that have corrupted the church.
The inadequacy of religious moral standards to promote the common good in America’s materialistic and hedonistic democracy is obvious: Popularity continues to define morality through the sanctity of majority rule. Democracy cannot save us from ourselves, and it’s not worth promoting unless it’s based on providing for the common good. The jury remains out on whether most Americans are committed to promote the common good or partisan politics.
Related commentary on religion, morality race and politics:
(7/5/15): Reconciliation as a Remedy for Racism and Religious Exclusivism
(7/12/15): Reconciliation in Race and Religion: The Need for Compatibility, not Conformity http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/07/reconciliation-in-race-and-religion.html
(7/19/15): Religion, Heritage and the Confederate Flag
(3/12/16): Religion, Race and the Deterioration of Democracy in America
(3/26/16): Religion, Democracy, Diversity and Demagoguery
(7/9/16): Back to the Future: Race, Religion, Rights and a Politics of Reconciliation
(10/22/16): The Need for a Politics of Reconciliation in a Polarized Democracy
(11/19/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation Based on Shared Values
(11/26/16): Irreconcilable Differences and the Demise of Democracy
(2/18/17): Gerrymandering, Race and Polarized Partisan Politics
(8/19/17): Hate, History and the Need for a Politics of Reconciliation
(11/11/17): A Politics of Reconciliation that Should Begin in the Church
(12/9/17): Religion, Race and Identity Politics
(1/6/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Diversity in Democracy
(10/20/18): Lamentations of an Old White Male Maverick Methodist in a Tribal Culture
(3/9/19): Musings on the Degradation of Democracy in a Post-Christian America
(7/13/19): Musings on Sovereignty and Conflicting Loyalties to God and Country
(7/20/19): Musings on Diversity in Democracy: Who Are Our Neighbors?
(11/2/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Polarization and Reconciliation
(2/1/20): Musings on the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Altar of Partisan Politics
(2/22/20): Musings on Why All Politics and Religion Are Local (and not Universal)
(7/11/20): Musings on America’s Culture War, Racism and Christian Morality in Politics
(8/1/20): Musings on Echoes from 1860 as America Seeks Truth and Reconciliation
(8//8/20): Musings on Religion and Racism: Belief in a White Jesus and White Supremacy
(8/15/20): Musings on Racism, Reparations, Racial Disparities and the Federal Reserve
(9/12/20): Musings on the Demise of American Democracy: Is It Deja Vu All Over Again?
(9/19/20): Musings on Law and Order, Reconciliation and Racial Justice
(11/7/20): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Good and Evil in Religion and Politics
(12/5/20): Musings on the Preference of White Christians for Demagoguery over Democracy
(1/16/21): Truth and Reconciliation in Politics and Religion in a Maze of Conflicting Realities
(2/15/21): Counterpoint: The Danger of Racial Reparations as a Means of Restorative Justice
4/3/21): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Overcoming Racism
(6/12/21): From Hammond and Tillman to Trump: A Legacy of Shame for South Carolina
(6/26/21): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Critical Race Theory and The 1619 Project
(7/3/21): Musings on Slavery and Systemic Racism on Independence Day
(7/10/21): Musings on the Need for Racial Reconciliation in America’s Divisive Democracy