In our world today, democracy seems to be everywhere under threat. Democracy is predicated on the will of the enfranchised majority, in contrast to other systems of governance which may rely on the will of a few, usually powerful males – sometimes even just one leader.
And while it may be a simple truth that even if the majority of people were to assert that the Earth is flat, it would not make it so, it is generally acknowledged that in a democratic system the majority determines what is normative. Properly legislated laws rarely suit everyone but they are there for the coherence of society, and it follows that it is reasonable for all members of a society to respect laws that are carefully and legitimately promulgated.
It is however a sad fact that the Christian churches were very slow to accept democracy, preferring instead to hold on to systems of rule such as monarchy and male dominated oligarchies. One reason for this resistance stems from religion itself: ultimately all moral norms come from God, and are not as such open to human debate such as we may find in democratic systems. In this regard some have even argued for rule by the ‘holy’ – those who are supposedly close to God and know His will and can therefore best guide and govern the rest of us. The problem with this system, known as a theocracy, is precisely in the assumption that there are people who can effectively mediate the divine will. The fact that someone is regarded as holy, perhaps living a life of great spiritual sacrifice and wisdom, doesn’t actually mean that they are equipped to govern a society.
I think we can reject any form of theocracy as being simply too far a stretch for any small group or individual to safely interpret God’s will for the rest of us. While it might be sometimes beneficial, such as certain historical examples of saintly kings who ruled with justice and integrity, it is also highly possible for it to become corrupt and essentially just another form of dictatorship: in other words, an autocracy.
I think it also follows that any system which gives undue or even supreme power to a small group of clerics is extremely dangerous. This gives leverage for fundamentalists and for those who have a cause which is often little more than a perceived anger at foreigners or those who don’t follow their faith. Such groups can and do subvert religion to their own needs. Moreover they, as we all do, make God in their own image, which can all too often be an angry and bloodthirsty one. This allows some so-called religious groups to legitimise killing and maiming in the name of God. Their God is simply an angrier and scarier extension of their own prejudice and malice. Sadly today we see suicide bombings and other atrocities being perpetrated in God’s name, and the indoctrinated individuals actually longing for death so as to become martyrs and enter into some sort of paradise. What a surprise they will get when they come before the throne of God… Yet the greater blame will fall on those who set them up by preaching their vicious ideologies.
To come back to democracy – it isn’t perfect, and any democracy at any one time will only be as healthy as the mindset of the people. If a country’s population are angry for any reason, such as the German people were in the years after the First World War when their country had been punished and humiliated by the victorious powers, and thereby actually voted in Hitler’s Nazis, then the consequences can be horrendous. Democracies can be and are hoodwinked by populist demagogues who give the people simple answers to complex questions, often aided and abetted by partisan media.
Maybe at some point in the far future there will be a benign one world government which respects diversity, and wars and oppression will be no more, but until that far off time, I think God understands that democracies are the only practical forms of national government that have the potential to both empower the majority and also, importantly, respect minorities.
If you have a vote, cherish it and use it for the greater good,