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The Will of the People: A Big Idol among Christians Today
by Max Aplin
4/18/2018 / World Affairs
As Christians, we know that God is sovereign. He rules over the world, and all people are subject to Him as their maker and owner. Every human being is under a huge moral obligation to submit to and acknowledge Him.
In the light of God’s sovereignty, I am very concerned that large numbers of Christians seem not to have grasped that the worldview of mainstream, modern Western society is very different from a Christian worldview. Even many who are devout and mature in the faith seem not to have understood this.
Whereas a Christian worldview sees God as in authority and human beings as under that authority, it seems clear that in reality – if not necessarily always in theory – the mainstream Western worldview sees humans existing and acting as if they are the highest authority. The authority of God is essentially nowhere to be found.
It is troubling, then, that in Western countries loud Christian voices are often heard supporting the values and aims of those countries apparently without stopping to ask if these values and aims are pleasing to God.
Failure to recognize the big differences between a Western worldview and a Christian worldview can often be seen in what is said. There are a number of signs that all is not well. The attitude of believers to the will of the people is one of the clearest of these, and this is what I will say something about in what follows.
Actually, there are two things I will discuss in this article. First and most importantly, I want to think generally about attitudes to the will of the people of a country. And second, I will say a little about democracy as a system of government.
THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE
First, then, let’s turn our attention to the will of the people of a country.
Those who see the will of the majority as special
It seems clear that in Western society today, the average man or woman regards the will of the majority of the people in a country as something that is very special. Even if he or she personally disagrees with the majority view on something, the typical Westerner believes that there is something special about the majority viewpoint. In situations where the will of the majority is denied, there is usually a feeling of injustice, that something right and proper has been prevented. Even in moral issues, people often seem to think that the will of the majority is the most important thing to take into account.
Nor is it just non-Christians who take this view. It seems clear that many Christians in Western countries see things similarly.
My main aim in this article is simply to oppose this viewpoint. The idea that the majority will of the people is something profound and special is completely wrong, and I want to explain why this is so.
To begin with, we need to understand clearly that we humans are all sinners. There are many biblical passages that teach this. An especially important one is Romans 1:18-3:20, where the apostle Paul outlines at length the depths of human sinfulness. In this passage it is striking just how negatively the moral condition of people is described as being. The rest of Scripture agrees with Paul’s assessment, even if there is not often the same amount of detail given.
We need to recognize too that the people who have repented of their sins are relatively few in number. We only have to look at how those around us live to see that this is true. It is noteworthy too that in Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms that there are many on the road to destruction but only few on the road to life. Matthew’s Gospel has a strong emphasis on the importance of doing good deeds, and Jesus’ words in 7:13-14 surely imply that the many on the road to hell are unrepentant sinners.
Importantly, given that all humans are sinners and that most of these are unrepentant of serious sins, there are bound to be many situations where the will of the majority of the people in a country is opposed to the will of God. It would be very surprising if this were not the case.
A limit to human evil
On the other hand, however, it is certainly also true that humans are not as bad as bad can be. No human is as evil as Satan or evil spirits. And many situations arise where the will of the majority of the people is clearly something that is in line with the will of God.
A mixture of good and bad
Basically, in each country in the world, at times the will of the majority of people is in line with God’s will, and at other times it is against His will. This is true of attitudes in general, and it is also true of laws that are passed.
The whole idea that there is something deep, profound, meaningful, noble, upright, even quasi-sacred about the majority will of the people is completely mistaken. This is what I want to encourage Christians to recognize.
Clear examples of the majority wanting something bad
Just thinking about some examples shows how wrong it is for Christians to view the will of the people as something special.
Take, for instance, those Muslim countries where it is the will of the majority for Christians to be persecuted, and for evangelizing to be a criminal offense. Obviously, the will of the majority is a bad thing in a case like this.
Or take countries where it is the will of the majority for women in the first so many weeks of pregnancy to be allowed to have abortions. Again, the will of the people is a bad thing in this case.
Choosing not to idolize the will of the people
Christians, then, must not follow mainstream Western society by idolizing the will of the people as something profound and even quasi-sacred. There is nothing special about the will of the majority. It is simply a mixture of good and bad desires and choices, and no more profound than that. Christians need to understand this clearly.
My second, and less important, aim in this article is to say a little about democracy as a political institution.
If we reject, as we should do, the idea that the will of the people is a special thing, we are then free to look at democracy without any emotional baggage clouding our judgment.
