Friday, December 24, 2010

Theocracy - It's Not Just A Word

Over at his "Christian Governance" website, we find Tim Bloedow expounding upon what he believes Theocracy means - it would be funny if he wasn't so serious...

1. Theocracy means the rule of God.

Actually, Theocracy means a bit more than just "the rule of god", as a quick look in a dictionary shows us:

1. a form of government in which god or a deity is recognized as the supreme civil ruler, the God's or deity's laws being interpreted by the ecclesiastical authorities.
2. a system of government by priests claiming a divine commission.
3. a commonwealth or state under such a form or system of government.

I think it is rather important to pay attention to the last part of the first clause of the definition the God's or deity's laws being interpreted by the ecclesiastical authorities.. In short, it boils down to government by a ruling class of clergy. Let's not lose sight of this, since it becomes quite germane to the discussion of what's wrong with the concept of theocracy in the first place.

2. God rules over all of creation, therefore, theocracy is a fact, regardless of who believes in it or accepts it.

3. Theocracy does have implications for civil governance and human society, but it pre-exists as a concept over and larger than civil government.

Really? Unless you have some irrefutable proof of a specific metaphysical being actually existing (and not being just an idea embedded in unprovable legend), I don't think it's reasonable to say that there is a "fact" here. It exists as an accepted common notion among those who accept the idea of a god, but hardly stands up to scrutiny as a rational fact.

Rationally speaking, one can look at Iran as a theocracy, and that is a fact today. However, let's be equally clear about something - Iran may be a theocracy, but it is unproven that the metaphysical being alleged to be at the head of that theocracy actually exists outside of legend. In short, Iran is being ruled by an unelected, unaccountable ruling class of clerics.

4. Most people who say they oppose theocracy do so because the term conjures up images of a totalitarian government and a rigid moral order that reflects the imposition of a minority on the whole society.

5. That is exactly the experience of Canada and other Western nations under the tutelage of the humanist religion. And the majority of our citizens seem content to let it unfold even if they disagree with it. This despite the fact that we know how these humanist/atheist experiments turn out: the former USSR, Hitler’s Germany, the People’s Republic of China, North Korea, etc.

Let's go a little further in dissecting Mr. Bloedow's claims here, shall we?

First of all, let's address his claim that Secular Humanism (at least I presume that's what he's referring to when he uses the term 'humanist')

Secular Humanism is a secular philosophy that espouses reason, ethics, and the search for human fulfillment, and specifically rejects supernatural and religious dogma as the basis of morality and decision-making. Secular Humanism is a life stance that focuses on the way human beings can lead happy and functional lives.

Secular Humanism is distinguished from various other forms of humanism. Though Secular Humanism posits that human beings are capable of being ethical and moral without religion, or God, that is not to say it assumes humans to be inherently or innately good. Nor does it present humans as "above nature" or superior to it; by contrast, the humanist life stance emphasises the unique responsibility facing humanity and the ethical consequences of human decisions.

The term "Secular Humanism" was coined in the 20th century, and was adopted by non-religious humanists in order to make a clear distinction from "religious humanism". Secular Humanism is also called "scientific humanism". Biologist E. O. Wilson called it "the only worldview compatible with science's growing knowledge of the real world and the laws of nature".[1]

Fundamental to the concept of Secular Humanism is the strongly held belief that ideology—be it religious or political—must be examined by each individual and not simply accepted or rejected on faith.[2] Along with this belief, an essential part of Secular Humanism is a continually adapting search for truth, primarily through science and philosophy.

In short, Secular Humanism is not a religion. It is a philosophical perspective used to analyze the world and human experience of it. Religions generally work on the assumption of something being 'divinely inspired/guided/whatever'. To refer to Secular Humanism as a religion is to distort the reality.

Next, what Bloedow refers to as failed secularist states were and are totalitarian regimes. Their official (and whether Nazi Germany was atheist is decidedly murky indeed) atheism is in many respects secondary to the actual success or failure of the state. China, for all of the things it may criticized for, is a state currently undergoing significant change and as the world's second largest economy can hardly be called a failed state.

Similarly, for all that Iran is one of the most brutal regimes in the world - especially if you are female, homosexual or non-muslim, it is not a failed state. It has a robust economy and is a significant political and economic power in the region. We should never lose sight of this.

However, from the perspective of Canadians, Iran represents a great deal of what can go horrendously wrong with the practical implementation of theocracy. Among other things, the very concept that a woman's testimony in court bears only half the weight of a man's is deeply problematic, not to mention the recurring issue of women being stoned to death for adultery - based entirely upon some cleric's interpretation of "God's Law". Let us not lose sight of the impact of this kind of harshness upon the people who live under the thumb of a theocracy.

