July 27, 2006

F TROOP BACK TO NORMAL (via Mike Daley):

Theocracy, Theocracy, Theocracy (Ross Douthat, August/September 2006, First Things)

To understand what, precisely, the anti-theocrats think has gone so wrong, it’s necessary to understand what they mean by the term theocracy. This is no easy task. The word is often used to connote government by a specific institutional faith—Shia imams in Iran, say, or Wahhabi clerics in Afghanistan—with the clergy writing laws and a temple guard enforcing them. But the clout of institutional religion is at low ebb in American politics. No prelate wields the kind of authority that Catholic bishops once enjoyed over urban voters, no denomination can claim the kind of influence that once belonged to the old WASP mainline, and the evangelical Protestantism that figures so prominently in anti-theocracy tracts is distinguished precisely by its lack of any centralized ecclesiastical government.

Occasionally, the anti-theocrats flirt with the possibility that one institutional church or another might pose a threat to the democratic order. In American Theocracy, for instance, Kevin Phillips waxes paranoid about the Southern Baptist Convention’s role as the “state church” of the South, and he tallies, darkly, the number of Baptists who have insinuated themselves into the highest levels of American government. But for the most part, the sum of all secular fears is slightly—but only slightly—more plausible than a Southern Baptist caesaropapism. The real danger, the anti-theocrats suggest, is an ecumenical theocracy that would install a right-wing Mere Christianity as its established religion, subject unbelievers to discrimination, and enshrine the Mosaic code as the law of the land.

We've survived 400 years of that model quite nicely.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 27, 2006 10:45 AM

It's just that their high priest, John Dewey, misled them into thinking that once the rabid anti-Christians took over public education, all this religious stuff would just fade away.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at July 27, 2006 11:24 AM

"There's a great deal of confusion here," writes Douthat.

Indeed there is, not the least being the writer's misuse of the term, "caesaropapism."

He is to be congratulated for getting the word almost exactly backwards a feat of malapropism roughly equivanent of calling black, white. Most clearly, he uses it to mean domination of the state by the church, when the actual meaning is the precise opposite. http://www.religion-encyclopedia.com/C/caesaropapism.htm

It was a good article generally. We should have hoped that First Things would have done a better job with the rectification of names pertaining to church history.

This is not a pedantic quibble, or it is not only a pedantic quibble. The influence of Christianity on American Government is profound, but it is very unlike the Byzantine domination of the church by the state. On the contrary, here the church informs the people, and the people rule.

Posted by: Lou Gots at July 27, 2006 2:04 PM