Monday, February 06, 2006

What Republican Theocracy?

This past Friday morning as I was driving to work I saw a pickup that had a sign on the back that said:
Stop The
It was maybe a foot square, perhaps 18", and appeared to be one of those magnetically attached things.

I noticed he also had a personalized licence plate. It said:
Oh how clever.

I'm not going to rant against the driver, or anyone who would put something like that on their car. It would be pointless and the driver (a man) was obviously in moonbatland, so why bother.

But I've seen this before, that Bush and the Republicans are trying to create a theocracy. And there's one think I've always wondered:

What in the world are they talking about?

"Bush lied!" I get. same with "Stop the illegal war!" the latest, "Bush ordered illegal domestic spying!" I may disagee, but I know what who make these charges are referring to.

But when I hear "Stop the Republican Theocracy!" I don't even know what they're talking about. Because from where I sit, we're moving farther and father away from a theocracy, not towards it.

Half of me says that because the charge that Bush is creating a theocracy is so kooky, I shouldn't even bother with this post. On the other hand, because I don't even know what they're talking about, I'm going to delve into it for a bit.

Defining our Terms

Before we can figure out what these people are talking about when they say they think that George Bush is moving us towards a theocracy, we need to figure out what one is.

Merriam-Webster defines it this way:
1 : government of a state by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided
2 : a state governed by a theocracy repeats 1 &2 above, and adds under the heading "Politics"
A nation or state in which the clergy exercise political power and in which religious law is dominant over civil law. Iran led by the Ayatollah Khomeini was a theocracy under the Islamic clergy. (See Islam.)

The noun theocracy has 2 meanings:

Meaning #1: a political unit governed by a deity (or by officials thought to be divinely guided)

Meaning #2: the belief in government by divine guidance

Meaning #1:
kinds of theocracy:

* church-state — a state ruled by religious authority

Meaning #2:
theocracy is a kind of:

* political orientation, ideology, political theory — an orientation that characterizes the thinking of a group or nation
Wikipedia weighs in:
The term theocracy is commonly used to describe a form of government in which a religion or faith plays the dominant role. Properly speaking, it refers to a form of government in which the organs of the religious sphere replace or dominate the organs of the political sphere. The word theocracy originates from the Greek words θεος (theos), “god” and κρατειν (kratein), “to rule”. The term means “rule by God”.

In the most common usage of the term theocracy, some civil rulers are leaders of the dominant religion (e.g., the Byzantine emperor as head of the Church); governmental policies are either identical with, or strongly influenced by, the principles of a religion (often the majority religion), and typically; the government claims to rule on behalf of God or a higher power, as specified by the local religion.

Theocracy and ecclesiocracy should be distinguished from governments that are influenced by religious concepts, or in which religious believers have positions of power gained by political means. An ecclesiocracy or theocracy is rule by the hierarchy of a specific church or sect, not simply a government influenced by religious concepts.
There's more, of course, but I think you get the point. And while people may wish to quibble over details, I think the definitions above are as good as any. So now that we know what a theocracy is, let's move on.

A Top-Down Imposition?

I think to myself, "What has George Bush done that might convince someone he's trying to create a theocracy?"

He's made it known he's a devout Christian, but that hardly fits in with the definitions above. Further, I see very few expressions of faith from his top advisors. Besides, both Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton engaged in more "God-talk" than George Bush. Clinton had ministers to the White House to pray with him during the Monika Lewinski affair, and made a point to carry a large bible with him everytime he went to church. As for Carter, well, we know about him.

So if you're going to try and tell me that "God talk" is dangerous, a threat to our democracy, and a sign of coming theocracy, get prepared for me to laugh at you. And when I'm done laughing, I'll ask you why such talk coming from the left doesn't count.

How about government programs? Well, there are a few faith based programs. The White House has an Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, and the Department of Labor a Center for Faith-Based & Community Initiatives, which basically allows religious groups to bid on an equal footing with other groups for government contracts and grants. The services to be provided are for things like prisoner re-entry help programs, disaster relief, and the like. I hardly see where this is creating a theocracy.

The State of America

Let's take a look around our nation and see what we find.

I don't see a whole lot of evidence that religion exists in this country in the public square. No crosses or Ten Commandments allowed in government buildings or most business establishments. The ACLU is everywhere successful in having these items removed from all government offices and schools.

If you read any history textbook commonly in use in our public schools you'll find little evidence for religion in this country. You'd hardly guess at the important role it played in shaping the views and politics of many great Americans, from the founders to the present day. I remember back when I was a public school teacher (7th grade) and while the history book devoted almost three pages to Martin Luther King Jr, the only reference to his Christianity was a brief mention that he had been a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

I also read that our local Victoria's Secret store in Tyson's Corner Virginia has set up mannequins in highly sexually explicit poses. A few articles were written, a few religious leaders complained, but as usual no one does anything, as everyone knows a boycot would fizzle.

Television? The movies? I watch little of it these days, but have in the past, and I'm sure that what's on the networks during prime time hasn't changed much. The bottom line is that I don't see much evidence to suggest that Christians are trying to take over the country through propaganda being spread through the mass media.

I also see millions of Americans who go to church regularly, and I'm sure pray regularly also. Some are more involved in church affairs than others, but they all believe in God. Some are Republicans, some Democrats. Some are conservative and some liberal. Few, however, want to bring their religion to work in any overt fashion.

I also see people for whom religion and God are nonexistant in their lives. To some religion is invisible, and to others, like our pickup driver above, see it as a hostile force.

