Theocratic Street GangsToday's post is in support of the Blogs Against Theocracy blogswarm. Let your voice be heard. Visit First Freedom First for more on this important topic.
One of the many reasons Europeans came to the New World was for freedom of religion. They fled a theocratic world for one that didn't clash with their own beliefs. Facing a dangerous new world, rather than succumb to another religion, was a brave statement and their example is a cautionary tale of what can happen when religion and government merge.
History is full of theocracies. In nearly all of them, a single sect emerged and consolidated their power to the exclusion of non-believers. This consolidation often resulted in decidedly undivine acts. Non-believers where often enslaved or killed. The luckiest were merely subsumed into a belief system they did not share - a familiar story to the pilgrims of the New World.
Theocracies as Perpetrators of Wrong
Theocracies perpetrated the wrongs and justified them as a divine right bestowed by their God whom they exalted above all others. For centuries, persecutors and the persecutees looked at this behavior as solely a religious divide. But, there's a sociological reason as well - people like belonging to a group. They may lack self-confidence and seek inner strength to help them navigate a cold world. They may join to avoid persecution at the hands of another group. Some seek group wisdom as a way to explain the vagaries of an unknowable universe. And some just have a vague feeling of wanting to belong - after all, everyone needs a little fellowship.
But, if we strip away the theological trappings for a moment, there is a modern-day parallel from an unlikely place - street gangs.
Bloods and Crips
Gangs offer protection from non-believers, the psychological comfort and inner strength of belonging, and a belief system that helps them deal with the vagaries of their often violent and capricious world. Gangs attack each other in the firm belief they have the right to kill or enslave others before others kill or enslave them. Like a religion, they work tirelessly to fatten up their membership - a sort of mid-growth power grab they hope leaves them the ultimate masters of their dysfunctional block of the universe.
Many religious people in favor of theocracies will find this insulting. They cling tightly to their concept of right makes might because they believe in a supreme God. However, even that argument is on shaky ground. People choose to follow a belief system - even if they believe the "choice" emanates from their God. That's why there are so many competing religions. In this way, Christians and Muslims aren't much different than Bloods and Crips. One serves a particular God, while others worship at the gangsta rap altar of inner city violence.
I choose to be an atheist, but I have no interest in banishing religion. If I did, I'd favor a belief system just as dangerous as a theocracy. I believe in an openness that is anathema to the core values of a theocracy. I choose to view holy books as good literature with handy rules for living a good life. My belief system allows me to follow the moral principles of a Bible or a Koran without the slightest tinge of hypocrisy. My moral values are basically the same as the religious, I just believe they emanate from man rather than God. I don't need a theocracy to tell me which book to read and how I should feel about it.
Theocracies Run Amok Threaten Everyone
Theocracies are a human construct. At their most benevolent, they offer the chance for people of the same beliefs to harness their combined power and do the good will of their chosen God. But the dividing line between benevolent and evil is a fuzzy, subjective one. So fuzzy, in fact, that even devout practitioners can be blind to stepping over to the dark side. Left to their own devices, theocracies can easily spin out of control - as can unchecked atheism.
Humans are at the top of the food chain. We are smarter, more adaptable, and more powerful than any other species on the planet. However, we're all fallible. If there is a God, I believe that He/She/It would be against theocracy. If God did create the basic, shared tenets of most religions, I believe He'd prefer followers who chose to follow them rather than those compelled by a human construct to buckle under the weight of a monotheistic theocracy.
I'd advise theocratic proponents to give their God more credit. If He is as an all-seeing and knowing good guy, He should be able to create an organizing principle much more elegant and inclusive than a myopic theocracy led by a few people with pretensions to the divine and a thirst for banishing all those who disagree.
I think your God demands it.
Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Saturday, April 07, 2007