Imagine a world where the people have no right to choose how they are governed, where laws are based not on contemporary morality, but on ancient mysticism. Imagine a world where the slightest thought out of line can be grounds for execution. It sounds like something gleaned from the pages of the most disturbing dystopian science fiction, but it is the world we all face if the Christian right seizes power.
The Christian right are defined by Wikipedia as “Christian political groups that are characterized by their strong support of socially conservative policies. ” Social conservatism is, of course, the belief in a strict authoritarian adherence to traditional values . For the purposes of this essay, these are the definitions that I will be using, as they are the most relevant to my argument, as well as the most neutral and accurate.
The idea that mankind could benefit from a theocratic state is by no means a new one, nor is it an exclusively Christian one, but as I live in a predominantly Christian country, it is Christian theocracy that concerns me the most, although I will touch on Islamic theocracy as well.
The term ‘theocracy’ was coined by Josephus Flavius in the first century AD to describe the political system employed by the Hebrews. Taken literally, it describes a system in which the head of state is believed to be in direct communication with – or in some extreme cases the pure embodiment of – God himself . The biggest danger in this system, obviously, is that there can never be any proof that the head of state truly IS in direct communication with a supreme being, and thus there can never be any proof that the way that the law is interpreted isn’t simply based on private prejudices held by those in positions of power. When viewed this way, theocracy becomes the ultimate tool for manipulation. A leader can use the faith of the people to serve his/her own purposes. Even if a person were to disagree with a policy put in place by the state, their total faith in the word of their God coupled with their fear of punitive measures would prevent them to speak up. Thus, the power of the state becomes absolute.
Another issue raised by the potential absolute power granted by a theocratic system is the right to vote. Voting is used within a democracy for the purposes of policy change and leadership change. Under a democracy, the people are given their say and so the system changes with the populace. However under a theocracy, the workings of the system are interpreted by the leader via their ‘direct communication with God.’ This means that they are essentially free to adopt a ‘dictator-for-life’ position, and name their successor without question. Voting, under this system, is not only unnecessary, but it is also undesirable for the advocates of such a system. You can vote FOR a theocracy, but you cannot vote UNDER one, therefore you cannot vote one out. In short, once a theocracy is established there is no peaceful way out.
The great irony of those who advocate authoritarian theocracy is that they consistently say to those of us who oppose it that it is their right to vote for a theocracy if they wish and that we mustn’t stand in the way of their right to vote. Indeed, they have the right to vote any way they wish, but we also have a right, and that is to ensure that we have the best possible life, and in this case that means being as aggressive as possible in our opposition to theocracy, which means pushing our beliefs in the faces of the Christian right.
It is surprising that many in the Christian right, who believe that their respective nations should become theocracies, are highly critical of Islamic theocracy. They dismiss Islamic theocracy as violent, barbaric and restrictive without realising that these are precisely the conditions under which a Christian theocracy could exist. This is a quote from far-right online encyclopaedia Conservapedia that illustrates the hypocrisy demonstrated by the Christian right in terms of theocracy:
“Theocracy may also describe any government which seeks to impose religious principles or law, such as the Sharia, or the Hindu laws of Manu Smriti, on its population, even if the government is formally secular.
One well known example of such a state is Saudi Arabia who's [sic] legal system is based on the Sharia law, Saudi Arabia also has a religious police.
In Israel, civil cases under the Halakhah (traditional Jewish law based on the Torah) are allowed. ”
I would be interested to know exactly how Andrew Schlafly, the owner of Conservapedia, believes a Christian theocracy would differ. As soon as religion is allowed to influence even the smallest part of the law, then this vision of an undesirable theocracy has been realized.
It is not necessarily true that all theocracy is bound to fail however. The Pharoanic dynasties of Ancient Egypt managed quite a successful theocracy. However the likelihood of a Christian theocracy having the same level of prosperity and success as Ancient Egypt is next to impossible. The Christian right would have to abandon those policies that can be considered out of date and those that hinder the rights of the people. However, if these policies were abandoned, it would remove the framework that would keep the populace in line with the ‘right’ beliefs, therefore negating the purpose of the theocracy, because, when you get down to it, isn’t the core purpose of a theocracy the political enforcing of religious law? And if you take away the enforcement aspect (as forcing religion on others legally speaking contravenes human rights) then you give people the freedom to reject religious policy and thus the theocracy, although technically in place, has no real power and will, over time, merely transform into a democracy.
