Theocracies?

Religious extremists all over the world, and in the United States – as well as religious figures who would never consider themselves extreme – are currently demonstrating the dangers when religious true believers hold power and government. In the Middle East ISIS is busy exterminating anyone who doesn’t hew to their extremist views. Iraq is being torn apart over religious differences. Religious differences accounted for the civil war in Sudan, one of the bloodiest and possibly the longest civil war in Africa, which lasted fifty years by some accounts, and now a prominent radical Islamic cleric is declaring that women and children of faiths other than Islam are no different from soldiers and can be killed according to the words of Muhammad. Mass killings for religious reasons are now endemic in Nigeria, where the Islamic Boko Haram movement has slaughtered thousands and kidnapped and possibly killed hundreds if girls and young women. In Myanmar [Burma] Islamic/Buddhist strife is rising. Religious killings continue to rise in Pakistan.

Whether believers in any faith want to acknowledge the role religion plays, it’s rather obvious to me that the vast majority of believers are totally convinced that their beliefs and ways are the only “right” way to live, and far too many of those believers feel that any ends justify the means in giving their faith the power to compel others to follow those “right” beliefs. The religious “moderates” differ from the extremists in this only in the degree of compulsion they believe is permissible. Thus, in the United States, evangelical Christians trumpet “religious freedom” and attempt to use the laws, rather than bullets and blades, to impose their beliefs on others who do not share their views. This is more civilized than slaughtering those who oppose you, but the principle is still the same – using a form of power to force compliance with a religious belief.

This is, of course, more obvious where I live in Utah, the all-but-in-name theocracy of Deseret, where sixty percent of the population is LDS and ninety percent of the state legislators are LDS, and where nothing of significance opposed by the LDS Church can be enacted, where the wage differential between men and women is among the highest of any state, if not the highest, reflecting the very obvious, but always denied, patriarchal dominance of the culture.It’s also the state where Cliven Bundy, the rancher who provoked an armed-standoff with the BLM and who owes millions in unpaid gazing fees addressed a meeting of the American Independent Party last week, declaring that his armed resistance to the BLM was inspired by God and that, in effect, he was only supporting the Constitution, Jesus Christ, and the LDS faith. While several prominent LDS individuals claimed Bundy did not represent the LDS Church, officially the Church has not taken a stand. It’s rather interesting that Kate Kelley can be excommunicated for advocating that women be allowed into the LDS priesthood, while Cliven Bundy can offer armed resistance to the federal government after failing to pay grazing fees and claim God was behind him… and remain in good standing with his church.

But that exemplifies the underlying problem with religion – for true believers, adherence to belief trumps everything… and that’s exactly why the Founding Fathers didn’t want government making any laws that amounted to establishing a religion – a principle that the Roberts Supreme Court seems to avoid considering.

12 Responses to “Theocracies?”

  1. R. Hamilton says:

    There are certainly a couple of hot-button issues where _some_ of faith would say that violating them is simply too egregious a wrong to permit even for those who do not share their faith. For at least one of those issues, I’ve seen libertarian-oriented quite non-religious arguments that suggested that erring on the side of caution as to when human life begins would be far more prudent than risking something akin to the narrow and exclusionary definitions of humanity that have led to many historic and ongoing abuses.

    But those aside, I have yet to meet anyone in the US that believes that a detailed religious code of conduct should be imposed on anyone (although there are doubtless plenty that believe the attempt at persuasion should be made). And aside from perhaps .0005% or less of crazies, there are few indeed that wish that force be applied to impose such a code, or even any part of it. That stands in very stark contrast to most of the Middle East, the components of the former Yugoslavia, the Sudan, etc. (I would note that one particular code of conduct, that in ancient times did call for the use of force for certain offenses, also required a form of due process – at least two eyewitnesses, and enforcement by the community rather than by any one rogue vigilante; something that the minuscule number of crazies typically forget.) Also: in my view, most of the places where the problems are worst are trying to externalize the frustrations with internal problems by blaming someone else. Thus, a 7th century view of what’s possible and permissible, not to mention polygyny skewing the numbers so as to leave lots of poor cannon fodder (arguably an intentional effect), create internal problems commonly covered by a wink towards engaging in all manner of outrage as long as it’s done somewhere that would undermine the power of those other than the ones enabling it.

