Democracy or Theocracy: The Separation of Church and State

"By his stripes, you are healed."

This past Tuesday this country saw yet another image of a fractured Republican party and a Democratic Party failing to capitalize on the political jackpot this is for them in the upcoming November elections.  The Tea Party has yet again reared its ugly head.  The headline story has been on now Republican nominee from the state of Delaware by the name of Christine O’Donnell who’sfamous for her anti-masturbation campaign.

Yes, you read correctly.  Anti-masturbation.

Apparently, she along with those who turned out to vote on this past Tuesday have some moral compass inside of them that says things like this are what needs fighting for–along with abortion issues, gun policy issues and other key conservative issues that will allow them to “take their country back.”

The NYT reports:

Ms. O’Donnell has taken positions against federal financing for stem cell research, is opposed to abortion even in cases of rape and favors tough penalties against businesses that hire illegal immigrants. She has also suggested in past television interviews that evolution is soft science, and questioned the utility of financing AIDS programs.

Ms. O’Donnell’s political and religious interests grew in tandem in her early 20s, said Kelli Horta, who shared her childhood with the Senate candidate in a middle-class neighborhood in southern New Jersey.

”She really got on fire with politics, and that is when her faith started to grow,” Ms. Horta said, “and she got on this path of things that were important to her. She wanted to make a change.”

In the 1990s, Ms. O’Donnell, a Roman Catholic who for a time considered herself an evangelical, founded SALT (the Savior’s Alliance for Lifting the Truth”) and appeared onMTV’s “Sex in the Nineties” to explain the values of chastity.

Ms. Horta said Ms. O’Donnell delighted in debating matters of faith: “I have been with her and when she’s sharing she does it in a loving way, she doesn’t do it in a condescending way. She feels she is following biblical principles.” [Emphasis added.]

I dare say that especially on the heels of the sermon on the mount Lincoln Memorial that Glenn Beck delivered in August mixes theology and politics in the scariest way ever.  Glenn Beck and the Tea Party agenda frames politics in light of theology, make no mistake.  They may say in their pulpits that religion and politics don’t mix or that Jesus wasn’t political, but every time they relate social and political hot potatoes such as abortion, gay marriage, gun rights or taxes to religion, they are theologizing politics.  It would be too simple for them to just simply say to the liberals and proponents of liberation theology that they just don’t like their brand of politics and religion because they’re doing the same thing.

But, I want to move past the public and political arena and deal with what gets said in our churches on Sunday morning.

I’ve already lamented that I think we rely too much on “Jesus” to answer the problems that we are fully capable of addressing ourselves.  We listen to preachers Sunday after Sunday, and some mid-week services and Bible studies as well, tell us that we need to turn back to God and that the reason the human plight hasn’t been addressed is because of our failure to turn back.  Usually they insert 2 Chronicles 7:14 and launch into lofty poetic and sermonic heights by taking that scripture out of context (at least in my opinion).  And the saints are ready to buck and run around the church.

What happens then is this ecclesiastical manifestation of “in heaven as it is on earth” mentality that gets wrapped up  in the apocalyptic eschatology of the Christian church believing that they are endowed by Providence to assert their doxological evangelism and will on the rest of the people.  To put it simply, Tupac said “Only God can judge me.”  Let’s be aware the traditional Christian mainline across denominations, and across racial lines is really wrapped up in this idea that

  • Jesus is coming back and that we need to get ready for his return
  • Our current state of affairs is because we’ve strayed from our morals and only God can fix it.
  • We need to be ruled by God and not by humankind.

I’m sure that list could be longer, but you get the gist of what I’m saying.  Therefore, because of these core beliefs, we have in our churches this belief that government needs to be ruled by God.  I’m not outright saying that this is the end of the world, but, I am saying that in a pluralistic society that the mere idea of establishing a theocracy is absolutely laughable.  This combined with how we’ve seen in history how those theocracies went.  The Roman Catholic church ruled for over a millennia and clearly were raping the people of all of their dignity throughout the Middle Ages andIslamic nations under Muslim religion have a penchant for severely mistreating their women.  Not saying that Christians both in the Americas are absolved with the Puritans and their witch hunts, so the idea of a theocracy should scare the living crap out of anyone who thinks with half a brain.

