Viewpoint: Does democracy lead to tyranny?


I found this item  on the BBC News site recently and it is a fascinating reminder, if one was needed, that even the best form of human government can descend into terrible tyranny and misrule.

The words are those of Plato, student of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle, he was one of the major founders of western political and scientific philosophy.

It is , of course, no accident that it was  aired within a few days of the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States. There is much about these times that make many concerned and even fearful of what may come in the next four years. But it is more than a reaction to one President, one form of government, and one flavour of political party. Rather,  it reminds us that however much trust we place in systems and people; however much we strive for the best and invest in movements and power bases; however much we argue for right and justice we are eventually left with the bitter taste of disappointment and failure or frustration and hopelessness. The reasons may be socio-economic or accidental; perhaps due to war or overwhelming natural causes. Basically, there is an innate inability for us to ‘get it together’ – as families, as nations, and as a planet.

If we can’t rely on democracy what hope is there?

About 400 years after Plato another young man gathered a group of followers and taught them his way. He spoke to them about truth and peace and justice. He taught them to love God and their neighbours to their fullest ability – even to the point of sacrifice – as he himself was willing to show. In his teaching to the crowds Jesus laid out a blueprint for society which, if followed, would not need parliaments, election campaigns or opposing parties. Everyone would be looking out for each other and honouring the lowest as much as the highest.

Yes, of course – it is ‘Pie in the Sky’ and completely unattainable – if we approach it with the eyes of history and humanity.

But, if we are prepared to listen and follow what Jesus said we can find a refreshing alternative philosophy for life and living. One that is not propagated via a religion but by and through relationships. This is true Equality and Freedom.


First, there was learning.

The basics of language, numeracy
and the wonders of nature.

kindled, perhaps,
by a passionate teacher,
the birth of special interests,
Art, Science, Astronomy, Medicine …
the personal development
of self-expression and awareness.

A privilege:
not to be taken for granted
or abused.

The years flowed
and the depth of reason
and understanding
increased beyond the limits
of a single human mind.

Hypothesis submitted,
peer reviewed,
heated argument followed by
cold rejection
or warm acceptance.

An objective consensus
on a definition of truth observed
and an antidote to arrogance.

But this was a different kind of journey.

Travelling beyond their comfort zone
into the unfamiliar and unknown
they were fully determined
to follow the signs,
to discover the answer
for everything.

Ancient texts coupled with
their own careful observations
and the compelling need
to understand completely
drove their decision
to explore.

To acquire for themselves
the core of meaning
which would satisfy
their restless minds and bodies
and even, perhaps,
their hungry souls.

Not all would share their pure intent.

Distraction and danger
accompanied their quest
which was put at risk
by frightened and ignorant powers.

But a deeper wisdom was guiding them.

Beyond their comprehension,
existing between
the lines of their histories,
hidden to occasional readers
the Truth, once revealed,
became as obvious
as a radiant star –
it was always there.

They thought they were prepared
and had brought appropriate gifts
to acknowledge the king they sought.

with an unprecedented wonder,
the conclusion surpassed
all expectation as they find,
not what they were looking for,
but who was waiting
for them!

2017: A blank page or clean sheet?

The New Year is seen by many as an opportunity to make a fresh start or a blank page on which to write the untold story of 2017. But it isn’t that simple.

We cannot just forget or ignore our past, whether it’s our early childhood or the previous year or two, and the events of decades ago often leak suddenly into our present and near future.

My one and only experience of corporal punishment in an otherwise unremarkable (and not very auspicious) school career was because I had a couple of blots on my exercise book. The immediate and painful delivery of what might now be considered officially sanctioned child abuse, shamed and shocked me. I did not speak of it at home and have never admitted to being caned … until now. In the great scheme of things of course it should, perhaps, have been a non-event and I know that many have much worse memories which influence their development and maturity. What, for some of my school friends was a mark of accomplishment, a badge of honour, was, for me, the exact opposite. Looking back, I still believe it was completely unjustified but unfortunately, that particular junior school teacher was not averse to using terror and humiliation whenever he felt like it.

There have, of course, been many other things in my life which I would prefer not to have happened or to have turned out differently. I recognise that it was usually my decisions and attitudes at the time which have left me with regrets and the wish to ‘turn back the clock’ or find some other way to resolve and reconcile my past with myself.

However, here I stand on the first step of 2017 and in my 7th decade having lived through another year which contained many shocking events – natural, social and political – at home and abroad. It feels that this new page is already stained with the marks of the previous one because yesterday’s ink is still wet and is seeping through. We are already convinced that ‘there will be trouble ahead’ as we discover the true effects of Brexit on the UK and EU, the US Presidential election and continuing developments in the Middle East and other hot-spots. There is no reason to think that international terrorism will leave us alone and we live in the shadow of the next outrage. I am left wondering how any resolution I make will result in any difference at all – especially as I am unlikely to live up to it.

Pretty depressing. Time to tear up this sheet and write something more positive, wholesome and cheerful to make the New Year a happier one …

I know that keeping my fears and failings to myself is a recipe for depression and incapacity. They take over and discolour my world-view and interfere with my ability to appreciate the good things around me and there are so many good things. So, find someone you can talk to about your hopes and fears. But, more importantly, be prepared to listen to anyone who is trying to share these with you and keep listening – without judging or condemnation – just allow the space for them to speak because this helps to release the pressure that is building up within them and you are helping to defuse what might become an explosive situation affecting not just them but others as well.

Finally, as a flawed disciple of Jesus, I recommend taking his life and words as a template and guide.

Between the manger and the tomb Jesus lived his life free of regrets but not of sorrow;

at peace with his heavenly Father but in conflict with the world’s political and religious authority;

filled with compassion for humanity but completely misunderstood by even his closest disciples;

offering forgiveness and redemption but only achieving this through his death on the cross.

Vindicated through resurrection he empowers his followers to continue his mission by denying themselves and taking up their own crosses, putting him first and not their own assumptions and ambitions.

So, as I head into this New Year I approach it with gratitude for forgiveness for what is past; restoration, redemption and renewal for the present and a fresh perspective for the future.

I will continue to blot some of my pages and have to handle some very negative reactions.

I will be battered by events and suffer personal attacks from unexpected quarters.

But …

I will try to listen more carefully before I speak.

I will try to be more open about how I feel and what is troubling me.

I will try to respond to local and international news in positive and constructive ways.

I will try to recognise my own fallibility before it does damage.

I will try to recognise the best in others and humbly express my faith without prejudice.

I will develop my relationship with Jesus through prayer and study of his life and words.

Along the way I will share my thoughts and experiences in this Blog … and invite you to travel with me. I have a feeling that it will be more interesting if we do it together …