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  A Christian Faith Magazine July 2004, Volume 9, Issue 12  
Democracy Or De-Mockery
Rev. Raymond K. Petrucci
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As democracy, in its various forms, is gaining ground among the governments of the world, is it being re-defined here in the U.S.A.? If so, what are the ramifications for religion in America? Republicans and Democrats, Conservatives and Liberals, Religious Right and "?" Left, Centrist and Fringe, along with all of the other contentious opposites in American life are challenging our traditional ideas about a free and democratic society.


It is a basic principle of philosophical discussion and, indeed, of common sense to define your terms. The term democracy consists of two words of Greek origin: demos meaning the people and kratein meaning to rule. In this country the rule of the people is expressed through elected representation. Otherwise, every citizen would be consumed totally with the processes of government. Our elected officials, local and national, cannot consult us regarding every question or nuance of every issue before them. Thus, we elect men and women who may not concur with every opinion or belief we hold, but whose beliefs we find the most acceptable. We depend on their character and talents to provide wise and just input toward the work of governing. In other words, we, the electorate, send individual consciences that form a collective conscience.

The political arena is the setting where the task of defining American culture not only for the country but also for the world occurs. What constitutes the raw material of the conscience? Among our representatives, what principles and values are being applied to the prodigious work of making policy? One may look to American tradition, the law, or the Constitution, but these are developing and variable (and sometimes erring) entities possessing a necessary flexibility. Then, from what well of moral rectitude do our officials draw? In my opinion, it is the strength of their religious beliefs or, at least, their humanitarian feelings that provide the spirit of their political will. Yet, it is a spirit that is opposed.

The role of a politician's religious beliefs has been a hotbed of controversy since the beginnings of this country. Secularists would have politicians--and everyone else for that matter--condemn their religious beliefs to some personal gulag only to be shared quietly and in seclusion. The work of the democratic process is to create through law what is permissible or not permissible respecting the common good. Albeit imperfect in application, sustaining the common good requires principles and values larger than political interests. One's personal creed is a statement about their concepts of good and evil and what behavior defines such things as responsible citizenship. If personal conscience is to play no role in the political process then what is? Are goals such as re-election, optimizing financial contributions, and personal gain to be the reality of what is called democracy? Cynics may agree, but I would give assent to these words of the renowned historian David McCullough, "Congress, for all its faults, has not been the unbroken parade of clowns and thieves and posturing windbags so often portrayed. What should be spoken of more often, and more widely understood, are the great victories that have been won here, the decisions of courage and the visions achieved." If the victories are to be deemed truly great, the decisions to be of enduring value, and the visions to produce a righteous end, human integrity and divine will would have borne such fruit.

David McCullough

I must hope that fear may not obscure the rightful place that spirituality occupies both in our leaders and in our selves in creating and maintaining the United States as a great nation. Separation of church and state does not mean alienation of church and state. I do not advocate the establishment of a State Religion or the imposition of the dogma of a particular faith, but I hold that the heart of our national character ought to reflect the heart our nation's people. No political figure ought to feel that in order to serve the country he or she must void themselves of the very beliefs that define the good, the just, and the purpose in life. If so, then we are governed by the empty shells of what were once human beings.

The democratic political system must provide a forum for all opinions to be heard and considered for their merit. It would become a mockery if the majority trample the rights of the minority and also if the minority mute the voice of the majority. The responsibility rests upon all of us to encourage our candidates for political office to represent themselves honestly. In the exercise of governance compromise is ever-present, but our leaders should know that we do not want a compromise of conscience.

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