by FJ Rocca 8/10/15
The Dictionary defines a theocracy as a form of government in which civil law is defined by religious dictate. In a theocracy laws are administered by a priestly order of agents claiming a divine commission to rule in that deity’s name. Therein lies the defining problem with theocracy. It is a closed system in which free will is subordinate to the will of those trusted to interpret the word of their deity. They decide right from wrong, and devise laws according to their interpretation of God’s word. While belief in God and Judeo Christian teachings are the fundamentals upon which Western civilization has been built, these fundamentals do not constitute a theocracy, because, in Western Civilization, principles are applied to civil law. In a theocracy, there is no attempt to apply this reasoning. Moreover, free will has no place in the practice of religion, because theocracies demand adherence, not acceptance.
Islamic Republics are an example of theocracy in practice. The slaying of Christians, Jews and non-conforming Muslims tells us that the expression of free will is not allowed. One must not merely act according to Islamic law, but think according to it. Historically, there have been other theocracies, some of which have been less cruelly rigid than orthodox Islam, but the same general idea persists. Law is dictated by God (religion) and meted out by his agents (priests, the Caliph, prophets). The fundamental difference between Islam and other religions, is that they are religions, while Islam is a total system, not merely religious, but political, civil and legal, as well.
Only when there is a separation between religion and civil government can there be free will, which is the central, organic component of freedom in a civilized society. In Christianity, when one sins by breaking a commandment, his soul suffers the threat of God’s wrath. His punishment begins with his conscience. If one breaks the civil code of laws, he suffers justice meted out by government which is separated from religion.
Secular government, however, does not mean that government is atheistic. In fact, most laws in civilized countries derive in one way or another from the last seven Commandments and the Golden Rule, i.e., from Judeo Christian fundamentals. In secular society, laws may be derived from divine teachings, but they are distilled and applied as civil agents of order and peace. Islamic theocracy can and does cause suffering among non-Muslims, Western Civilizations, tempered by the greater hierarchy of secular government and civil laws, allow the free practice of religion. Thus, they thrive in an atmosphere of free will, i.e., freedom.
Currently, American culture suffers regular atheistic assault on religious symbols under the guise of a demand for separation of church and state, i.e., secularism. But atheists are in fact theocrats seeking to impose their religion of no-God on civil society. When they succeed, as in Soviet Russia, people are forced to live under a theocracy masquerading as a civil system. But the tenets of Communism are as doctrinaire and dictatorial as the strictest religion, and, where any freedom is allowed, it is only where Communist orthodoxy has been lifted, as in parts of China today where capitalism has begun to allow people to acquire wealth.
True separation of church and state would mean that atheists have no more say than religious people in how their government functions. As a concept embodied in our founding documents, separation is necessary because it does not excise religion from civil government and society, but keeps it from replacing civil law with its own doctrine, to which the people must adhere by way of the dictates of a high priest, prophet or politburo.
Where there is no free will in a society, there is also a lower standard of morality. In a free society, if one is honest, he follows laws because they are just, not merely because he must. This is the nature of conscience in a free society from which all laws are supposed to grow. What governs the spirit of a free society is not merely the threat of authority, but civility itself. When Muslims cut the heads off Christian babies, they do so in the name of religion, not conscience.
Of course we need laws, because there will always be those who steal, kill, and do terrible things. But while the laws of a civilized society may be coincidental with religious doctrine, they are not religious doctrine itself. A religion that controls government imposes its will on people, whereas a civilized code of conduct can be justly and impartially administered by a disinterested secular authority. Laws are not always just, but when crafted and administered with conscience, they tend to be more so.
Not every predominantly Muslim country is a theocracy, of course. Some are tempered by secular government. In Gamal Ataturk’s Turkey and the Iran of the Shah, society moved forward economically and socially under a mostly secular authority. It is what brought those countries into concert with the civilized world. In both cases, literacy was high, women were in the professions and did not need to wear Muslim garb, other religions were allowed their freedom to practice, and the standard of living was very high. After the Ayatollah took over Iran, literacy rates dropped, especially among women, who were driven from not only schools, but from the professions, and from participation in many aspects of society. Freedom was lost to anyone who did not accept the orthodoxy of the ruling Ayatollah, who claimed exclusive authority. Separation of church and state no longer existed there, and it has proven tragic to many people.
Separation of religion from civil government is necessary in free, civilized society, and if the regions now dominated by ruthless Islamists are to be set free, theocracy must be disavowed and removed so that civilized authority may be restored. America is proof that, while civil laws may be derived from divine teachings, but they must always be tempered by reason and applied by secular agents of order. Otherwise, there can be no real freedom.
FJ Rocca was born the day after Pearl Harbor in the same hometown as Johnny Appleseed. He is a trained classical musician, a published illustrator and a prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction. His website is candiddiscourse.com.