Volume 21, Issue 1/2, 2009
Christianity and Democracy
Culture, Religion and Politics
Why Liberal Democracy Needs God
This essay proposes that while a "Christian" democracy may be too idealistic, liberal democracy presupposes transcendent moral and spiritual norms, in particular a Judeo-Christian foundation for human dignity and human rights. A Biblical understanding of human nature as fallible and imperfect susceptible to worldly temptations, emphasizes free choice and personal responsibility, and the imperative to limit the temporal exercise of power by any man or institution. Maritain's concept of integral or Christian humanism is founded on personalism, the unique value and dignity of each human being created in the image of God, and the need for community. The major challenge for literal democracy is how to reconcile individual freedom with socio-economic-political-legal institutions and processes which require the constraint of man-made laws and the exercise of authority and power The essay condudes that perhaps the major legacy of the American founding is the notion of the priority of liberty which offers the best prospects for conjoining reason and faith, the secular and the sacred, Athens and Jerusalem, The priority of liberty also animates Maritain's vision of a "Christianly-inspired" personalistic society capable of advancing both individual human flourishing and the common good.