So How Come Jesus Preached Democracy, But the Religious Right Undermines It?
That’s right! Jesus preached democracy. Well, he didn’t call it “democracy,” just called it doing God’s will. But take the definition of democracy and the social values Jesus taught and modeled and you have a heck of a time telling the difference between them. Question is, why do those “Christians” known as the religious right work so hard to undermine democracy . . . all while claiming to follow Jesus and support democracy and the constitution?
What’s the standard dictionary definition of democracy? “A government of the people; esp: rule by the majority. A government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation. The absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinction or privileges.” In short, the ideal of democracy includes power residing in the people (no rulers or leaders as such – “leaders” merely represent/stand in for the people), the absence of special privilege or preeminence for anyone (no one can claim a status above any other), and by extension, egalitarianism (everyone is equal in society). It’s a remarkably radical ideal, however imperfect its historical realization.
Jesus, of course, did not come to establish a political order, but throughout his ministry he did preach and model social behavior for his followers and urged that they live according to a new set of principles very different from the existing social order. It’s this new social order that looks remarkably like the democratic ideal.
Again and again in the Gospels, Jesus rejects the idea of rulers or leaders with power over others since all are “brothers and sisters.” He tells his followers, “Do not be called Rabbi . . . And do not be called leaders, since you have only one leader, the Messiah.” Yet he defines his own leadership as that of a servant: “I am among you as one who serves.” And again, “The son of man came not to be served, but to serve.” When his disciples argue among themselves about who is preeminent, Jesus chastises them, urging them to be like children, “for the least among all of you is the greatest.” As in a true democracy, “leaders” exist to serve the people.
Similarly, Jesus completely rejects patriarchy, the prevailing social order of his day, and a system which confers a dominant, superior role on men. “Call no one on earth your father, for you have one Father – the one in heaven.” Throughout his ministry, in a stark repudiation of hierarchy, he urged his followers to create a new order in which everyone is like a child: “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Indeed, Jesus turns tradition on its head. Instead of children looking to their fathers as models, fathers (and all adults) must accept children as their ideal of behavior. Needless to say, a childlike patriarch is an oxymoron.
Jesus’ radical egalitarianism is nowhere clearer than in his treatment of women, which in no way differs from his treatment of men. Again and again he elevates the status of women, asking of them everything he asks of men, explicitly rejecting the role of homemaker and mother as her proper role, and violating prohibitions and rituals that kept women in a separate and inferior place.
In the same way, Jesus elevated the status of the disabled, the downtrodden, the sick, the unclean, the homeless, and the poor, saying again and again that all men and women are equal, that all are members of a family, brothers and sisters. Indeed, he redefines the family in his new order; now family is community, not a biological entity. The nuclear family, for Jesus, does not occupy a serious role in his new order, and at times, Jesus rejects biological ties in shocking ways. In Jesus’ social values, community occupies the place of central importance.
Nor is the link to democracy merely a question of equality and rejection of hierarchy and privilege. Jesus explicitly lays out the process by which the community is to govern itself and deal with differences and disputes. He uses the example of a community member who commits a wrong against another. The aggrieved member, he says, should meet with the offending party and point out the fault. If the offender agrees, that ends the matter. If not, witnesses/evidence should be brought before the offender, who is given a second chance to make things right. If that doesn’t happen, the grievance is brought to the community which decides, giving the offender another chance to set the matter right. If the offender still refuses, he or she is ostracized by the community.
Clearly, for Jesus, final authority rests with the community, not with any individual. The process could not be more democratic.
The American Constitution, of course, goes beyond the definition of democracy and here, too, Jesus confers. The constitution rejects a theocracy and insists on separation of church and state. In telling his followers to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s,” Jesus makes clear that religion and state are separate and both should be respected.
The constitution’s preamble makes clear the purpose of government: to promote the general welfare, form a more perfect Union, insure justice, domestic tranquility, common defense, and liberty for all. All purposes are community oriented. Here, too, Jesus is onboard as he redefines the family as the community in which all are equal brothers and sisters who care for each other.
Taxation enables a democracy to function and thrive. Again, Jesus accepts the right of taxation. We have the interesting example in the Gospels of Jesus himself paying taxes even though it requires a miracle to procure the coin from the mouth of a fish to pay the tax collector.
And just as plutocracy, the power of the wealthy, is anathema to a democracy, Jesus again and again rejects wealth as incompatible with his new order.
So where does the Christian religious right stand on democracy? We have their loud and repeated protestations that the constitution is their guide. But a closer look reveals the emptiness of their alleged loyalty to the constitution and the representative democracy it sustains.
As I’ve spelled out at length in my book, HYPOCRISY, INC., the religious right poses a serious threat to democracy on numerous grounds. They do this even as they push an agenda composed of fabricated “Christian” values bearing no relationship to what Jesus actually taught.
Political egalitarianism: For evangelicals the nuclear family serves as the foundation of society itself. But their version of the nuclear family entails patriarchy, the acceptance of a hierarchy with the patriarch/father as its head. He is preeminent; his will is law; he dominates all members of the family as the sole authority to which they are subordinate. Women are decidedly not equal to men and efforts to promote women’s rights have consistently been fought by evangelicals and their party, the Republican Party. Since this family is the building block of society, patriarchy prevails in the social order – and this is a fundamental anomaly in a democratic society.
Government of the people: In a secular, pluralistic society, the religious right sees God’s will as frequently in conflict with the people’s will. Given a choice between God’s law as they see it and human law (democracy), evangelicals, by definition, must choose God’s law. For democratic institutions, this poses an untenable threat.
