Governing by God

Christian Faith and Modern Democracyby By Robert P. KraynakUniv. of Notre Dame Press. 304p $49.95 (cloth) $24.95 (paper)

The thesis of this book, written by a professor of political science at Colgate University, is that modern democracy needs God. The author, who identifies himself as a practicing Catholic, asserts that Christianity is weakened by its close alliance with the contemporary version of democracy and human rights.

Some readers will be jolted. They assumed that questions about the relationship of Christianity to the secular state had been resolved or at least clarified by Jacques Maritain, John Courtney Murray, S.J., and the Second Vatican Council.

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But Professor Kraynak strongly argues that until very recently the Catholic Church did not find secular democracy attractive and that Christians should not settle for the modern state as comfortable or even compatible with Christianity. The author states that modern liberal democracy...subverts in practice the dignity of man. He defends his thesis relentlessly and persuasively. In six chapters, adapted from lectures at Loyola University in Chicago, he says that the secularists are wrong to keep religion out of the public square. Believers are also mistaken if they think it is easy to reconcile their faith with the principles and practice of modern liberal democracy.

Professor Kraynak relies learnedly on St. Augustine, Aquinas and Kant. But underlying his line of argument is the supposition that a modern government needs God and that without reliance and dependency on religious faith a contemporary government will inadvertently promote immoral values.

It is helpful to hear this point of view. But one has to wonder whether the moral norms admittedly needed by any government not anchored in a religious tradition can be furnished by the norms of some versions of natural law or the increasingly accepted norms of internationally recognized human rights.

The authors of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights realized that the universe after World War II needed nontheistic moral and spiritual norms to create a just and a compassionate society. The human rights revolution and the courts for human rights in Europe, Latin America and Africa are seeking to assess claims from a wide variety of persons who assert that their rights have been violated.

Little reference is made to this important moral development in Kraynak’s booka volume inexplicably without an index. But it surely can be expected that moral and spiritual guidelines will be forthcoming from the increasing number of global organizations. They will insist that nations comply with the moral standards promulgated and enforced by worldwide tribunals and commissions.

In 1960 Father John Courtney Murray, S.J. wrote, Anglo-American liberal democracy is the only political order consistent with Catholic teaching about the dignity of the human person. It is not clear that Professor Kraynak rejects this assessment, but he does quote the new Catechism of the Catholic Church (Paragraphs 1901-12)which at least implicitly endorses the democratic state. Professor Kraynak’s views probably derive ultimately from his deep conviction that the religion of Jesus Christ has no political missionunlike the role of Moses and Mohammed. It is good to be reminded of this, but the author can be seen to be a bit inconsistent, since he longs for the return of a world where the Christian religion is in a position to give guidance to the potentially dangerous secular state.

Some readers of this well-organized volume will be disappointed that the author makes no mention of the four billion non-Christians among the world’s 6.1 billion inhabitants. The four billion Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists must be included in any attempt to make the modern state responsive to traditional and generally accepted norms of morality.

Some may also be disappointed that Professor Kraynak did not analyze the long history and extensive controversies before and after the Second Vatican Council adopted its famous decree on religious freedom. For those anxious to understand more about the thorny topic of religion and government in the new century, this book will furnish provocative material about an endlessly important issue.

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