God, Democracy and Human Rights

Our atheist friends would have us believe that all the goods of the West – human rights, democracy, belief in human equality and freedom, etc. – just happily evolved, and religion played no role in their development. They are in fact hostile to faith and religion, denigrating them at every turn.

Yet as so many scholars and world class thinkers have shown, it was the Judeo-Christian worldview which was the main source and foundation stone of Western civilisation. The ancient Greeks and Romans took stabs at things like democracy, but it was hardly something we would recognise today.

As historian Rodney Stark remarked, “While the classical world did provide examples of democracy, these were not rooted in any general assumptions concerning equality beyond an equality of the elite. Even when they were ruled by elected bodies, the various Greek city-states and Rome were sustained by large numbers of slaves.

Image of The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success
The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success by Stark, Rodney (Author) Amazon logo

“And just as it was Christianity that eliminated the institution of slavery inherited from Greece and Rome, so too does Western democracy owe its essential intellectual origins and legitimacy to Christian ideals, not to any Greco-Roman legacy. It all began with the New Testament.”

Or as Vishal Mangalwadi states in his important 2011 volume, The Book That Made Your World: “In reality Greek democracies never worked for more than a few decades. They always degenerated into mob rule. Plato experiences Greek democracy as the social chaos that murdered his mentor Socrates. Therefore he condemned pure democracy as the worst of all political systems.”

But this is a much too broad topic to properly tackle here, so let me narrow things down a bit by looking at the American situation. For all its current faults – especially under Obama – America has been one of the freest, most democratic, and most prosperous nations known to history.

This did not come about by accident. It certainly did not simply “evolve” that way. America was a nation founded with a purpose, a destiny, a vision. Most of the Founding Fathers were decidedly Christians who fully believed in the Bible.

Sure, a few Deists were among them, but most were committed to biblical religion and revealed faith. They knew that without the hand of God upon them, the American experiment would fail. And they knew the tremendous social goods they were seeking to achieve and maintain were the direct result of the biblical worldview.

Said John Adams: “Statesmen may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand.” Or as he also said: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Noah Webster put it this way: “The Christian religion, in its purity, is the basis, or rather the source of all genuine freedom in government. . . . and I am persuaded that no civil government of a republican form can exist and be durable in which the principles of that religion have not a controlling influence.”

William Penn was quite correct to warn, “If we will not be governed by God, we must be governed by tyrants.” Either God is King and his law is final and absolute, or mere men will seek to take his place, and become sovereign, with the few ruling over the many.

The Founders knew of the critical place God must hold if the new republic was to work, with genuine equality and freedom. Consider one of its most important documents, the Declaration of Independence. It was drafted by Thomas Jefferson in June, 1776.

His version of the Preamble originally said this: “We hold these truths to be sacred and unalienable, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

But this was altered by Benjamin Franklin however. He was a Deist who did not want the more explicit reference to deity. So we now have this familiar form: “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” But Jefferson was quite right here while Franklin was wrong.

The ideas of human equality and human rights are not the stuff of nature, but are the stuff of revelation. It is because God has revealed himself, and declared that all mankind is made in his image, that modern concepts of equality exist. Nature does not recognise such equality.

Nor do naturalists such as Darwin. The evolutionary process certainly does not know of equality: some species are more equal than others. The stronger species naturally take advantage of the weaker. Without divine revelation all we have is what we find in nature: and that does not lead to concepts such as equality or of basic human rights for all.

Without the Bible – the revelation of God – modern notions of human equality would never have appeared, or been sustained. Human reason and instinct will not come up with the dignity of man and his fundamental equality and worth.

As Mangalwadi writes, “Equality and human rights are not self-evident truths. . . . That’s why the Declaration grounded the ‘unalienable’ rights in the Creator rather than in the state. The most honest declaration would have been, ‘We hold these truths to be divinely revealed.’

“Revelation is the reason why America believed what some Deists ascribed to ‘common sense.’ To be precise, these truths appeared common sense to the American Founders because their sense was shaped by the common impact of the Bible – even if a few of them debated that the Bible was divinely revealed.”