    You might want to take a vacation in rural Pennsylvania: Baptists, Mennonites, Amish, Catholics, doubtless a few atheists somewhere, often within walking, bicycling, or buggy distance of one another, getting along quite well, to all appearances; and in cities other than Philadelphia (ironically), far lower levels of ethnic/socioeconomic tension than say central Maryland, where I currently reside. Conversation may show some restraint by common consent, but that’s hardly a problem, more a matter of mutual respect or at least mutual co-existence; and the iron _self_-discipline that some of the older members of the more proscriptive sects adhere to is, compared to the more commonplace self-indulgence, almost refreshing, and not something they seek to even persuade anyone else to pursue.

    Is the tendency for many to want to compel others to share one’s own chosen or inherited standards perhaps universal? Almost certainly, but history and culture have provided very different limits on the extent to which indulging such a tendency is accepted. Drawing any nontrivial parallel between Western society, even in the pseudo-theocracy of Deseret, and those places where openly partaking of minority beliefs is deadly, has more than a bit of the odor of hyperbole, to my way of thinking.

    • It’s not hyperbole to the professional women in Utah who get paid far less in the same field doing the same job as men and often doing it better. It’s not hyperbole when the legislature listens first to the LDS General Authorities, as opposed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Admittedly, we don’t have stonings, as in the Middle East, but, I’m sorry, the principle is exactly the same — use of government and force [social and communal, rather than bullets] to force religious norms, including school-time religious instruction in public schools, on the public as a whole when 40% of that public does not share those beliefs. Utah may be a far less repressive theocracy than any in the Middle East, but it’s still essentially a theocracy.

  2. John Prigent says:

    But when we speak of theocracy, are we all talking about the same thing? There’s more than one definition of the word in most dictionaries, one being direct rule by a god and another being rule by the priests (or their equivalents) of a god. I can’t help feeling that those boil down to being the same thing, the word of the god being interpreted by those priests whether or not they are directly ruling. Here I find myself unable to distinguish between, for instance, the weight given to the preferences of Mormon Elders and that given to the pronouncements of extreme Imams in Islamic countries. that’s leaving aside the beliefs of Catholics about abortion or contraception, the oddities of some Baptist sects, etc, which are not followed by majorities in their countries.

  3. Darcherd says:

    While it is certainly true that there are varying degrees of “theocracy”, at least in terms of the severity of enforcement, LEM is correct in that ANY use of the power of the state to enforce religious beliefs starts down the slippery slope to full-blown theocratic tyranny, and should be opposed. Where it gets more nuanced is when the power of the state is used to restrict behavior which the majority of the society find abhorrent, some due to religious beliefs and some due to intellectual or ethical beliefs not tied to a specific religion. For example, murder (except where specifically sanctioned by the state, e.g. war, capital punishment, self-defense, etc.) is generally illegal everywhere. The fact that some people oppose murder due to religious beliefs about the sanctity of human life does not automatically make laws against murder violations of the separation of church and state. Abortion may indeed be made illegal once more in the U.S., but if it does, I believe it will be because a substantial majority of citizens come to regard it as unethical, regardless of the religious basis of the beliefs of some (and will likely be augmented by advances in medical science, where the survival rate of fetuses even in very early stages of pregnancy improves, thus changing the practical definition of when life begins).

    The problem with a state like Utah, where a substantial majority of the citizens belong to one specific religious sect, is that it becomes very difficult to separate and draw the line between the rights of a majority in a democracy to define what behavior is legally acceptable and what is not and the rights of the majority not to be compelled to support a religion to which they do not adhere. Wage differentials for women, unjust as they may be, may simply reflect unconcern over the problem on the part of the majority and are not necessarily imposition of religious beliefs by the state (I’m assuming here that there are not actually specific laws on the books in Utah prohibiting employers from paying women as much as men.) On the other hand, actual use of public (i.e. taxpayer-supported) school facilities for religious instruction does cross that line, because it compels non-believers to support it.

