In the strictest, sense democracy means a governmental system which invests power in the general population, often through elected representatives. Generally speaking, we Americans equate democracy with the concepts of freedom and equality, probably because our most sacred documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Bible, each proclaim freedom and equality as divinely sanctioned. Therefore when Americans espouse the propagation of democratic ideals and claim support for basic human rights, others rightfully assume a commitment to freedom and equality.
As in all discussions such as this, we need to pay close attention to what our words literally mean. Freedom, as we should all know, means the lack of restraints imposed by others. Governments are in the business of restraint, even democracies. Governments don’t bring or insure freedom, because that is not their intended purpose, by definition. In that sense, our cultural connection between the democratic form of government and liberty, for example, could be challenged as illogical; but for the moment I’ll ignore that issue.
The American concept of democracy is closely allied to our religious traditions, as the evangelical Christians constantly note. The Declaration of Independence specifically ties the inalienable rights of equality and liberty to the Creator. We can argue again about whether that Creator was the one in the Bible or some other generic deity embraced by Washington,
In this we encounter a monumental irony. Our religious heritage is the product of one arm of what we know as monotheism, the belief in one God who created everything. The other variations of monotheism are Judaism and Islam. These religions are distinct, but yet share common aspects. Among those common elements is the belief in each case that their particular faith is vastly superior to all others, imparting special privileges from God. Generally all three faiths practice some form of segregation, ostracism, and opposition against all other faiths. Nothing in these common practices promotes either freedom or equality. What such beliefs and practices do suggest is a love of theocracy, not democracy.
When a nation, which, on the one hand, claims to support liberty and equality, also adheres to religious doctrine which denies these supposed virtues, it will inevitably be conflicted. We must ask ourselves what we really believe in, a God of favoritism or a system that liberates and extols the brotherhood of all mankind.