Saturday, July 02, 2005

American Idols?

"The reticence (to spread democracy) extends even to those nations that owe their democracy to American force of arms. Freedom in Germany was an American imperial imposition, from the cashiering of ex-Nazi officials and the expunging of anti-Semitic nonsense from school textbooks to the drafting of a new federal constitution. Yet Chancellor Gerhard Schroder can still intone that democracy cannot be ''forced upon these societies from the outside.'' This is not the only oddity. As Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff of the German weekly Die Zeit points out, the '68-ers now in power in Germany all spent their radical youth denouncing American support for tyrannies around the world: ''Across the Atlantic they shouted: Pinochet! Somoza! Mubarak! Shah Pahlevi! King Faisal! Now it seems as though an American president has finally heard their complaints. . . . But what is coming out of Germany? . . . Nothing but deafening silence!''

"Who Are Americans to Think That Freedom Is Theirs to Spread?" is a provocatively titled article recently published in the New York Times by Michael Ignatieff. (Free registration required.)

Great headline. This is a profound question. It's easy to have a knee-jerk answer, but we should be careful here. The Gospel is ours to spread. We are commanded to do so in Matthew 28.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

We're never commanded to spread democracy, yet this is what our tax dollars have been doing for many generations.

It's only fitting. After all, what could be more noble than freeing the oppressed? But freedom from what? Certainly not from the cost of sin. Certainly not from the judgement of God.

To put it bluntly, is spreading democracy Godly?

One could argue -- quite convincingly, I deem -- that modern democracies sprang from the cradle of Christianity and that the notion of individual liberty would have been impossible without Christ in the world. Indeed, left to ourselves -- without the common grace that atheists can somehow never perceive -- we would devour each other and power would be the rule of the land.

But the notion of representational government is not strictly biblical. Many of the men who created democracy, moreover, seemed quite content to make human reason (and sometimes themselves) gods. That said, is "freedom" an idol? Is liberty a Baal whom we worship in place of the one, true Lord? I tend to think not, but what do I know? Perhaps it's not even appropriate to ask these questions so close to the 4th of July -- one might even say it's blasphemous. :-)