Reinhold Niebuhr & Benigno Aquino
CHRISTIAN FAITH, HUMAN NATURE & DEMOCRACY
Faith in democracy is a little like faith in God. Life is constantly tempting us to abandon it.
The likeness is by no means coincidental. Ultimately, our faith in democracy depends on our Christian belief that human nature is ignoble enough to require the checks and balances of democracy and, at the same time, noble enough to recognize that fact and submit to the restraints required. It depends on the recognition that God and something that is not God both exist simultaneously in man and woman, at least until God is ejected by serious sin.
Reinhold Niebuhr, in his great 1944 book, The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness, expressed it neatly: “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”
During the counting, or miscounting, of ballots in the recent Philippine election, the Filipino community in the Boston area organized a Mass to pray for a fruitful outcome. After the Mass there was a reception at the former home of Benigno (“Ninoy”) Aquino, the murdered husband of Corazon Aquino, now President of the Philippines. The home has been turned into a memorial to Ninoy Aquino, and one of the exhibits is the bloody shirt he was wearing when he was gunned down by Marcos’s henchmen.
At the reception I noticed a T-shirt inscription on the back of one of the young Filipinos in attendance: “‘Man’s sense of Justice makes democracy possible; man’s injustice makes democracy necessary’ — Ninoy Aquino.” The T-shirt inscription was accurate in ascribing to Aquino the faith in democracy that Niebuhr shared in 1944.
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