Saturday, June 10, 2023

Musings on Popularity and Altruism as Competing Values in American Democracy

By Rudy Barnes, Jr., June 10, 2023

Popularity is the measure of success in American democracy.  It’s also how the church measures its success--even though the altruistic teachings of Jesus were never popular.  The divine right to rule allowed powerful rulers to ignore the poor until the Enlightenment of the 18th century provided political freedom coupled with the altruistic responsibilities of democracy.

Plato once advocated a benevolent dictator as the ideal ruler; and Winston Churchill said that democracy is the worst form of government--except for all the others.  Russia claims to be a democracy and a Christian nation, and China has joined Russia in challenging the hegemony of American libertarian democracy with their oppressive autocracies.

Unless America cleans up its act, it will no longer be a beacon for libertarian democracy.  Wealth and power channeled through polarized partisan politics in America have obfuscated common sense and the common good.  A two-party duopoly has made moderate politicians an endangered species in America since the electorate has been unwilling to accept a third party.

When a large majority of white Christians elected Donald Trump in 2016, they rejected altruism as a primary value in American democracy, and a vast partisan chasm remains.  While Americans are masters of their political destiny, they must learn that democracy cannot protect them from themselves.  Polarized partisan politics have robbed altruism from American politics.  

Popularity can produce nasty politics in a democracy--as was evident in Hitler’s Nazism in Germany and Putin’s unprovoked aggression in Ukraine.  Human depravity is pervasive; but it’s not total or a consequence of original sin.  It’s in human nature and comes in various forms, and its evils can be balanced by an altruistic faith in the greatest commandment.

The altruistic teachings of Jesus are universal and are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors of other races and religions as we love ourselves.  It’s taken from the Hebrew Bible, was taught by Jesus, and it’s considered a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims; but its altruism is obfuscated by other religious doctrines.

Can the altruistic values of the greatest commandment become a fundamental principle of democracy in nations with a majority of Jews, Christians or Muslims?  Providing for the common good and altruism could transform democracy in those nations.  But  don’t hold your breath.  Beginning with Christianity, the Abrahamic religions have a long way to go.

Democracy has no inherent values.  It merely reflects the values of a majority of its people.  Altruistic politics are a challenge for democracy since they often conflict with popular values.  Altruistic values should begin with people of faith being stewards of democracy and promoting the common good. The problem is that in a democracy, popularity takes precedence over altruism, and the sacrificial love of altruism is not popular in politics.       


James Burklo is a progressive Christian who has translated progressive Christianity for the non-religious: “Progressive Christians usually offer a different religious starting point:  God is love.  So, unlike our evangelical sisters and brothers, we are able to express our faith in purely secular terms.  But we don’t express it that way often enough.  The basics of our faith are natural, observable, and intelligible to anyone, whether or not one uses Christian terminology or references to describe them.  If we really believe that God is love, then we can describe the essence of our faith entirely in terms of that love, leaving out the G-word.  Not that the G-word is bad:  it is integral to the rich mytho-poetic language of our faith tradition.  But if we want to get our message across to people who either don’t relate to the G-word, or associate it with bad experiences, we need to start with purely secular language. Out of billions of years of the universe churning with creation and destruction, a breathtaking reality has emerged: love.  On earth, love has evolved from the bond between family members into a deeper love that is unconditional and universal.  The emergence of this love marks a profound turning point in natural history.  This love flows through deeply attentive, open, all-embracing consciousness.  This love lifts people out of selfishness and shallowness and into lives of selfless compassion, creativity, service, and activism for justice.  This love manifests in humble awe and wonder.  This love is more extraordinary and beautiful than everyday prose can describe.  It brings people together in community to celebrate and practice it more fully.”  See

Dr. Dan Jones has challenged the Augustinian story of Adam and Eve on original sin and the origin of human depravity.  Dr. Jones’ interpretation of the Adam and Eve story “focuses on God’s love and compassion rather than on God’s anger and wrath, and on what Adam and Eve gain by their new mature knowledge of good and evil rather than on what they have lost by their alleged “fall” into “sin.” Importantly, it also will illustrate precisely how the Augustinian concepts of “fall” and “sin” can be called into question.” See Out with the Old View of Original Sin And In With a New View of Adam and Eve at

On Musings on Reinventing American Democracy as a Commonwealth, see

On Musings on the Constitution, Democracy, and Providing for the Common Good, see

On Musings on Reconciling Conflicting Tribal Loyalties to Promote the Common Good, see

On Musings on Why Socialism is no Substitute for Altruism in Politics, see

On Musings on Popularity as a Corrupting Influence in Democracy and Christianity, see

On Altruism: The Missing Ingredient in American Christianity and Democracy, see

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