As Jefferson said elsewhere: “Can the liberties of a nation be sure when we remove their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people, that these liberties are a gift from God?” Or as the French observer and admirer of American democracy Alexis de Tocqueville put it:

“Despotism may be able to do without faith, but democracy cannot. How is it possible that society should escape destruction if the moral tie is not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed?” And again, “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.”

Mangalwadi takes this idea further: “A postmodernist would be absolutely right in insisting that the Declaration of Independence was wrong. These ‘truths’ are not ‘self-evident’. Human equality is not self-evident anywhere in the world – not even in America.”

Inequality is self-evident – it is what we everywhere see. It took a very powerful countervailing force and ideology to overcome this. And that of course came from the opening chapters of Genesis, where we find the truth that all men are equal and of value because they are all made in God’s image.

It is upon this foundation of revealed truth that things like the American Declaration of Independence became possible. Without God and the Bible, the world would look nothing like it now is. The fundamental beliefs about human rights and human equality are not a given of nature.

They are the direct result of the God who is there, who is the moral ruler of the universe, and who has spoken to his creatures, informing them of who they are as his creation. Evolutionary theory could never give rise to such concepts. Atheism cannot give rise to such realities.

Only the biblical worldview can account for and give foundation to the counterintuitive truths that all men are equal. The dog-eat-dog world of raw nature does not give us the rule of law, democracy, or the dignity of man. It simply gives us Stalin’s gulag, Hitler’s Final Solution, and Mao’s cultural revolution.

Genuinely free and democratic nations which see everyone of equal worth, value and dignity come from above. Only a civilisation built on that foundation can expect to last. As Os Guinness correctly observes in A Free People’s Suicide: “The plain fact is that no free and lasting civilization anywhere in history has so far been built on atheist foundations.”

Nor can we expect them to. The much-maligned Bible and Judeo-Christian religion is the foundation of all that we hold dear today. And it could not have been any other way. But as those foundations are being razed before our eyes, so too that which has been built upon them.

We must recapture the importance of the truth that God has spoken, and has given us a blueprint for how human wellbeing and flourishing can work. Without it we are left to our own devices. And as last century so clearly demonstrated, that is a very bad place to be in.

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12 Replies to “God, Democracy and Human Rights”

  1. In our fallen world, people have turned to governments to give them what they want. God appoints governments as his authority our us. I think personally, it doesn’t matter what type of government is in power. What matters is whether it honours God’s laws.
    Janice Tooh

  2. Of Saul, who was “the people’s choice” as well as God’s choice, God says:

    “I gave you a king in my anger, and I took him away in my wrath.” – Hosea 13:11

    Democracy which refuses to acknowledge the overarching sovereignty of God in His universe is destined to fall victim to men’s lawless, fallen natures.

    John Wigg

  3. As you so clearly state, Bill, true freedom and equality, is only available under God’s Moral Law all else is Anarchy and Mob Rule. Without God’s Law there could have been no American or Australian Constitutions. God’s inspired Constitutions seek to limit the Federal Powers and teach Men correct Moral Principal’s so that they might govern themselves through Revelation and Moral Values.

  4. What a fantastic article, Bill, I wish all voters could have the chance to chew through this one before they cast their vote.
    If I may suggest a further addition to what Mangalwadi suggests. “We hold these truths to be divinely revealed and therefore unalienable” For God does not change his mind about what is right. This is even evident in mathematics which you would not normally consider a moral subject as such and yet people would get rather upset if we tried to change the rules of mathematics to which none of us humans really contributed, we all just operate under those rules and it works well.
    But at the moment we find ourselves crying with the psalmist “when the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
    Nothing short of rebuilding those foundations will turn the world right way up again.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  5. Vishal Mangalwadi, has at least one other meeting in Melbourne: Students and staff etc may be interested in his free Tuesday 20 Aug. 11am – 12:30 pm talk “What GOOD is Christianity?” with Q&A at Campus Centre Cinema, Monash University, Clayton.

    Vishals’s “The Book That Made Your World” is excellent! Another good book with similar ideas, but from a Western Christian’s viewpoint, is “How Christianity Changed the World” by Alvin J Schmidt.