The general welfare: In a pluralistic society, community and common good sit uncomfortably with evangelicals who see the family and its members as answerable to God. Evangelicals cannot see themselves as part of this secular community with its secular will. Instead, they find a comfortable home with the myth – and it is a myth – of the powerful, rugged individual (invariably male) who built this country and had no need of community or government help. Hence their attraction to the extreme individualism espoused by conservatives (“me and mine”) and their rejection of collectivism (the dreaded “socialism”) which entails community with a strong sense of the common good. The lack of support for community is as serious as the religious right’s lack of belief in egalitarianism. No democratic nation can long survive without a strong sense of community and the common good.
Government by the people: The religious right’s unwillingness to embrace community and the common good leads to a dismissal of government since government is the mechanism whereby the community realizes the common good. Hence, government is seen by evangelicals as an oppressive entity, a force (even an evil force) above and over them. This increasingly vitriolic view of government has led inevitably to a hatred of government by many on the right. This troubling and self-defeating attitude demonizes the very mechanism enabling democracy to function, because, in fact, government is the people in a democracy; government is the community in action, not a separate entity.
Government for the people: For the religious right, whole groups of people are relegated to second class status – gays and lesbians (the “immoral”), immigrants (the “illegal”), blacks (the “other”). Evangelicals get to decide, in their world view, who is entitled to civil rights and who is not. In short, democracy is for some people and not for others – which, of course, is not democracy at all.
Majority rule and bipartisanship: Perhaps the most important tools of democratic government are majority rule and bipartisanship. Majority rule, tempered by the checks of judicial review, insure that the rights of all people, including the minority, are respected. Bipartisanship, expressed as compromise, enables government to function when serious disagreements arise. Unfortunately, rejection of majority rule and partisanship prevail. Despite a president elected by majority vote, the opposition party rejects that popular vote by voting no on virtually everything proposed by that president and the other party. The religious right’s unbending positions - I’m right; you’re wrong. God’s on my side; the other side is godless - leads logically to extreme partisanship. One is tempted to think that this is just politics. It’s not. Or maybe it’s just political conservatism. It’s not, since conservatives have not always presented this rigid wall of opposition. We are seeing of late a partisan destructiveness unparalleled in the democratic process and its rise exactly parallels the rise of the religious right, many of whom also belong to the so-called tea party.
Enabling democracy: The religious right and conservative detachment from community and the common good is perhaps best exemplified by taxation. Taxes are the means whereby community governance provides for its needs, collective and individual. Again, the right’s abhorrence of paying taxes is a logical extension of their distrust of community and government. A starve-the-beast mentality prevails, especially for programs that help those seen as “other” since what matters most is “me and mine.” This rejection of the centrality and importance of community to a truly human life and a democratic society amounts to a refusal to own up to responsibility to community while taking much from it. Democracy cannot function without taxation, plain and simple.
Class distinction and privilege: Applauding wealth and success grow more fashionable by the day among those on the far right, including the religious right. At the same time, condemning the poor and low income folks has again become a sport among conservatives, as they replace the war on poverty with a war on the poor. Elevating some (anyone can make it with hard work) and devaluing others (they have themselves to blame) fosters elitism while disparaging masses of people. As the religious right supports a political party bent on giving corporations unfettered control of the economy (the “free market”), the rise of wealth and privilege grow - never mind that these corporations destroyed the livelihoods of millions of people and plunged much of the world into a near depression. This exponential growth of wealth and power among a few at the top and the ever widening income gap for those at the bottom can only spell doom for democracy as the reality of a plutocracy grows.
Church and state: With their insistence that the United States is a Christian nation, Christian fundamentalists threaten to undermine the time-honored protection of the separation clause in the constitution. Endless efforts by the religious right to convert our secular democracy to a theocracy reflect an unbending effort to end democracy as we know it and subject everyone (Christian and non-Christian alike) to the religious right’s fabricated notion of Christian values. In such a state, their version of “God”, not government of the people, by the people, for the people, runs the show. A theocracy is the death of democracy.
So, contrary to everything democracy stands for, contrary to the social principles taught by Jesus, the religious right is bent on undermining democracy despite claiming loyalty to the constitution and despite claiming to follow Jesus.
[Rosemary Agonito, a feminist and progressive activist, is an award winning author who’s written eight books, including HYPOCRISY, INC.: How the Religious Right Fabricates Christian Values and Undermines Democracy. www.RosemaryAgonito.com/HypocrisyInc ]
THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.
ARTICLE VIEWS: 941
MOST RECENT ARTICLES
“When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” - Sinclair LewisI am a longtime pro-choice physician and abortion provider who, as a psychiatrist before
Friday, 17 May 2013
Since the emergence of the Internet, it has not been easy for government officials and mainstream media folks to get away with lying to us. It has become necessary, if for no other reason than
Friday, 17 May 2013
“Terrorism” and the Plans for Absolute Tyranny within the US: Our Need for a New Image of Human Liberation
Every sphere of life within the US is being transformed by the post-911 momentum toward tyranny. One outrageous violation after another assaults our liberties and places ever-more unrestrained power
Friday, 17 May 2013
Have We The People been betrayed by President Obama and his fellow Democrats? Betrayal is a bitter pill to swallow, especially when one as an individual tries to maintain some semblance of hope that
Thursday, 16 May 2013
Reconstructing nuclear confidence in post-Fukushima world is a long and painful process. But real-life energy demands especially in the developing countries predetermine a significant share of
Thursday, 16 May 2013
Who knew, before delving beyond Wayne LaPierre’s shrill, defiant persona, that the NRA imbues guns with sanctified moral purpose? Not just sanctimonious but sanctified, and for the public good. Why
Wednesday, 15 May 2013
Diplomacy which is defined as an art of negotiations to resolve an issue has many meanings, if a single word is added with it. For example, shrewd diplomacy, sham diplomacy, power diplomacy, peace
Tuesday, 14 May 2013