But it doesn’t.

In fact this type of rhetoric about “going back to God” and “taking back what’s ours” in the name of God and country is familiar and it sounds right.  Too many black Christians are left with their mouths agape because they hear what’s familiar coming out of the mouths of the evangelicals and Tea Party movement, but something about it doesn’t quite make sense.  When you have churches that speak down on Islam, misquote the Qu’ran and speak about Muslims as though they are the devil incarnate, then its no wonder you have this recent insurgence of jingoism and religion that’s signaling a war cry in favor of God and country.

The founders of the Constitution as antiestablishment as they were of the English Crown, they were quite clear about their not being a state sponsored church.  That is to say where the government clearly endorsed a particular denomination.  (I’m not convinced the founders saw anything past Christian as a viable “church” to ever be established in the United States, but that’s my opinion.)

I think Tea Party Nation and whole bunch of other Christians, black and white alike, wouldn’t mind creating a set of rules and laws similar to those in Leviticus and Deuteronomy that would essentially be a “holiness code” that would establish moral and ethical laws.  These laws would address the ethics as they feel fit and I’m sure they’d also invoke the very serious retributive justice of the day: you do the crime, you do the time, no ifs ands or buts about it.  Seriously, I see Sarah Palin as some sadistic judge handing down laws and her form of punishment much like Dolores Umbridge’s character in the Harry Potter series.

Because of this apparent push for a theocracy, it puts Christians on the offensive all of the time.  This naturally engages the idea that we’re in a “war” for our souls; that we should be “onward Christian soldiers”; and usually preachers start quoting about “putting on the whole armour of God.”  As Christians it’s always a situation of war or battle; something always violent.  This supports this evangelical stance on the war on terror really being a war on Islam and the devil and those in support of Israel being against the Muslim Palestinians.  Honestly, I’d rather elect George W. Bush again than see Sarah Palin in the White House trying to institute a perverted and jaundiced version of religious moral law.

This cycle of violence is nothing new and certainly not new to the Christian.  Although John Dominic Crossan does a much better retelling of it in book God and Empire which isn’t for the faint of heart, this violence on behalf of the Divine is something that is inherent to the Christian believer.  This “We’re At War” syndrome that seems steeped in many Christians across this country is not something that is easy to divorce.  We quote the terroristic and hegemonic stories in the book of Joshua narrative where the children of Israel tromp into someone else’s land–and take it over in the name of God and a superior moral and ethical code of living.

British settlers meet native Americans.

Modern-day Israel meet the Palestinians.

U.S. meet Vietnam.

US meet Iraq.

Yes, be aware the the U.S. is indeed us.

Violence in the name of the government is what Crossan more or less defines as civilization.  It’s something humankind has been doing for millennia and not unique to the United States, but throw God into the mix, and you have a theocracy of some sorts.  It’s easy to brush off this interpretation of the Joshua narrative or even interactions with aggressor nations of the United States in Vietnam or in Iraq simply because the stories are told from the victors.  To ask any of the victims it would be a story mixed with pain and confusion.

To make the comparison closer to home, there are still Southerners who refer to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression.

Let’s be clear, we live in a democratic republic.  Perhaps yes, some of the more progressive ideas in this country truly do fall under Democratic socialist leanings, but I think the truer nature of the personhood of Jesus would be that of an ideal socialist.  Jesus certainly wasn’t a Christian.  Nor do I think he’d even align himself with many of the Christians we have today.  Nor was Jesus a Republican as many Tea Partyers probably believe deep down inside.  But we’re not a theocracy, nor do I think we should try and be one.

