Paul Bickley: The State of the PartiesChristian justifications for democracyCan religion and politics mix?

Christian justifications for democracy



Two factors are generating particular ferment in contemporary global politics today: the continuing struggles of movements for ‘democratisation’ in states which are emerging fitfully from autocratic or totalitarian rule; and the striking and unsettling resurgence in both democratic and undemocratic states of new forms of ‘public religion’ – some wholesome, some deadly. British citizens need no reminder of the second factor, and it is not surprising that many of them are having a hard time comprehending how public religions other than a Christianity familiar to them – or public religion at all - might make any constructive contribution to political life in this country. There is evidently a pressing need for imaginative and critical reflection on the relationship between religion and public life in Britain, and good work on this theme is certainly coming on stream from a variety of sources.

It is important, however, to pause for a while and pose a prior question, one to which most people, including most Christians, think they have a straightforward answer: why should we favour democracy in the first place? There are all sorts of valid pragmatic responses to this question, notably Winston Churchill’s celebrated quip that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have ever been tried. But given the ferment just described, as well as the ever-deepening cynicism about the operation of democracy in societies like ours, it is more than ever important to be able to identify principled answers to this question. As Christians reflect on their political responsibilities today, they need to make clear – in the first instance to themselves – why democracy is important and what conception of democracy should guide their political engagements. In this article I present a broad overview of key strands in the tradition of Christian political thought which can equip us in this task.

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