    And Cliven Bundy is an armed rebel against the government and should be dealt with accordingly, pure and simple.

    • Darcherd says:

      Sorry, meant to say “the rights of the MINORITY not to be compelled to support a religion to which they do not adhere” in the second paragraph.

  4. John Prigent says:

    Very good points, Darcherd!

  5. Wine Guy says:

    There is a (increasingly serious) movement for several counties in California to split off and form a new state or states, depending on which person is doing the talking.

    I can’t help but wonder if the LDS is champing at the bit to get their hands on another state… though from the number of farms under the ‘Deseret Farms’ rubric around here, it seems like they already own most of northern california agriculture.

  6. steve says:

    Mr. Modesitt is incorrect when he stated that Utah requires school time religious instruction in public schools. Utah allows “release time” to students who have sufficient credits and are on track for graduation. This “release time” occurs during the school day and is used by LDS students to attend “seminary” or religious instruction for that hour. “Release time” is allowed for all and can be used for concurrent enrollment classes, job training, or any supervised activity agreed upon by the parents and school board.

    My partners and I employ over 100 people including professionals here in Utah. Utah is an employer friendly “at will” work state with a relatively small union presence. However, Utah does not tolerate discrimination of any form in the workplace. I cannot believe that there is widespread, systematic, or overt discrimination. I have not seen it. The courts would not tolerate it. As a father of four daughters who will all pursue postgraduate education I would not tolerate it.

    This is not to say that there is not a difference in pay or that discrimination doesn’t exist. However, there are many reasons that there may be a difference in pay and systematic discrimination by the State or the LDS Church is not one.

    • I beg strongly to differ. The issue of religious-based release time during school hours and religious studies facilities next door to schools has been declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in every state where it has been litigated. It has never been litigated in Utah. Gender discrimination in Utah is wide-spread, prevalent, and extremely subtle… and so culturally ingrained that almost no one in Utah, especially Mormons, except “those damned liberals,” seems able to recognize it, much less acknowledge it. And the state does tolerate it; not only that, but about ten years ago, the legislature attempted to gut the powers of the state attorney general, a woman, because she was looking into things they didn’t want looked into. Subsequently, the two most recent state attorney generals have been indicted on multiple corruption and bribery charges. Just in the past few weeks, the wage discrimination issue was raised again by several organizations. Any employer who doesn’t think it exists is seeing what he [and it is almost always a man] wants to see. And I have six daughters, one of whom is an attorney specializing in workplace law.

  7. steve says:

    In 1948 the US Supreme Court ruled in McCollum vs Board of Ed. that public property could not be used for released time religious instruction. In 1952 New York Courts ruled in Zorach vs. Clauson that released time religious instruction was legal as long as public schools or funds were not used in religious instruction. In 1978 the 10th Circuit Court upheld the New York Court precident in Lanner vs. Wimmer. Released time is legal in the United State but it is up to individual school boards as to whether to offer it.

    I’ve no doubt that discrimination including gender discrimination exists in Utah as it does in the US in general. As employers my partners and I are very careful to follow, and be supportive of all the employment laws. The experience and intent of other business owners who I know is similar. Your daughter likely deals with people that I have no experience with.

    As far as ingrained, subtle, unknowable discrimination that I as a Utahn cannot know, well…I don’t know what to say. Your argument seems to have a bit of a double standard or special pleading, but how could I know? I’m a Utahn.

    • I stand corrected on the released time issue. Thank you.

      • Steve says:

        As do I in needing to look beyond my personal experiences and understanding the struggles that others face. I need to get beyond my “mindset” if you will. To that end I try to search out thoughtful writing. I appreciate yours. Thank you.

        PS: I apologize for the last paragraph of my previous post. I am usually more thoughtful before pushing the submit button. I learn much from your writing and hope you don’t become impatient with your fans.

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