I will admit, however, that we are in the midst of a culture war.  A war that the progressives have found themselves on the defensive (yet again) in an attempt to push toward this utopian goal of humanity.  Progressive see this “utopia” in the future and the conservatives see it connected to the past, but yet both sides are forced to live in the present, hence the problem at hand.  The conundrumatic  space that we find ourselves in provides us, however, with the opportunity to learn from our past mistakes in the future.

What many conservatives and members of the Tea Party seem to have forgotten is that time is the one thing that humanity has not been able to conquer.  In their dominionist understanding of this world where humanity has the power and moreover the right to own and conquer any and everything that they so choose, that time has never marched backwards.  To pine for the glory of the past is simply insane, but it fits into their worldview that they have the moral and ethical right to somehow “take back their country.”

As a wake up call to progressives, I leave you with the powerful quote from the esteemed and eminent Frederick Douglass.

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL


5 thoughts on “Democracy or Theocracy: The Separation of Church and State

  1. As gets pointed out now and then, it’s a bizarre contradiction that as the world gets more technologically advanced and interconnected in ways beyond the comprehension of our forebearers, more people around the world seem to be looking backward to primitive ideas and self-imprisoning superstitions. While I’m no Futurist—-I’m very unhappy at how we’re gratuitously filling our lives with frivilous technology at unprecedented speed—I want to keep faith in the idea of humanity becoming more enlightened as time goes by. But in a time when all the possibilities of human potential present themselves to anyone who wants to reach for them, some prefer to imprison themselves behind ideological bars, stifling their minds and hearts. It’s truly bizarre. Perverse, even.

    I think 99% of Christian theocrats have been defanged of their bloodlust in the modern era, the exceptions being those who murder abortion doctors. Extremist Muslim theocrats are the ones in this era of history who are eager for the streets to run red with the blood of unbelievers. But in terms of rhetoric and goals alone, both of these groups are more alike than they’d like to admit.
    (Most Jews, for whatever reason, got this stuff out of their systems fairly early on, the few stragglers unfortunately having disproportionate sway over issues such as the Palestinian question.)

    One of the things that epitomizes how dysfunctional we’ve become as a democracy is how the religiosity of the Founding Fathers, and their intended goals for the role of religion in public life, has split into two alternate-universe histories that have completely different conclusions depending on who’s talking. Many American Theocrats will tell you that their goals are perfectly in line with the Founding Fathers (and proudly point out that not only do the words “separation of church and state” never appear in the Constitution, but that the phrase was supposedly originated by Adolf Hitler). Progessives will point to the Deism/agnositicism and Enlightenment-era conditioning of the Founders. So who’s right? Both and neither. But it’s clear that one side is being more dishonest than the other.

    “Progressives see this “utopia” in the future and the conservatives see it connected to the past, but yet both sides are forced to live in the present, hence the problem at hand.”

    Never seen it put quite like that before, but it does cut to the bone of it in a lot of ways. As a “liberal with a conservative streak,” I think there are certain aspects of past eras that are worth attempting to reattain (the not-quite-so-advanced erosion of common courtesty and respect would be a chief among those), but with the American Theocratic Movement—whether or not they acknowledge themselves as such is irrelevant if their self-declared goals speak for themselves—-you don’t just get isolated aspects, you get the whole package. And since for them everything is always tied up in subjugation and submission to God—THEIR ideas of God alone—there’s no way to rationally discuss things with them.

    By the way, this is the second time I’ve seen Sarah Palin compared to Dolores Umbridge. (The first was on Olbermann a few nights ago.) It’s not something I would have thought of myself, but the idea is too tasty not to savor. XD

    1. “I want to keep faith in the idea of humanity becoming more enlightened as time goes by.”

      Faith?!?!?! from the atheist?!?!

      **drops to floor and passes out**

    1. Thanks for making me laugh Marbles. It is so entertaining to laugh at people isn’t it? I just wish atheists would stop fighting against something that “doesn’t exist” to them. And yet they call us the crazies…

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