Can Democracy Survive in a Post-Christian World?

4 April 2024

3.6 MINS

Western democracies are in trouble.

That’s the view of many informed political and social commentators, including The Australian newspaper’s Senior Editor, Paul Kelly. In a recent piece for the Weekend Australian, he outlines the challenges facing countries like Australia and the US, which is worth considering:

In Australia today, the public is unsettled and getting more unsettled. People distrust the nation’s direction, some probably fear the “valueless void” while others are alarmed about the mental illness contagion among young people, the elevation of personal feelings as the basis for morality, the decline in core school standards, the rejection of objective truth, uncertainty over who is a man and who is a woman, the demand for group identity rights based on race, sex, and gender, the erosion of free debate on university campuses, the disputes over whether our history is to be honoured or denounced, constantly lecturing elites who fail as genuine leaders, the lost ability to disagree with mutual respect and above all, the doomed demand for leaders to display moral values amid a society that cannot agree on what constitutes virtue.

It’s a confronting list.

But it’s hard to argue with. And it’s worth noting that many of these factors are because the Christian worldview is being replaced by other ideologies and beliefs here in the West. Ideas have consequences. And non-Christian ideas and ideologies are starting to bear their rotten fruit.

While many of these factors are worthy of further exploration, Kelly goes on to write about another factor that caught my eye:

That great moral leader of our times, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, said: “A Free Society is a moral achievement, and it is made by us and our habits of thought, speech and deed. Morality cannot be outsourced because it depends on each of us. Where there is no shared morality, there is no society.”

Where there is no shared morality, there is no society

That’s an unsettling thought, considering how many different versions of morality we see across the West. While there is still moral agreement about some important truths (e.g. that murder is wrong), there is a growing gulf between Christians (and social conservatives) on the one hand, versus secular progressives on the other.

One moral flashpoint is around what it means to be human: are there two genders (based on biological sex), or is gender fluid? Are all human beings equal in worth, status, and dignity, or should some people be given more rights than others based on whether they’re deemed to be ‘oppressed’?

And this question raises the next observation:

Democracies can’t flourish if there are basic disagreements about what it means to be human

Atheist French philosopher Luc Ferry argues that without Christianity, there would be no democracy (at least not the type we recognise).

He writes:

In direct contradiction, Christianity was to introduce the notion that humanity was fundamentally identical, that men [and women] were equal in dignity — an unprecedented idea at the time, and one to which our world owes its entire democratic inheritance.

This Christian idea of human equality used to be taken for granted in the West (at least in principle, if not always in practice!).

But it’s now being challenged, especially from increasingly vocal corners of the secular Left. Many on the Left are pushing a different view of humanity: a view that divides people into either oppressor (e.g. white heterosexual male) or oppressed (e.g. Black lesbian female). And the aim of politics, in this view, is to overthrow the oppressor and raise the oppressed.

But while sounding compassionate, it’s divisive, not egalitarian: it’s a view of humanity that divides society, pitting people against each other, rather than bringing people together into a shared humanity.

Can democracy flourish if it’s riven with such identitarian division?

Free Democracies can’t flourish without a virtuous, self-controlled people

Kelly quotes American Founding Fathers like Washington, who said: ‘Religion and morality are the essential pillars of a civil society.’

Another US Founder, John Adams, said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Why did the US Founders argue the need for religion (by which they meant the Judeo-Christian variety)?

Because in their view, religion helps people to be self-controlled and moral, so that the state doesn’t have to step in and control people (which would limit people’s freedom).

But Judeo-Christian religions are increasingly demonised and constrained in the West – with religious people being seen as ‘the bad guys.’ Religious affiliation and practice are dropping across the West. And while underlying Christian influence is still strong in many quarters (e.g. in the moral outlook of most Westerners), it is waning.

What does a Post-Christian Democracy look like?

Democracies are fragile. They’re not inevitable.

They’ve only been around for the last few hundred years, and many around the world are floundering. Without shared bedrock beliefs like human equality, they revert to tribalism and fall apart (e.g. in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East). Or they’re overtaken by ‘strong men’ who impose their will on others (e.g. Putin’s Russia).

Time will tell whether Western democracies are going through a rough patch or will decline and revert to such forms of undemocratic governance.

