How Jesus Shaped the West: Liberty

Despite its many faults, Western civilisation has lead the world for centuries in technology, education, science, liberty, and more. Why? Lots of reasons. But the greatest force that shaped us, overlooked by many, is a humble carpenter from Nazareth. // Read this series from the beginning, or start here for how Jesus shaped Liberty.

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In three weeks’ time, either Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton will be the U.S. President. Both possibilities are frightening. All but their diehard supporters agree that these are the two least worthy candidates in living memory.

Disturbingly, the West has even begun to ask itself if democracy is broken—and if so, what our other options are.

Trump might represent all that is wrong with America, and Clinton, all that is wrong with the political establishment. But we give them too much credit if we think they’re big enough to break democracy, or if they somehow represent its demise.

“Western democracy has checks and balances that ensure we’ll all live through bad elections to see a brighter day.”

Democracy is a hardy plant, and it has endured centuries far more difficult than the current one. Take heart: in four years’ time, any regrettable decision America makes can be reversed.

Let’s take a moment to be thankful that in the West, we’re no longer ruled by kings and popes, aristocratic senators, or the mob majority. We the people get to choose our leader.

And bear in mind that it’s actually not our leader that governs us. Every democratic nation is ruled by something with an authority higher than any ruler: its constitution. This unique system is known as “the rule of law”.

“We give Trump and Clinton too much credit if we think they’re big enough to break democracy.”

Our leaders don’t tell us how to live. We send representatives to a parliament, who speak for us to shape the law—and it is this law that we are governed by.

We also have judges who are independent of government, so that even if it wanted to, our government couldn’t take our rights or property away.

These are revolutionary ideas—enjoyed by very few in history—and not to be cast aside so readily.  On them we’ve built the freest, safest, wealthiest and most generous societies on earth.

“We’re no longer ruled by kings and popes, aristocratic senators, or the mob majority. We the people get to choose our leader.”

Have you ever considered how we came to inherit such amazing liberty?

Actually, modern democracy has almost nothing to do with ancient Greece. Yes, Greek city states had a form of democracy—but one that never lasted beyond a few decades, when mob rule again won the day.

Consider that Alexander the Great exported Greece’s language, art, literature and culture to the world—but never its democracy. The Greeks knew their democracies had failed.

“Underlying modern democracy is Christian theology’s unique tension between dignity and depravity.”

Modern democracy has deeply Christian roots. The rule of law for example was plagiarised from ancient Israel. Inspired by God’s covenant with Israel which enshrined the Ten Commandments, Christians in England wrote the Magna Carta, their first constitution. And turning a millennium of monarchy on its head, in 1215, a council of barons bound King John by oaths before God to uphold it.

On Europe’s mainland, the Bible was being translated into the language of the people, fuelling the engine of mass literacy. Commoners who once knew nothing about law or government were now discussing politics—and reading and writing books about it. The idea of a government of the people, for the people, by the people spread like wildfire.

“Our opportunity, prosperity and liberty remain the ambition of the rest of the world.”

Three books known as the Trilogy of Freedom* emerged during this time that triggered the revolution from medieval to modern government.

The first of these, inspired by the seventy elders Moses appointed over Israel, gave rise to the concept of representative parliament. The second—highlighting the partnership between kings and prophets in leading Israel—birthed the idea of an independent judiciary to protect human rights. The third used Josiah’s reign in Israel to establish that a nation’s leader is the first among equals.

Lex Rex, which is now considered one of the greatest influences on modern government, was a book that summarised this trilogy—and it was written by Samuel Rutherford, a theologian and pastor.

“Modern democracy has deeply Christian roots.”

Underlying all these ideas is Christian theology’s unique tension between dignity and depravity. Being made in God’s image, we all possess an equal and priceless dignity. And having fallen from our state of perfection, tooth and nail we must guard ourselves from our own warped depravity.

In 1573, the world’s first fully-formed democracy sprang up in Protestant Scotland. Soon modern democracies were appearing throughout Europe and into America. Fast forward to 2016, and democracy is the favoured form of government on the planet, with 85% of the world’s nations aspiring to it.

“On these ideas we’ve built the freest, safest, wealthiest and most generous societies on earth.”

Yes, this year democracy may have delivered us regrettable candidates like Trump and Clinton. As a system, it is far from perfect. In the words of Winston Churchill, “Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

But maybe the character of 2016’s candidates says more about current tides of culture than it does about this project called democracy.

Because of Jesus, the democracy of the United States, like the rest of the West, has checks and balances that ensure we’ll all live through bad elections to see a brighter day. Meanwhile, our opportunity, prosperity and liberty will remain the ambition of the rest of the world.

Don’t dig a grave for democracy yet. Step back, regain some perspective, and thank Jesus for inspiring the men and women who thought, fought and bled for our freedom.

Continue reading about How Jesus Shaped Equality.

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REASON / TECHNOLOGY / LANGUAGES / HEROISM / EDUCATION / SCIENCE / MEDICINE / LIBERTY / EQUALITY / MORALITY

 

* Francogallia by Francois Hotman, The Right of Magistrates by Theodore Beza, and Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos by Philippe du Plessis-Mornay

In this series of blogs, I’m indebted to Indian Philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi’s The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilisation.

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