Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Screwtapian Democracy

There is a common distortion of the idea of democracy that is dangerous to us and dangerous to democracy. C. S. Lewis describes it in his short article, Screwtape Proposes a Toast. Lewis characterizes it as the spirit of "I'm as good as you." The idea is that to be different, especially to be different in a way that might be construed as being better, is undemocratic. Now much has happened since Lewis' day, but I am convinced this concept is still around. We celebrate diversity, but often diversity means a superficial difference between things that are basically the same underneath. Any real difference, especially one that might imply I am right and other people are wrong, is discouraged. Also we try to be different, but we are different in the same way. We want to be what is "in" or "cool."

This can affect Christians in various forms. It can make them afraid of being fanatical. Now the problem here is, there really are bad kinds of fanaticism. But this fear of being fanatical can end up supporting Christian mediocrity and discourage seriously living for God. How then do we distinguish the bad types of fanaticism? Bad fanaticism tends to force on people a few key ideas or practices. Underlying this is generally legalism and self-righteousness. We take pride in the fact we think we are pleasing God by pushing our narrow agenda. What we need is not a more moderate faith but a deeper faith: in the cross and in God's grace and forgiveness. 

The Bible, however, pictures the idea of unity in diversity. The church is a body with many members, and all of them different (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Romans 12:3-8; 1 Peter 4:10,11). Now Scripture does not directly apply this to the world at large, but we are told of different roles people have in society, and we are given the impression the same principle applies (1 Corinthians 7:17-24; Ephesians 5:22-6:9; Titus 2:2-10). I would conclude we are called to use whatever good qualities and abilities we have to excel for God's glory and to encourage others to do the same. Now there are always the questions of better and best and of living a balanced life without over-committing ourselves. But the issue should not be refraining from doing something because it might keep us from fitting in. I do not say we should try to be ourselves, because a certain aspect of ourselves is sinful (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9). But we should, within the boundaries of God's commands, work to be the selves God intends us to be. And we should deal with ourselves and others within the context of God's grace and forgiveness (Romans 8:33.34; 14:4; 1 Corinthians 4:3-5), not try to push them into some mold. Nor should we try to pull everyone down to the same level.

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