Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Toward Defining Theocracy

As most know, I dislike the use of the word "theocracy" - well, hate it really. That is because I think it is used to describe people who in no way are theocrats. I think it is also used, as Joe Clark said here

It's a desperate attempt to create a term that has the affect of "rascist" or "sexist": when applied, it automatically paints an opponent as beyond the pale of political discourse.
However, there are folks who truly desire a theocracy in the US; and folks like the fool Senator back east, who truly utter theocratic remarks. The Ellison "controversy" brought some out of the woodwork.

So, if we are going to keep our labels accurate, we need to define our labels.

Now, three definitions of theocracy. Definition 1, quoted by Joe Carter:

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.
Definition 2, provided by XT:
Theocracy - A government ruled by or subject to religious authority. A state so governed.
I have no problem with either definition as truly being theocracy, as long as in the second one we know what is meant by "authority" - and I am sure that this is where we will end up having this discussion. From Wiki:
In politics, authority is often used interchangeably with the term "power". However, their meanings differ. "Power" refers to the ability to achieve certain ends, 'authority' refers to the legitimacy, justification and right to exercise that power. For example whilst a mob has the power to punish a criminal, such as through lynching, only the courts have the authority to order capital punishment.
Amazingly, XT and I came "that close" to coming to an agreement. The divide remained because of the next definition of theocracy, which I do not agree with - and which is, I believe, how it is commonly used in the political debates today. Also from XT what I will label Definition 3:
The reason it is labeled theocratic now is that, for the last 30 years, Conservative Christian commentators have consistently used the public governmental sphere to advance their religiously-based agenda.
with these later clarifications:
if the only basis for your agenda is religious, then you are pushing a theocratic agenda.
A theocrat pursues a political agenda with no other justification than religious belief.
XT believes definitions 2 and 3 of theocracy are equal, or at least both define different forms of theocrat. I do not think that pursuing a religious agenda in the governmental sphere, even if it has no other justification than religious belief, is theocratic unless you are seeking governmental authority - the right to legitimately exercise power - for your religion. Iran is a current day theocracy. The Revolutionary Council - comprised of religious leaders - while allowing a civil government, exercises veto powers over the decisions of that government; and who can run for office in that government.

Now, I will admit to all the elements of the definition 3:

  • My political agenda is absolutely based in my religion - loving God with my all requires nothing less;
  • I am willing to band together with other Christians to pursue that political agenda, and indeed believe that is our constitutional right; and
  • I see no reason why my political agenda cannot entirely be based on my religious beliefs (I would have to stay out of the political arena otherwise), or (as others have said, not XT) my political speech must run through some secular translator [although that is supremely wise].
I contend that does not make me anywhere close to a theocrat because I have no desire, whatsoever, for the US government to be under the authority of a religious entity; or for religion to exercise any other authority than moral authority. In fact, I agree with John Calvin, who said:
For some deny that a state is well constituted, which neglects the polity of Moses, and is governed by the common laws of nations. The dangerous and seditious nature of this opinion I leave to the examination of others; it will be sufficient for me to have evinced it to be false and foolish.
and point for contrast to Eugene Volokh
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?

Eugene, BTW, is either an agnostic or an atheist.

So, what say you all.

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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