Bottom line is that I look around our country and see the militant secularists (or whatever we want to call them) as winning most of the battles. If there's a coming theocracy, it's pretty far underground.

The Clergy in Politics

One way, perhaps, to determine if we're headed towards theocracy is to see whether a high number of clergymen were entering politics with an aim to creating a government based on religion.

The Republicans one. Pat Robertson ran for the GOP nomination in 1988 but didn't get very far. His 700 Club commands a large audience, to be sure, and I've no doubt that several Republcan Congressmen regard him as their friend and perhaps a political confidant.

But anyone who has observed the national political scene over the past 10 - 15 years, and who is not completely blinded by anti-Bush hatred, will have to admit that the religious right lost, not gained, influence. Robertson and Falwell are denounced regluarly by mainstream conservative pundits. Falwell may make an appearance at a GOP National Convention, but he is kept far from the podium.

And what of the Democrats? Well, we have the Rev Jesse Jackson and the Rev Al Sharpton, for starters. I also seem to recall more than a few black ministers who served in Congress, but I don't have time to research that right now. And, of course, the leadership of several mainstream protestant churches, such as the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians (PCUSA) are very left wing.

But I don't want to get into a pissing match over "who has more ministers". The point is that people of faith are found among conservatives and liberals, and a few participate in or comment on politics. This, too, hardly constitutes a theocracy. The bottom line is that there is a religious left, just as their is a religious right. Unfortuantely, the religious left doesn't get talked about enough. But having come from a Presbyterian background, I assure you it's alive and well.

Religion as a Source of Morality

One thing, I think, is that some people just don't like it when Christians say that they get their morality from the Bible. Note that I said "Christian", because it only seems to be applied in force to the dominant religion in this country. In the 2000 presidential election campaign, Joe Lieberman talked about God quite often, and didn't pay any price for it. If a Christian Republican had done that the left would have gone bonkers.

So the standard in this country seems to be this: if you're on the right, you can't say that the source of your morality and political beliefs is from the Bible. But if you're on the left you can say that you get your morality and political beliefs from the Bible, any other religious text, or from a secular source. I just don't see where liberals get upset when left-wing religious leaders issue political pronouncements, as the Presbyterian Church USA does quite often (and here).

So What Do they Mean?

Ok, I give up. Time for some reasearch, because for the life of me I don't see any evidence of a theocracy.

Byron York took this issue up in his 2005 book The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy.

Left-wing authors, York says, have been writing about this for years.

Recently, however, Mark Crispin York has recently become one of the most influential proponents of this view. His monologue/play, A Patriot Act(available on DVD), is apparently influential in far-left circles.

The short version of Miller's thesis seems to be that any reference to religion at all from a conservative (liberals get a free ride) is evidence of a coming theocracy. But don't believe me, go visit his website yourself. It's pretty kooky, in his latest post he claims that the Pentagon is trying to censor the Washington Post for the crime of writing a letter complaining about a recent political cartoon by Tom Toles. Yeah ok.

Otherwise, York says, there's the Chalcedon Foundation which is supposed to be at the center of the Republican theocratic movement. While even a brief visit to their site is enough to convince me that they are indeed theocrats, you'd have to be in moonbatland to think that they have any real influence in conservative circles.

There's also some group called the Ahmansan Foundation who is supposed to be influential, but ditto for them what I said about Chalcedon.

Hmmm. So far, no theocracy.

Let's try Google

Ok, let's play with Google for a bit and see what we can find. maybe we can find evidence of a coming Republican theocracy here. I'll look for organizations, not just individual bloggers.

Here's one: Source Watch. They have a page on "The Bush Theocracy" that bears an uncally resemblance to Wikipedia.

Their biggest piece of "evidence" seems to a quote from Alan M. Dershowitz:
"The very first act of the new Bush administration was to have a Protestant Evangelist minister officially dedicate the inauguration to Jesus Christ, whom he declared to be 'our savior.' Invoking 'the Father, the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ' and 'the Holy Spirit,' Billy Graham's son, the man selected by President George W. Bush to bless his presidency, excluded the tens of millions of Americans who are Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Shintoists, Unitarians, agnostics, and atheists from his blessing by his particularistic and parochial language.

"The plain message conveyed by the new administration is that George W. Bush's America is a Christian nation and that non-Christians are welcome into the tent so long as they agree to accept their status as a tolerated minority rather than as fully equal citizens. In effect, Bush is saying: 'This is our home, and in our home we pray to Jesus as our savior. If you want to be a guest in our home, you must accept the way we pray.'"
Apparently all those times Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter went to church while they were president didn't have the same effect.

Then there's "Theocracy Watch", another group of lovelies convinced that we are following Iran into religious hell.

Among other bits of evidence, Theocracy Watch tells us that "One way to measure the political strength of dominionists is to study voting patterns of members of Congress." According to them, a vote in favor of House bill HR 2123 is a vote in favor of theocracy. The bill itself states as its purpose that this "Amendment exempts religious corporations, associations, educational institutions, or societies from certain nondiscrimination provisions of the bill." In other words, a church that applies for a DOL contract does not have to hire Muslims and Buddists. Normally, government contractors are subject to all manner of rules and regulations. Theocracy Watch, predictably, misrepresents the bill entirely.

Other than that there's all sorts of whack stuff out there. But I'm still no closer to an answer now than I was at the beginning. So when people say that Georeg W Bush and the Republicans are trying to creat a theocracy in the United States, what in the world are they talking about?