Does democracy require morality?
Character and the Spirit of God
James C. Denison
Morality is much in the news these days.
In November, 2009 Tiger Woods was injured in a car accident, hitting a fire hydrant and a tree in his driveway in Orlando, Florida. As the investigation unfolded in the news media, we found out about Tiger’s many affairs and his subsequent treatment for sex addition.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault by a college student in Georgia. He has avoided criminal charges, but could face punishment from the league and his team.
In Hollywood, talk show host Larry King is divorcing for the eighth time. He and his seventh wife filed for divorce recently; she believes 76-year-old King had been having an affair with her younger sister for five years.
Today we need to explore the question: does democracy require morality? If it does, how can we draw our culture to a higher moral standard? How does this issue relate to your soul, marriage, family, and other relationships today?
If you could fix one problem in America today, what would it be? A recent survey asked a large number of Americans that question. Their #1 answer was, “restoring national economic stability.” That’s no surprise, in these days of recession. But tying for #1, ahead of “preventing terrorism” and “curing cancer,” was: “restoring values and morality to society” (“What Americans Really Want . . . Really” by Dr. Frank I. Luntz).
Imagine for a moment what would happen if Americans chose to live by biblical morality. For instance, the Bible says that sex outside of marriage is wrong. No standard could seem more outdated and irrelevant in our society. But what would happen if we lived by this one simple principle?
The United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world. The Centers for Disease Control say that one-third of girls in America become pregnant before the age of 20; 81% of them are unmarried. Out of wedlock births accounted for four in ten of all U.S. births in 2007.
100,000 websites offer illegal child pornography, which generated $3 billion annually. Ninety percent of 8-16 year olds have viewed porn online, most while doing their homework. There are 372,000,000 pornography pages on the Internet.
Pornography makes more money in America than Google, Yahoo, Amazon, eBay, Microsoft, Apple and Netflix—combined. Worldwide, revenues top all combined revenues of all professional football, baseball and basketball franchises.
How would living by biblical sexual morality change the issues of teenage pregnancy, abortion, and pornography?
The Bible says that stealing is wrong. Property theft in America costs us more than $15 billion. Last year, more than 9.9 million Americans were victims of identity theft, our nation’s fastest growing crime, at a cost of $5 billion. Total dollar loss from Internet crimes is $575 million.
Imagine a nation which lived by the biblical command not to steal.
The Bible says that murder is wrong. In 2006 in the United States homicide was the second leading cause of death for infants. Homicide with a firearm was the second leading cause of persons between the ages of 10 and 24, the third leading cause of death for persons between ages 25 and 34.
There are 774,000 gang members and 27,900 gangs reported active in the U.S. in 2008. There are 900,000 gang members overall across the world fostering illegal drug trade in the U.S. The availability of illicit drugs in the U.S. is increasing; 25 million drug users are under 12 years of age. Illegal drugs cost our country $215 billion annually.
The Bible says that lying is wrong. In a recent survey, 83% of students confessed they “lied to a parent about something significant.” Sixty-four percent cheated on a test during the past year—47% of students attending non-religious schools cheated; 63% of students from religious schools admitted they cheated.
Yet 93% of students said they were “satisfied with their personal ethics and character.”
And things are getting worse. A recent survey compared youth and young adults to their parents’ generation:
The younger group is nine times more likely to have sex outside of marriage.
They are six times more likely to lie.
They are almost three times more likely to get drunk.
They are twice as likely to view pornography.
Why this trend? How did we get here?
Why the issue matters
Plato, one of the greatest minds in human history, was convinced that a democracy could not last. The people could be swayed too easily by public speakers, he warned. And once the people discovered that they could vote based on their personal interests rather than the good of the nation, their democracy would begin to fail.
In a democracy, we do not seek to legislate morality. But did the founders of our nation believe that morality was essential to their democratic experiment?
In his farewell address (September 19, 1796), President George Washington told the nation: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports…Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle…Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.”
John Adams, our second president, claimed that “the general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity.” He stated, “Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for their only law book and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited. What a Eutopia, what a Paradise would this region be.”
Thomas Jefferson, our third president, was not a biblical Christian. He cut from the Bible every reference to the miraculous, and viewed Jesus as only a man. But he insisted, “Injustice in government undermines the foundations of a society. A nation, therefore, must take measures to encourage its members along the paths of justice and morality.”
Abraham Lincoln said of the Bible, “Nothing short of infinite wisdom could by any possibility have devised and given to man this excellent and perfect moral code. It is suited to men in all the conditions of life, and inculcates all the duties they owe to their Creator, to themselves, and to their fellow men.”