But it’s heartening to realise how many non-Christian commentators are waking up to the impact – and continued importance – of Christianity or at least Christian morality to a healthy functioning democracy.

Would that more people see this, too.


Originally published at Photo by Rosemary Ketchum.

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  1. Jim Twelves 4 April 2024 at 8:26 am - Reply

    Dear Akos,
    ‘But it’s heartening to realise how many non-Christian commentators are waking up to the impact – and continued importance – of Christianity or at least Christian morality to a healthy functioning democracy.’
    Yes, yes, indeed it is!
    Thank you so much for this piece. I think it is a very important concept that we should all grapple with. Paul Kelly has done the cause of ‘freedom and democracy’ a great service. Time will tell if democracy can be saved. I give it 50:50 right now!

  2. Gail Petherick 4 April 2024 at 12:31 pm - Reply

    Thank you Akos for ringing the alarm bells about the West being in trouble and democracy being under attack. You have said it so well in the statement: ‘ It’s worth noting that many of these factors are because the Christian worldview is being replaced by other ideologies and beliefs here in the West.’ …The consequences are now showing as ‘non- Christian values and ideologies are starting to bear their rotten fruit.’
    Your observations and insights are so helpful in breaking down the underlying issues and problems we face:
    1. We can’t have a democracy working well unless we agree on the fundamentals and value each person enough to protect life (e.g. agree Thou shalt not murder) yet daily we read of murders in our cities, stolen cars and drink/drug related car accidents causing death, domestic violence in homes, life of babies taken by abortion. You have highlighted the ‘oppressor’ v ‘oppressed’ values we have come to adopt of late and the Leftist govt and followers pushing these- so society remains in upheaval wanting to blame, wanting payback or compensation and often people who then feel oppressed remain in a state of anger. Whilst it’s essential to fight injustice and greed we still need to weigh up when to forgive, when to let go the past grievances and when to go to court. (I read Ephesians recently about ‘honor your master’ if you were a slave and ‘work hard’ and ‘master’ treat servants with due care’ and concluded God has allowed some higher levels of society to in charge of their employees, and some to serve, but Paul emphasized that right attitudes and mutual respect are essential rather than advocating court action and rebellion.
    2. True democracies need virtuous and self controlled people: It is so true the Judeo Christian values are under a full frontal attack e.g. the Christian schools right to have Christians staff and values maintained, is basic to every school’s existence and success. It seems the progressives and the Left just want to wipe out any good practices and aim for Marxist values where a centralized Govt owns all and controls all and people have no Christians values as the ‘state’ and state leader must be worshipped instead.
    I hope and pray it’s not too late to turn back the tide. We have many people praying and have some wonderful Christians MPs and good people ‘fighting’ (with self control) for Christian ethics in many levels of our democracy. Yet with all that going on not many newspaper sources will allow talk of God and His plan for this world so we must seek His way through this New Age type society.
    We also must keep aware of all the tactics behind the scenes that are used to block good laws (e.g. The Govt wants to push through Misinformation act in order to silence truthful journalist reports, and reports like yours or discussions like this one. I sense we have this window open now to speak freely but not for long. if we don’t win this battle to maintain Christian values then the remnant church will need to work underground and in homes, prepare for persecution and move ahead by faith sharing the gospel truths with any who are hungry and thirsty for it .

  3. Countess Antonia Maria Violetta Scrivanich 5 April 2024 at 12:43 am - Reply

    It all started with the philosophy of Communism and Global Control via the UN. What we now have is another handpicked Leftie woman Governor General whose values are at odds with the Australian Constitution. Heaven help Australia and our unfortunate descendants who face a bleak future in a repressive , Godless Australia ! Unless we can educate about the values of democracy the many thousands of immigrants that Albanese + Co are importing, this country is doomed . Plus, pray that China never cuts off supply of building materials and all the every- day objects (steel products, car parts, sinks, toilets, washers,plugs, clothes, tea towels, crockery and cutlery,solar panels, etc, etc ) which we need , because then Australia will grind to a dramatic ,sudden Full Stop as once things break down, there will be nothing to fix them with ! Once we manufactured everything we needed . Now we produce virtually ZERO ! A Leftie lunatic introduced this policy of complete dependancy on China some 50 years ago.

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