    Damien’s suggestion re the History of the Catholic Church, reminds me that people may also like James L Garlow’s “How God Saved Civilization” – a very readable warts and all history of the church. It has history that the media likes to suppress – “how God saved civilization”, via the church, despite our warts. The media loves dwelling on Catholic warts, but I was amazed to learn that Lutherans murdered tens of thousands of Anabaptists by drowning.

    As Bill says: “Without God and the Bible, the world would look nothing like it now is.” Yet the key is the “opening chapters of Genesis” – the very chapters that the church increasingly ignores to its peril. Only last Friday, William Lane Craig – a good champion of Christianity, exposed his weak armour by agreeing with atheist Lawrence Krauss that he didn’t believe that God created the world in seven days.

    It’s time the Christian philosophers and apologists faced up to the fact that political and social decline in the West is very much correlated to the church’s capitulation to the false belief that science has proved the opening chapters of Genesis wrong.

    Peter Newland

  6. Well written, I love the William Penn quote. How soon people forget.

    Jo Dellar

  7. I agree with your comments concerning democracy. In the church we have a Pastor who in essence should be as free of worldly problems as much as possible in order to advise us as our representative of God as to the way we as Christians should live.
    The Levities were predominately expected to do the same and were given no Land as such but were to rely on the sacrifices and contributions of all other tribes so as to be free to understand God’s will and how to live within his design. It is no good having a preacher that is totally preoccupied with administration and maintenance albeit he retains a watchful guiding eye over all who perform the duties of the church. Similarly the church is there to guide and ensure the government sticks to the Christian Way. Mathew 13 says we must respect dignitaries and government but he also says that they must do good works I.e. Not evil. For we do not follow Satan . Nor are we obliged to respect or obey such people that do.
    I see the riots and protests in Egypt arguing that democracy has been stolen. In my view Once a leader tries to make himself a dictator and once the entire government becomes an Islamic theocracy then Democracy has surely been lost. The hand that you are dealt as a political leader within its stated policies and containments should be the one you play without re-shuffling the pack to achieve personal delusions. That is not democracy. It is in fact something very akin to the designs of the inquisition. Wherein the power of the church lay in the power of Government or King not in the teachings of Jesus but often under the very feared threat of excommunication from God.
    Over the years of which there has been many, I have found that every conceivable theory, creation and formulae within Gods work has thus far proved to be totally Logical. After all how can you ascertain a formulae if there isn’t one?
    For every action there is an equal and opposite. Yes it may seem to take a while before it occurs but I doubt God needs to count the human periods we refer to as time.

    Dennis Newland

  8. I’ve often wondered if put on a desert island to re-populate, what would underpin that community morally and ethically? What political, social, religious philosophy would you employ to frame its’ laws and civic functions? It’s an interesting question as it calls into question what we truly value and accept as those things that promote a healthy society. Surely you would study those cultures around the world that have prospered and provided the greatest liberties, and you would look at *that* society’s basis and foundations …

    Peter Jackel

  9. I find the one thing that has allowed homosexuality to obtain as much force as it seems to have has only been possible because of the scourge of Political Correctness. The one thing that contained activities of this bent and stopped it’s spreading propaganda of normality was the clear indication that it wasn’t normal or right or biblical correct and that its practice was dangerous to the community, By calling it what it is and by castigating it in its rawest form civilisation itself kept it under a degree of control. Of course they didn’t like it but it was that control and the spoken truth of its dangers, the health threat to the community and the abnormality of its act that helped save the possible destruction of the human race for thousands of years.
    We are coming to the stage even here in Australia where vaccinations are almost mandated to the point of monetary bribery or through its loss. Why? To prevent the spread of all the so-called old diseases. Now sexual acts that involve penetration on a male to male basis has caused the deaths of millions but instead of trying to use the same tactics on those that do it we offer Gay Marriage and are even coming to the point of considering polygamy. Because we have this pretty but distorted description of Gayness for those that commit homosexuality I believe we are facing the greatest threat ever brought against Gods Creation.
    People may mock but if we found Noah’s ark tomorrow people would realise and know for sure that Gods anger is not to be trifled with. For he said I will destroy my creation for I find that all men’s hearts (not quite all) are full of evil.
    Dennis Newland

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