Sunday, April 11, 2010

Democracy in America: Without Religion?

Democracy in America continued-

Tocqueville warned that those who would want to keep their democracy should also jealously guard their religion. If the latter goes, so goes the former. When God ceases to be the highest authority in the minds of the people, the natural surrogate is the State. And that is the choice we face today: reliance on an all-powerful God or a reliance on an all-powerful State.

Approximately fifty years after the French Revolution, Tocqueville wrote Democracy in America. In France, people were increasingly of the belief that religion and liberty were incompatible. Responsible for this propaganda were the anti-Christian, secularist parties who championed the cause of freedom during the revolution. The irony is that they ended up suppressing the Catholic Church and executing hundreds of citizens…all in the name of freedom. It followed that in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the French government and their public schools became venues for the myth that religion was the enemy of freedom. This should sound familiar to twenty-first century Americans.

The American Revolution, on the other hand, produced a different result. In the years that followed the war, Americans believed that religion was an indispensable principle in preserving the prosperity of a nation. For instance, in George Washington’s farewell address in 1796, he said, “Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports.” These words represented the vast majority of Americans at the time. That belief was still palpable when Alexis de Tocqueville arrived in Long Island, New York, May 14, 1831.

When he returned from America to his native land, France, he had two different models to compare: The American model in which religion was the guarantor of liberty and the French model in which religion was but an obstacle to liberty. Dissatisfied with the French model, he clearly supported the American model throughout his book, Democracy in America. One can even say that the reason he had such impressive foresight with regard to the future of American democracy, was that he was convinced that what happened to his beloved country was but the inevitable consequence of America if she too abandoned her religion.

Now, the following quote is philosophical in nature. But if it is read with attention, you will see that what Tocqueville writes is of immense value to us Americans:

“When the religion of a people is destroyed, doubt gets hold of the highest portions of the mind, and half paralyzes all the rest of its powers.

Such a condition cannot but enfeeble the soul, relax the springs of the will, and prepare a people for servitude. Nor does it only happen, in such a case, that they allow their freedom to be taken from them; they frequently themselves surrender it.

When there is no longer any principle of authority in religion anymore than in politics, men are easily frightened at the aspect of this unbounded independence. The constant agitation of all surrounding things alarms and exhausts them.

As everything is at sea in the sphere of the intellect, they determine at least that the mechanism of society should be firm and fixed; and as they cannot resume their ancient belief, they assume a master

Believers are likely to not only see an Intelligent Design in the universe but also in the daily occurrences of their own lives. Everything that happens has meaning; so goes the Christian saying. By the way they see the universe as having order and design, they are trained, in a sense, to see a similar design of order and meaning in their own lives. Unforeseen trials and even death, if they are schooled in the principles of the Christian religion, does not alarm and frighten them as much because they see meaning in these events.

A people without faith, however, must necessarily see the daily occurrences of life as being random. If human life is but a product of chance, then it follows that whatever happens in any given day is also a product of chance. The unpredictability of evil and harm that might come to us, therefore, such as those we have to guard against over these last six decades, creates a frightening prospect; especially for those who do not daily rely on an all-powerful God. This is why Tocqueville writes, “The constant agitation of all surrounding things alarms and exhausts them.” Like a row boat in the middle of a stormy sea, the person whose faith is weak, naturally wants to take refuge in something more powerful than himself- namely, the State. About this mindset Tocqueville adds: “They determine at least that the mechanism of society should be firm and fixed; and as they cannot resume their ancient belief, they assume a master.”

The “mechanisms” he refers to are State regulations, programs and entitlements; from this, the Nanny State creates the illusion of giving security to the people.

“Their ancient belief” the people can no longer resume is their faith; that is, the reliance on Divine Providence and the belief that perfect justice will be had in eternity. A subset of that faith is the recognition that human rights and responsibilities are God-given; and that every authority under God- especially the State –is duty bound to recognize individual liberty. But when the faith among the people is destroyed, the independence of the individual from the State is less felt; indeed, it weakens and eventually gives way to servitude.

The “master” Tocqueville refers to is none other than a tyrant or an oppressive government. The French Revolution fashioned such a government in the late eighteenth century. And in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, America has become more and more acquainted with its new master: an intrusive government. This new master did not force himself upon us; we chose him (or them). Finally, the most telling thing about the loss of freedom is what he writes next: “Nor does it only happen, in such a case, that they allow their freedom to be taken from them; they frequently themselves surrender it.”

1 comment:

  1. I'm afraid you are hitting the nail right on the head with your review of Tocqueville's writtings. This has become a very scary world and our government is becoming the master.


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