Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
March 19, 2001
The moral key to democracy
To no one's surprise, Albertans have returned the Progressive Conservative government with a ninth consecutive majority government.
That election verdict came only four months after an equally unsurprising third consecutive election win for the federal Liberals. The Alberta government faces very weak opposition in the legislature while the federal opposition is also weak. At this point at least, there is no strong prospect of a change in either government in the next election.
Many will express concern about whether this situation is good for democracy to have one party in power for such a lengthy period with no obvious "government in waiting" to challenge it. While this is an important question, the Church tends to ask a different one.
The Church is dispassionate about who holds the levers of political power and more passionate about how those levers are operated to build up or tear down society.
The good of society involves much more than politics or economic well-being. Ultimately, the Church's concern is for the values of society. The soul of society does not depend on government programs and on its budget, although it is certainly reflected in them.
We hope for a society that is not afraid of moral truth, even if there are debates about exactly where such truth lies. What we oppose is a society that denies the existence of truth or that seeks to lower the standard of what is morally acceptable.
Here is where we find the crisis of Western democracy - the detachment of freedom from truth. More and more there is a tendency to view truth as subjective - "my truth," "your truth," but no truth common to all.
Those who are convinced that there is moral truth are considered a potential threat to democracy because we don't believe that justice automatically stems from a majority vote. In fact, advocates of moral truth are the protectors of democracy. In his 1991 encyclical, Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul wrote, "a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism." If the decisions of elected parliaments are not accountable to the standard of moral truth, there is no check on the will of the powerful.
In his 1993 encyclical, Veritatis Splendor, the pope reiterated this, saying democracy "can come into being and develop only on the basis of the equality of all its members, who possess common rights and duties. When it is a matter of the moral norms prohibiting intrinsic evil, there are no privileges or exceptions for anyone. It makes no difference whether one is the master of the world or the 'poorest of the poor' on the face of the earth. Before the demands of morality we are all absolutely equal."
The greater threat to democracy than the lack of strong opposition parties is the lack of any major political party that will take an unequivocal stand in favour of the existence of moral truth. Our legislatures are permeated by an assumption that morality is what you make it. It is this largely unspoken assumption that is the greatest threat to democracy and to civilization itself.
In North America, we see its fruits in the culture of over-abundance that threatens the environment and turns its back on the huge gap between rich and poor. We see it also in the widespread acceptance of abortion, non-marital sex and fatherless homes. The list could go on.
The relationship between freedom and truth is the key issue of our time.
The future of democracy depends less on institutional reform or preserving government programs than on ongoing moral revitalization. A people cannot be free unless they make their own desires secondary to a higher purpose. Those who do harness themselves to the truth will slowly, but surely, achieve great things.
So we hope the next four years will be years of good government both provincially and federally. For our part, we should continually remind governments of their responsibility to a truth higher than political expediency or economic well-being.
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