The issue isn't one so much of whether we are talking about a theocracy or other form of government, rather it is the likelihood of the government descending into totalitarianism. Oppressive government tends to evolve when those in control of the levers of power believe that there is some absolute that must be maintained.

6. Considering how tolerant Canadians are of totalitarianism, Christians shouldn’t feel the need to distance themselves from the language of Christian government and theocracy, despite the myths about these ideas being oppressive.

Let's talk about oppression for a moment, shall we?

Oppression typically happens to minority populations within a larger society. After all, short of military force, it is pretty hard to oppress the majority population in a society. In democracies, for the most part, oppression is result of an interesting phenomenon better known as 'The Tyranny of The Majority'. (which is a key reason for the existence of things like human rights law in the first place - something which Bloedow rails against elsewhere.

The problem is that what Bloedow calls 'totalitarianism' is really just the normal process of rights existing in tension with each other - and in the last fifty years or so, the balance has shifted away from providing unfettered rights to discriminate based on religiously derived proscriptions.

Further, Bloedow's position here ignores the key observation that has been at the core of civil and human rights law since the Civil Rights Movement took hold in the United States. This observation is that the 'will of the majority' can, and does, do great violence to minority groups within that broad fabric of civilization. Much of the civil rights push in the latter half of the 20th century is focused on undoing the harms done by limiting the participation of minorities in the public sphere.

7. Biblical theocracy refers to the rule of God through His law, not the rule of God through any particular person, and God’s law applies to all of life, so we need to understand how God’s law addresses a particular area of life in order to exercise God’s rule – theocracy – there.

Here's where theocracy gets well and truly messed up. Just how is anyone supposed to believe that there is a single, correct, interpretation of scripture? Christianity alone has hundreds, if not thousands, of individual sects, each claiming to know "the real answers".

This means that we come down to theocracy being driven by a bunch of clerics who happen to have a particular understanding of scripture. In short, it is all but guaranteed to degenerate into a form of totalitarianism as the clerics in power become comfortable with having the power without being directly accountable to the people. (one doesn't have to look too far for this kind of unaccountability - take a look at the Vatican)

Offhand, I'd put good odds that there are a lot of Quebecois who might still remember the Duplessis era, and the fallout from that - a good object lesson in how theocracy - in this case indirect - can go very, very awry.

8. Biblical theocracy advocates decentralization, balance of powers and shared leadership in every area of life. Organizational centralization is contrary to God’s law in family, church and state. Biblical theocracy leads to political models that reflect the principles of division of authority and diffusion of power.

Does it really? Or is this just Bloedow's personal interpretation? I'm inclined to believe the latter. If Bloedow's claims were the generally held understanding of scripture, it's extremely hard to imagine how the theological/political entity of the Roman Catholic Church emerged in the first place - with all power devolving ultimately to the Pope. Frankly, I suspect that Bloedow is actually arguing for a more libertarian approach to government because it is convenient to him ... and he doesn't want to be bothered understanding issues such as the 'Tyranny of the Majority' would be amplified in such a situation. (and possibly to his detriment, given that overall levels of religiosity in Canada have been on the decline for decades)

9. God, and God alone, sovereign. Every human authority is exercised under God; all human power is delegated from and by God.

Again, as with the statements made in section 2 of his position statement, Bloedow is assuming the existence and accountability of a metaphysical being. I'd like to point out that English Kings (and other Monarchs as well) used to rule "by divine right" - claiming that their power was derived from God. Those not so familiar with how that turned out are urged to spend a little time studying the history that led up to the creation of the Magna Carta which started the process of unwinding the arbitrary powers that English Monarchs claimed as "divine right".

Thanks, but no thanks. I see no reason to repeat one of the darkest times in human history. The concept of "god's law" is unaccountable to the people who are affected by it, and it is subject to interpretation by an elite class who will be even more unaccountable to the people than our current day polticians. Politicians can be contacted, lobbied and persuaded - and outside of Alberta - voted out of office. Metaphysical beings? Not so much.


dentedbluemercedes said...

An excellent dissection, although you'll likely not get a response from Bloedow on the matter. But fortunately, No Apologies is taken less seriously with each rambling, so it's rather moot. Hopefully, he'll pontificate himself into irrelevance.

MgS said...

I don't expect a response from Bloedow - his idea of a response is usually to engage in name calling and snide dismissal of arguments.

I've never seen him address an issue head on.