The Story of Democraczy: Chapter Fifteen
by Martin Gantman
The Theological Impulse 1,775 AD
Morphosis of a Citizen 1,819 AD
Freedom of . . . 1,791 AD
Revolution 1,775 AD
Enlightenment and Romanticism 1,700 AD
Very Early Modern 1,500 AD
Late Middle Ages 1,300 AD
High Middle Ages 1,000 AD
Early Middle Ages 400 AD
Pericles: 450 BC
Ephialtes: 465 BC
Cleisthenes: 500 BC
Solon: 600 BC
Hammurabi: 1,800 BC
Ur Nammu: 2,000 BC
Gilgamesh: 2,500 BC
Sumeria: 5,300 BC
Lascaux: 30,000 BC
Religious activity: 100,000 BC
Homo sapiens: 130,000 BC
Homo erectus: 1,500,000 BC
Homo habilis: 2,500,000 BC
“The more the conditions of men are equalized and assimilated to each other, the more important is it for religion, while it carefully abstains from the daily turmoil of secular affairs, not needlessly to run counter to the ideas that generally prevail or to the permanent interests that exist in the mass of the people.” – Alex de Tocqueville
Some experts like to say that the ideas of good and bad, right and wrong, and the “natural” (inalienable) rights on which the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights are based, were endowed by a god. That issue aside, it is inescapable that the vast majority of the citizenry at the time of the founding and, it follows, the same majority of those making the decisions about how the above documents were written, were, though multi-denominational, deeply immersed in religious observance.
Given this entrenched deism, it is still somewhat astonishing that after much consideration they decided that it was critical to officially separate the government they were creating from religious practice. It is said that this was as much due to their fear that the government might ultimately begin to affect and dictate matters of observance as it was for reasons of religious belief interfering with matters of governing. The salient point in all of this is that regardless of any statement in the founding papers, the U.S. began its tenure as a democracy behind a deeply entrenched position in religious moral belief, and that position continues today in various public ways: in the pledge of allegiance, in the swearing in of witnesses in court, and in the swearing in of elected and non-elected public servants – regardless of whether these officials are or are not actually religious.
We are aware that moral ideas inherent within the doctrines of traditional belief may be applied by believers in ways that are sometimes considered questionable, and it appears to me that within this contradiction lies the moral dilemma that has hounded the USA, and the practice of democracy, from its inception – the fact that an overreliance on inconsistent moral values can instill limitations in terms of how one assesses and processes indeterminate change.
This is not to cast religious belief itself in any negative loom, but is to say that preordained moral beliefs originating from an entrenched and formidable attitude weigh heavily on the growth of a polity. As an observation, recent readings on this subject seem to find little questioning about the appropriateness of religious teaching as it applies in this area. Religion continues to be the untouchable cow of political discussions. I don’t see a similar hands-off approach to arguments about corporate belief and involvement or that of unions. It seems to be in a singular class with regard to the tolerance (toleration) of its engagement.
But again, the right of religion to participate in the political body and to speak equally is not the issue here (though the effect of its inherent size and power, along with other types of large, activist organizations, to my mind, is one); rather it is our awareness that religion’s continuing contemporary involvement does reinforce the historical weight pressing on our consideration of moral issues.
The success of a system, such as there is in the United States (and I know this reeks of an idealist imperative), requires the maintenance of a common belief based on the goals (and notice I don’t use the word missions) of the society as expressed in and stemming from its constitution and bill of rights. And it is the ability to freshly reassess our moral precepts in relationship to these goals and our knowledge of a dynamic world, that is preeminent to an evolving democracy.