The reason that the Egyptian theocracy was a success lay in the fact that there was no real non-belief. The populace agreed with every law that was made because they believed wholeheartedly in their religion. That kind of society does not exist nowadays, so the laws of a modern theocracy would be questioned, and the questioners would be severely punished, as the bible can be interpreted as recommending.
Something that many theocracy advocates seem to overlook is that Jesus himself spoke out against theocrats. In biblical times, the Hebrews were ruled over by the Pharisees, and Jesus was supposed to have had several run ins with them, disapproving of their brand of authoritarian theocracy.
There are some within the Christian right who attempt to justify this fact. The owner of a social conservatist blog called ‘Rhology’ informed me, when I pointed out that Jesus opposed authoritarian theocracy, that: “you're wrong about this. He many many times expressly said that He was submitted to the will of the Father, Who is the final authority. YOu're ignorant of Jesus' teaching.”
I was also told by this person, when I pointed out that Jesus stood FOR the rights of the people rather than against them: “I suppose so. SO what?”
The ‘so what’ is that they have just openly admitted that Jesus stood for human rights, and yet they also have asserted that he also stood for authoritarianism, simply because he believed himself to be under the authority of God.
Another misguided attempt to justify social conservatism, whilst still citing Jesus as a source, is the Conservapedia entry on the Pharisees. It does admit that Jesus was anti-authoritarian, and that the Pharisees were authoritarian theocrats, but it also describes the Pharisees as “liberal intellectuals…who opposed His [Jesus’] logic and insisted twisted Biblical law to defend their authority. ” It then claims that they “rejected anything that was not based in authority, and defined themselves to be the sole authority. ”
This is a clever, although evidentially lacking, claim on Conservapedia’s part. The only thing that can back up the claim that the Pharisees were liberals and Jesus was a conservative are the Conservapedia definitions of these words. It describes Liberalism as “A liberal is someone who favors censorship of Christianity plus increased government spending and power, as in ObamaCare. ” and it describes Conservatism as “A conservative is someone who rises above his personal self-interest and promotes moral and economic values beneficial to all. ” And then goes on to state that “A conservative is willing to learn and advocate the insights of economics and the logic of the Bible for the benefit of all. ” This differs hugely from the actual dictionary definitions of Liberal and Conservative.
1. One favoring traditional views and values.
2. A supporter of political conservatism.
a. Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.
b. Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.
Here is another little issue that we would face in a theocracy. Can we really trust conservatives with the absolute power of authoritarianism? After all, they have proven themselves time and time again as willing to manipulate the truth and even lie to push their point. There is also the question of intellect. Studies have strongly suggested that there is a correlation between social conservatism and low cognitive ability . The study suggests that this link exists due to the fact that conservatism requires little thinking (as all it does is defend established ideas) and thus it is attractive to those with a lower ability to think beyond what they are told.
Are these REALLY the kinds of people we, as responsible human beings, would allow the opportunity to take absolute power? The answer is no. The unintelligent should, under NO circumstances, be allowed authority over the intelligent. Not only do the unintelligent not have the same capacity to make the right choice, but they feel threatened by the intelligent, thus they would undoubtedly (and frequently do when in positions of power) make laws that would suppress the rights of the intelligent. They would, and frequently do, use the bible to justify their anti-intellectualism.
The theocracy of the future would be no friend of the intellectual, just as it would be no friend of the homosexual.
In the theocracy of the future, all are doomed, even those who argue for their right to vote for the theocracy, because the conservative, authoritarian theocracy of the future will serve none but those at the top, and plunge the world into a dark age. Except this time, we have no hope for a renaissance.
As the American economist Robert Reich once said “We do not want to live in a theocracy. We should maintain that barrier and government has no business telling someone what they ought to believe or how they should conduct their private lives.”
Please, do your part to maintain the barrier between church and state.
Look at the Islamic theocracies. Do not just dismiss them with a simple ‘oh a Christian theocracy would be different.’ A Christian theocracy would be no different. It would just be in a different language and in the name of a different God.
Please, do your part to keep the darkness and despair of an authoritarian theocracy on the pages of dystopian fiction where it belongs.