Saturday, April 13, 2024

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Most Fundamental Value of Democracy

By Rudy Barnes, Jr., April  13, 2024

Altruism is the most fundamental value of the Abrahamic religions in democracy, and it leads to reconciliation.  It’s a moral imperative of the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors of other races and religions as we love ourselves, and it’s a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.  Why do so many ignore that fundamental value of faith?  

Centuries of religious and political hatred have blinded Jews, Christians and Muslims to the need to reconcile with their adversaries.  Just look at the Jews and Palestinians in Israel and the racism among Christians in America.  The moral imperative to love others in the greatest commandment is not about affection, but about reconciling with the people we don’t like.

Reconciling with those of other races, religions and politics in a  democracy doesn’t mean liking them, or even agreeing with them on contentious issues.  In pluralistic democracies it means learning to coexist in peace with those of other races, religions and politics.  The alternative is degradation to a more authoritarian democracy.

Those Democracies that have diverse populations and make the greatest commandment a legal and moral imperative of their faith and politics can thrive as libertarian democracies.  Democracies that ignore the need for altruism to promote the common good are often corrupted by demagogues like Trump into authoritarian democracies with little freedom. 

In the U.S fundamental freedoms are guaranteed in a Constitutional Bill of Rights, with equality under the law as the standard of justice. In a healthy libertarian democracy the capacity to reconcile contentious political and religious differences is needed to prevent political polarization and the risk of losing fundamental freedoms in a trend to more authoritarian politics. 

Providing for the common good is an essential characteristic of a healthy libertarian democracy and requires a commitment of most voters to altruistic values.  Thomas Jefferson considered the altruistic moral teachings of Jesus “the most sublime moral code ever designed by man,” and he detested church doctrines that distorted the teachings of Jesus.  

Alex DeTocqueville saw the necessity of morality in politics and considered the church the primary source of morality in America; but he failed to foresee how slavery and the Civil War would split a nation and its church with slavery and racism.  The church has since subordinated the altruistic teachings of Jesus to exclusivist doctrines on salvation never taught by Jesus.

The church is now in decline.  It has become irrelevant because it has ignored the value of altruism needed for reconciliation and providing the common good taught by Jesus.  Nostradamus once observed that those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.  For the church to save itself and American democracy from the dustbin of history, it must give primacy to the altruistic teachings of Jesus over exclusivist church doctrines.



On the views of Thomas Jefferson and Alexis deTocqueville on the moral values of religion in American politics, see Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy (July 1, 2017) at See also Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Universal and Altruistic Jesus, August 19, 2023, at A distinguished group of biblical scholars has recognized Thomas Jefferson as a pioneer in The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus in The Five Gospels, New Translation and Commentary by Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and The Jesus Seminar, at pages 2 and 3.   A Polebridge Press Book, McMillan Publishing Company, NY, 1993.  “The book is dedicated to Galileo Galilei, who altered our view of the heavens forever, Thomas Jefferson,  who took scissors and paste to the gospels, and David Freiedrich Strauss, who pioneered the quest for the historical Jesus.” Jefferson’s Jesus provides the universal teachings of Jesus on morality taken from the Gospels.  They are compared with those of Muhammad in The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy.  It’s an interfaith study guide based on Jefferson’s Jesus and is posted in the Resources at The Introduction (pp 10-15) provides an overview of the study guide, and reference to Jefferson’s 1804 letter to Henry Fry is at end note 2 at p 425.  Like many of the Founding Fathers, Jefferson was a deist, a spiritual but not religious, agnostic or heterodox Christian.  The terms have overlapping meanings that distinguish them from orthodox Christians.  In a world of increasingly pluralistic religions, non-orthodox truth seekers will likely determine the future of religion and the moral standards of political legitimacy that shape the American civil religion.

On how Jefferson’s Bible contributed to America’s religious diversity in its early days, see

Alexis DeTocqueville, a French aristocrat who visited the U.S. in 1831, astutely observed:  “Christianity, which has declared that all men are equal in the sight of God, will not refuse to acknowledge that all citizens are equal in the eye of the law.  But, by a singular concurrence of events, religion is entangled in those institutions that democracy assails…. By the sides of these religious men I discern others whose looks are turned to earth more than Heaven; they are partisans of liberty...[who] invoke the assistance of religion, for they must know that liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith. The sects which exist in the U.S. are innumerable.  They all differ in respect to the worship which is due from man to his Creator, but they all agree in respect to the duties which are due from man to man.  Each sect adores the Deity in its own peculiar manner, but all the sects preach the same moral law in the name of God. Moreover, almost all the sects of the U.S. are comprised within the great unity of Christianity, and Christian morality is everywhere the same.   

DeTocquevile, Democracy in America, Vol. 1, The Cooperative Publication Society, The Colonial Press, N.Y. and London, 1900 at pages 12 and 308.

On the diversity of people in America, and how most foreign-born in America live in four states, see

On how Trump fills a void a void in an increasingly secular America, see

On how church attendance has declined in most religious groups, see

On Yes, we’re divided. But a new AP poll shows Americans still agree on most core American values, see

On how Church Attendance Has Declined in Most U.S. Religious Groups,  Three in 10 U.S. adults attend religious services regularly, led by Mormons at 67%, see

On how a nonconforming minority can defeat Christian nationalism, see

On religious change in America, see

On Democracy as a Christian value, see

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