Is God democratic?

In his essay, Why Democracy, Stanley Fish explores, among other things, the relationship between God and democracy. He writes: “Is God democratic?” That one’s easy. God, like Hobbes’ sovereign, requires obedience, and those who worship him must subordinate their personal desires to his will. (Here the Abraham/Isaac story is paradigmatic.) His rule, therefore, is the antithesis of democracy, which elevates individual choice to a position of primacy. That doesn’t mean, however, that God frowns on democratic states or requires a theocratic one or has any political opinions at all. (On the other hand, someone who, like Walt Whitman, believes that God is not a separate being but resides in each of us might conclude that democracy is the deity’s favored form of government).’

I am reminded here of two words: one from CS Lewis and the other from (surprise, surprise) PT Forsyth. Lewis writes,

I am a democrat [believer in democracy] because I believe in the Fall of Man. I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that every one deserved a share in the government. The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they’re not true. . . . I find that they’re not true without looking further than myself. I don’t deserve a share in governing a hen-roost. Much less a nation. . . .The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.

And from Forsyth:

Democracy is but a half-truth. It must have a King. Aristocracy is just as true and as needful. It builds on an authority in things no less than democracy builds on an equality. The free personality of democracy is only possible under a free authority. The free soul is only possible in a free King … There must always be a House of Moral Lords. There must always be leaders and led, prophets and people, apostles and members, genius and its circle, and elect and a called. Ah! democratic and aristocratic principles are both deep in the foundations of our Christian faith.

Democracy is, after all, only ‘the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half the time’ (E.B. White)

3 comments

  1. God created you with free will, that you might rule yourself.

    What could be more ‘democratic’ than that?

    Furthermore, God has made available much information to you about the world and His will and workings in it. Plus He listens to you if you speak to Him, and responds, so he clearly also supports transparent and representative ‘government’, too.

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  2. But wait there’s more!

    In the Old Testament, God institutes a rulership of laws — in our terms, a constitution — and furthermore, He declares He opposes the idea of kingship (prior to Saul). In the New Testament, it is elucidated numerous times that all men are equal (for all are sinners).

    All of these are philosophical components of the constitutional, lawful, legitimate democracies we enjoy today.

    Because democracy is only desirable if it is legitimate, just and lawful democracy (who of us, after all, would not have preferred the undemocratic but mostly just society of England in 1800 with the mob-rule ‘democracy’ of revolutionary France).

    In that respect, Christianity both supports, and _is the basis of_ the legitimate and democratic nations the English speaking people enjoy today.

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