Bronze-level articleTheocracy

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You can't expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you!
—Constitutional Peasant, Monty Python and the Holy Grail

A theocracy is a form of government in which the policy is governed by divine intervention or divine guidance. Often, in a true theocracy, God is the actual head of state. In practice, due to communication problems, the actual laws and day to day governance are handled by divinely inspired prophets or clergy.

The term theocracy was coined by Flavius Josephus in the 1st century CE. The historian used it to describe the Judaean regime, as opposed to the Roman secular regime.[1]


[edit] Arguments against a theocracy

I am a democrat because I believe that no man or group of men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled power over others. And the higher the pretensions of such power, the more dangerous I think it both to rulers and to the subjects. Hence Theocracy is the worst of all governments. If we must have a tyrant, a robber baron is far better than an inquisitor. The baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity at some point may be sated; and since he dimly knows he is doing wrong he may possibly repent. But the inquisitor who mistakes his own cruelty and lust of power and fear for the voice of Heaven will torment us infinitely more because he torments us with the approval of his own conscience and his better impulses appear to him as temptations.

And since Theocracy is the worst, the nearer any government approaches to Theocracy the worse it will be. A metaphysic held by the rulers with the force of a religion, is a bad sign. It forbids them, like the inquisitor, to admit any grain of truth or good in their opponents, it abrogates the ordinary rules of morality, and it gives a seemingly high, super-personal sanction to all the very ordinary human passions by which, like other men, the rulers will frequently be actuated. In a word, it forbids wholesome doubt. A political programme can never in reality be more than probably right. We never know all the facts about the present and we can only guess the future. To attach to a party programme -- whose highest claim is to reasonable prudence -- the sort of assent which we should reserve for demonstrable theorems, is a kind of intoxication.
C.S. Lewis[2]
  • Essentially, a theocracy is a form of totalitarianism and authoritarianism so most arguments against those also hold. In the case of a theocracy, the ultimate authorities has problems providing evidence of their existence, amplifying these problems.
  • Freedom of religion and philosophy is stifled — as any theocracy by definition is hardly welcoming to other religions or, dare we say it, atheism.
  • Freedom of speech is also stifled, as it's unhealthy for a theocracy for the people to know that alternative views exist. (Heck, you don't even have the right to remain silent!)
  • By extension of the above, freedom of mere thought is stifled and oppressed.
  • In many theocracies, people are ruled by threats of punishment or promises of rewards in the afterlife; such religious beliefs are easy to exploit to keep people in line.
  • By receiving authority from gods, the ruling priest class (or anyone charitable enough to make righteous contributions) is essentially unaccountable.
  • As holy books are (supposedly) unchanging, anything that can be quote mined from them (whether they are in line with the context/spirit of such holy books or not) can and will be easily institutionalized. In addition, policies that come from (potentially) inconsistent quote mines would be difficult to resolve because they are from the same book(s) and emphasizing one over the other would stir up schisms within the religion. This seems to have a bizarre habit of occurring with the Supreme Court and the Constitution as well, suggesting that Clarence Thomas is at work the doctrine of originalism may be even more religious in character than previously believed.
  • Progress and change can be hampered by adherence to holy books (to be fair, one can implement progress and change by rewriting reinterpreting the holy books, but most people simply don't care or have the time).
  • Due to the nature of tithe being fixed according to the holy books, changes of tax rate and structure are difficult to implement. This hinder any implementation of any policies based on modern economics. Not that you might need them, because God the head of state literally owns everything so the free market is probably unnecessary. On the bright side, since tax and tithe is combined into one, and some religion does not require tithe to be spend strictly on the church, it is easy to get tithe credits by spending on charity that has no affiliation to the church if it happens that you don't like the church's spending policies.
  • Historically, heretics and apostates are met with great wrath from the ruling religion. Compared to what such an Inquisition could do, being put on a police file for attending an anti-government rally, or being fingerprinted and retina scanned just to enter a country is quite pleasant.

[edit] Theodemocracy

"Theodemocracy" is an idea put forward by Joseph Smith for his planned Mormon paradise.[3] In a theodemocracy, people supposedly have many of the traditional rights of a liberal democracy within the framework of rule by a single god (or religion).

In a broad sense, one could consider present-day Iran a theodemocracy, as many of the important governmental positions are elected, and many of the others are selected from people who are elected. For example, the President is directly elected (in theory at least) in no guarantee he won't steal the election, and the Supreme Leader is selected by the Assembly of Experts, who are themselves popularly elected.

In practice, of course, Iran is what a theocracy looks like and it's not pretty. "Theodemocracy" is a bit like the Trojan Horse or a wall crack hidden by a picture frame. It might look good on the surface (to some anyway), but the gift is an ambush and that crack is still there.

[edit] Examples

[edit] Current

[edit] Historical

[edit] Future

[edit] In popular culture

God created Arrakis to train the faithful.
—Frank Herbert

Unfortunately, not as many as you'd think, with Wikipedia's list[wp] actually larger than the one on TV Tropes.[6] If books are your thing, Margaret Atwood didn't write The Handmaid's Tale for nothing.[7] In video games, check out the Covenant in Halo,[8] the anti-papal goodness of Final Fantasy X,[9] Comstock's Columbia in BioShock Infinite, and the Imperium of Man in Warhammer 40K.

His Dark Materials acts in part as a critique on theocracy.

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Theocracy, New Advent
  2. C. S. Lewis, A Reply to Professor Haldane
  3. See the Wikipedia article on Theodemocracy.
  4. Gay in Aceh? Brace for 100 lashes in front of a jeering crowd
  5. Wikipedia on Caligula[wp]
  6. The Theocracy, TV Tropes
  7. Margaret Atwood is Canadian, so it probably isn't big amongst American exceptionalists.
  8. Even more in the expanded universe. Yikes, Forerunners.
  9. And pretty much every other Final Fantasy out there, but you've gotta wonder why there hasn't been some moral panic about this yet.
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