Saturday, December 31, 2005

Toward a Definition of Theocracy

This could be seen as a response to Fredrick Clarkson's When is a theocrat, not a theocrat? but it really isn't. As a "fungelical" (or is that "evandamentalist" - I like that better it doesn't make me sound like such a mushroom) I pretty much crack up every time I hear the word "theocracy". I am sorry - but if there were a convention of Christians to re-write the US Constitution it would last about 50 years; and only about 50 people would come our alive. That is only if theologically conservative Christians were allowed in (some lie-detector test would be necessary). Throw in a few liberal theologians and it would never get done. Now that is intended to be humorous - but we know this about ourselves. I doubt if the elder/pastor board at my church could re-write the Constitution.

For those who want to start to understand this issue from both sides - this is a pretty good post on the subject: On Earth As It Is In Heaven: Americans and the "Theocracy" Canard. Now I personally have never figured out this "theocracy" thing. As Dervish points out in the other post:

Every organized political group of any stripe can be expected to push for the policies that are favored by it's members... that is precisely why these groups are politically active... so why the surprise? This is a perfectly legitimate activity and a part of our political process. To oppose these groups is also a part of the process... no big deal.
Someone suggested here at Street Prophets that Christians should start their moral positions and not say where they came from. That is free speech in action. Joe Carter's quote from Eugene Volokh:
I like to ask these critics: What do you think about the abolitionist movement of the 1800s? As I understand it, many -- perhaps most or nearly all -- of its members were deeply religious people, who were trying to impose their religious dogma of liberty on the legal system that at the time legally protected slavery.

Or what do you think about the civil rights movement? The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., after all, was one of its main leaders, and he supported and defended civil rights legislation as a matter of God's will, often in overtly religious terms. He too tried to impose his religious dogma on the legal system, which at the time allowed private discrimination, and in practice allowed governmental discrimination as well.

Or how about religious opponents of the draft, opponents of the death penalty, supporters of labor unions, supporters of welfare programs, who were motivated by their religious beliefs -- because deeply religious people's moral beliefs are generally motivated by their religious beliefs -- in trying to repeal the draft, abolish the death penalty, protect labor, or better the lot of the poor? Perhaps their actions were wrong on the merits; for instance, maybe some anti-poverty problems caused more problems than they solved, or wrongly took money from some to give to others. But would you condemn these people on the grounds that it was simply wrong for them to try to impose their religious beliefs on the legal system?

My sense is that the critics of the Religious Right would very rarely levy the same charges at the Religious Left. Rather, they'd acknowledge that religious people are entitled to try to enact their moral views (which stem from their religious views) into law, just as secular people are entitled to try to enact their moral views (which stem from their secular, but generally equally unprovable, moral axioms) into law.

We need a definition of theocracy that actually makes sense. I will throw out a few I read just today:

The Constitution is NOT their highest authority for the governing of the USA. They subscribe to the notion that their interpretation of their holy book trumps the Constitution - that's theocratic, by any definition.
This is pretty bad as definitions go. First of all, most of the time folks are talking about legislating morality as being "theocracy"; and in the common cases - gay rights/marriage and abortion - most of American constitutional history has supported laws against homosexuality and gay marriage; and abortion. No one has seen the liberalization of these laws to be some alteration of the US Constitutional system; and changing them back wouldn't be either. No one is asking for a US Protestant Pope; or divine right of Presidents. Heck, since I believe in an afterlife and judgement I am more concerned about my eternal allegiance than my earthly one - and I guarantee that while I might engage in civil disobediance I will not support theocracy.
Theocracy == Creating a legal system using religion as it's primary focus point.
This is probably better - but no one is asking for it. The closest is the Ten Commandments debate - and most of that is arguing that the Amercian justice system (and English Common Law it arose from) have some grounding in this that simply should not be waved away or ignored. Even at that, no one is asking that the Ten Commandments be added to the Constitution. This really goes to why someone recommends a law - if they base their moral standards on the Bible that's bad. If they suggest the same law based on some other belief system that is okay. Now Joe Clark tries for a little historical accuracy:
Theocracy, which literally means "rule by the deity," is the name given to political regimes that claim to represent God on earth both directly and immediately. The role of the theocratic leader is to play the role of both priest and king, implementing and enforcing divine laws.

The term was first used by the Jewish historian Josephus to describe the way the Jews were under the direct government of God himself. In ancient Israel everyone was a direct subject of Jehovah, who ruled over all and communicated through the prophets. This arrangement was short-lived, though, and the Jews eventually rejected theocratic rule in favor of an earthly king. While the sovereign did not always enforce all of the laws of the former theocracy, he retained the authority given to him "by God." During the medieval era, a version of this concept was adopted by the Roman Catholic Church. The idea of the divine right of kings combined the secular government with the spiritual authority of the Christian Church to form caesaropapism.

This last term may be close to what folks are talking about; but there is a difference between governing with the authority of the "Christian church" and governing using authority from ones religious beliefs. For instance, George Bush saying he invaded Iraq because he was following God is not the same as getting authority from the church.

