Every now and then, something will come to my attention that I find somewhat startling. Often, these things prompt questions that some folks consider outrageous or worse, but that response doesn't bother me. After all, what's life without a little controversy now and then? Boring.
Here's what I noticed, and I wonder about the significance of it.
First, I noticed that the most successful long-term democracies, the countries with high levels of political stability, economic opportunity, and a strong tradition of free speech and conscience, are pretty much anchored in Central Europe - Germany and Switzerland - and the United States, plus a handful of smaller countries. It's very difficult to find these conditions in a durable, relatively unlimited form anywhere else on the globe.
What do these have in common besides their political structure? Well, they all enjoy a moderate climate, which is not insignificant. There are few highly developed cultures in either very hot or very cold places. But there is, it seems to me, another important factor in their success.
The answer is this: Religious heritage. More to the politically incorrect point, nearly all were deeply involved in or had their roots in the Protestant Reformation.
So here's the question: Could it be that Protestant Christianity is a seedbed of political freedom? Could it be that attempts at "planting democracy" in other nations - Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan - are doomed to fail, because they don't have the necessary religious foundation?
If the answer to these questions is yes - and I think it may be - why would this be? What's so special about being, say, a Presbyterian as opposed to a Roman Catholic or a Muslim?
Here's what I think. Until the Reformation, individuals were invisible. By that I mean, they existed as basically insignificant cogs in the gears of a big medieval religious bureaucracy. There was no freedom, little education, no opportunity for bettering one's lot, and total subjugation to the dictates of the church. An individual had no standing with God or with anyone else. In effect, the idea of personhood that we hold so dearly didn't exist.
Then came Luther and Calvin and others.
Now, every man stands alone before God, a priest in his own right. And he does so based on God's extended grace, not on some papal decree. Furthermore, he is an individual, known to God loved by him. Now the individual lives! What a man or woman does counts!
And so the spark is ignited. Individual recognition brings individual initiative, individual responsibility, and individual freedom. The right to self govern. The right to choose one's destiny.
Of course, these didn't come all at once, born mature. But the spark was struck in the tinder, and change was inevitable.
So that's what I think. Is it possible? Plausible? What do you think? Does a people need the gospel to be free?