The key factor in thinking about systems of government should be practicality. Do forms of government work or not? Do they please God more or less than other forms of government? Questions like these should be at the forefront in considering democracy as a system of government.
Democracy has a good track record
When we think practically about how useful democracy is as a form of government, it is surely true that it has a good track record. There should be no doubt that in many countries democracy has made things more pleasing to God than they would have been under alternative forms of government. When individuals or small groups of people gain power, abuses often occur that are prevented in democracies.
I like Winston Churchill’s attitude to democracy. At least as I understand his view, he was in favor of democracy, not because the will of the people was in any way special, but simply because human nature is so corrupt that no one person, or small group of people, should be trusted to have sole charge.
Sometimes democracy is not best
I am not sure if Churchill believed there are exceptional situations when it would be better not to have a democratic government. If he believed that there should be no exceptions, then I would disagree. History, both recent and more distant, provides us with examples of where democracy seems to have made things worse than they would otherwise have been.
Egypt in the recent past
Take the recent history of Egypt as a case in point.
In 2012 Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate in the Egyptian presidential election, was voted into power. Electoral monitors agreed that the election was basically free and fair, and no one should doubt that it was the will of the Egyptian people to choose Mr Morsi as their president.
Even under the previous undemocratic regime of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s Christian minority suffered real persecution. However, under the democratically elected Mr Morsi the persecution got much worse, as Egyptian Christians and Christian organizations that monitor events in Egypt have testified. The religious beliefs of Mr Morsi and those close to him always made it likely that he would be make life difficult for Christians. And so it turned out. In other ways too Mr Morsi and those around him are widely agreed to have done a poor job of running Egypt.
In 2013 President Morsi was deposed in what was obviously a military coup. It may well be true that most Egyptians had become so disillusioned with the Morsi regime that they supported the coup. But even so, it was still a coup that removed a democratically elected government.
It is striking that even most Western countries, which are usually second to none in their support of democracy, refused to condemn this coup. The democratically elected government was ruling Egypt so badly that even most Western leaders apparently thought that a military coup was preferable in this case!
What happened in Egypt at this time should serve as a warning to those who think that democracy is always preferable to autocratic rule.
When democratic governments do bad things, it is the result of one or both of two things. First, the will of the majority of the people can be for something bad that is then put into practice by the government. Second, the elected government can do bad things against the will of the majority. I think in Egypt under the Morsi regime there was probably some of both of these things that went on.
Another example of democracy seemingly making things worse than they would otherwise have been concerns Nazi Germany.
The evils of the Nazis are well known. What is not so well known is that they first came to power in a free and fair, democratic election in 1932, when the Nazi party received far more votes than any other German political party.
It seems reasonable to think that in that election most of those who voted for the Nazis had no desire that they would then abolish the democratic form of government. So I admit that in a real sense democracy is not to blame for what later happened.
Nevertheless, it is still true that the existence of a democracy allowed terrible things to happen that would very probably have been prevented if there had been no democracy. If there had been an autocratic ruler in Germany in 1932, it is highly unlikely that events would have unfolded as badly as they did. So the point still stands that democracy does not always make things better than they would otherwise have been.
Avoiding simplistic attitudes to democracy
In view of examples like the recent history of Egypt and the rise of the Nazis, we should avoid being too simplistic in our attitude to democracy. This form of government does have a good track record, but it isn’t always the best option. To treat democracy as a one-size-fits-all model of government that should always be introduced in those countries where it is lacking is a mistake.
In situations where we think that it would be an improvement for a democratic form of government to be introduced, by all means let us speak and act accordingly. If, however, we think that introducing democracy might make things worse, let us be unafraid to voice concern or even oppose its introduction.
In this article I have tried to make two basic points.
First and most importantly, I have attempted to expose as false the idea that the will of the majority of the people of a country is a special, noble, even quasi-sacred thing. Since humans are sinful and most have not repented of their sins, there is nothing special about this at all. The will of the majority is simply a mixture of good and bad desires and choices, and no more special than that.
Second, I have tried to caution Christians against always supporting the introduction of democratic government in those countries where it does not exist. It is true that democracy usually makes things better than they would otherwise be. But there are exceptions to this.
I have been a Christian for over 30 years. I have a Ph.D. in New Testament from the University of Edinburgh. I am a UK national and I currently live in the south of Scotland. Check out my blog, The Orthotometist, at maxaplin.blogspot.com
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