Finally, as referenced by Joe Clark:

This double standard is embarrassingly obvious. When the Religious Left supports abortion and gay marriage they are praised as compassionate and progressive. When the Religious Right opposes these same issues they are denounced as religious zealots who want to impose their morality on others. There's a sense that these critics believe that the right to vote and influence legislation should be limited to the people who have politically correct religious views. The enthusiastic applause that followed Garrison Keillor's plan [in fairness, a very undemocratic and bad joke really] to "pass a constitutional amendment to take the right to vote away from born-again Christians"
My feeling is that born-again people are citizens of heaven, that is where there citizenship is, [laughter] is in heaven, it's not here among us in America. If you feel that war in the Middle East is simply prophecy fulfilled, if you believe that tribulation and suffering are just the natural conditions of life, if you believe that higher education is vanity, unnecessary, there is only one book that one need to read, if you feel that unemployment is -[glitch]- dependent on him and drawn you closer to him. [laughter] If you feel -[glitch]- lousy healthcare is a portal to paradise, [applause] then you don't really share our same interests, do you? No, you do not.
is a shocking reminder of the bias against religiously orthodox Americans.
That should get a discussion going.

This is a cross-post from Street Prophets. On to Part Deux


  1. It's actually a debate within constitutional theory whether abortion or homosexuality changes over the last decades count as a change in the Constitution. Justices Scalia and Thomas, for instance, consider those judicial fiats to be judges rewriting the Constitution, and overturning those decisions would, on their view, be changing the Constitution back to what it says. Others thing the Constitution is open on the question, and judges made it determinate. Changing it back would, for them, be a change in what the Living Constitution means. A third group thinks these decisions are simply an outworking of the Constitution. In that case, the rights in the Bill of Rights guarantee the right to abortion or to gay sodomy. If this view is correct, then changing them back would indeed be changing the Constitution, because the laws all along conflicted with the Constitution. They would count it a judicial fiat that rewrites the Constitution the same way Scalia and Thomas think Roe v. Wade and Laurence v. Texas did.

    I can't think of any other options. In all three cases, changing the laws back would constitute changing the Constitution. If all you meant is that no one sees these as altering the fundamental structure and nature of the Constitution, maybe that's right. But it sounded to me on my first reading that you might be saying that no one thinks of this (in either direction) as a change in the Constitution at all, which simply isn't true.

  2. Thank you,

    I am half-asleep and that seems right.

    What I meant when I wrote it was that there was no way the framers would have written anything that supported gay rights, or abortion, in the Constitution - and would have probably been more explicit if they thought it was going to be used that way.

    When we made the change to the current state - abortion in, gay rights up in the air really - people in favor of abortion didn't think it constituted a fundamental change in the fabric - just an outworking of a right to privacy in the 9th amendment.

    If it is changed back it still is not a fundamental change in the Constitution - just a re-evaluation of the privacy coverage. Incidentally, I have no real problem with privacy as an right under the 9th. I have a problem with the things they cover with privacy.

  3. Dear friends,
    Can I start by emphasising how theocracy comes into affect. Not by will of man nor by morals all are guilty of breaking. One who is governed by the law is under the law but we were originally placed here to have dominion over the earth by way of Divine Realization of Who You Are. If nothing is impossible with God and you were meant to do the works that Jesus (Who is One with God) did and Greater works, then it is plain to see that putting on the mind of Christ would mean equality with God (Phil.2:5,6) meaning that in truth you are one with God or otherwise said, God having a human experience. With this mind of Christ one begins to actualize the actributes and ways of God. The Kingdom of God is Ruled by Divine Protocol where God Realization sits on the throne not man's concepts (:Adamic). The Gospel of Jesus Christ merely brings one into Supreme citizenship but the return of Jesus is through His Soldiers who know who they are (Read Joel 2) for even death will have to take a back seat when the Gospel of the Kingdom is Globally Realized. I don't care what things appear like to the human eyes, God's Kingdom Will Replace the government of this little god. When God rules there is No respector of persons. There's about 6 or 7 billion people on the global map and yet this country has already thrown away more than 12 billion dollars on a senseless war. Having this much funds, EVERYBODY should have at least a million dollars pocketed in a world where God overlooks NO ONE.. as opposed to the present rule where the "elite few" 20% in approximation rules with wealth while the approximate 80% struggle. A government is supposed to take care of it's citizens. Who would You rather see on the throne? A society where resorces divided evenly that none should go without or the present unequal system of this little god. Theocracy dosen't fight people but misconceptions ruling outside of "thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven". God is not trying to populate heaven. Read Rev.21:1. If there's a new heaven and earth yet to come, what happens to those who cross over to a place called heaven as of today? We weren't put here to lay down and "die" but to carry out the original mandate set for all mankind: to have dominion over the earth. (Genesis 1:26)
    -Apostle Reiki Melchizedek- My handle in yahoo is DoctorSoulFoot


How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly