Today marks the beginning of a three-day blogswarm against theocracy, and while it is in some ways fitting to start the festival on Good Friday, the true spirit of the festival can be better served by turning to an event from last week. I’m speaking specifically of Palm Sunday.
Palm Sunday is part of the larger Easter celebration, a moveable feast which always falls on the Sunday before Easter as per tradition. While I could diverge here and ponder why so many people feel so strongly about Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter when the days they are celebrated are changed every year, for now I’ll avoid this and say that the spirit of the events is observed on these particular days and holds significance via tradition even if the absolutely correct dates are no longer recognized. In any event, most of us are familiar with the story, where Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on the back of a colt, people laying down palm fronds to cover Jesus’ path as he came into the city. Palm fronds, traditionally, were symbols of victory and honor, but what sort of victory are we talking about?
Palm fronds are sold and doled out by churches today according to tradition, most considering them to be symbols of Jesus’ triumph (in the end) over evil and the reversal of sin. People of the Jewish faith during the time this event occurred, however, thought differently. Rather than recognizing Jesus as their messiah or the fulfillment of prophecy, the Jewish people wished for political change, some perhaps regarding Jesus as a military leader. Indeed, if we are to accept Christian doctrine (Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy and giving grace to all), those laying down palm fronds entirely missed the point. Whether Jesus was or was not the son of God is not the point of this essay, but it is important to note that the people of Jesus’ time didn’t understand him any more than people do today. Indeed, there is a hypothesis that the book of Revelation is so violent because many felt left down by Jesus; they wanted him to be a warrior, punishing the wicked like the God of the Old Testament, and surely when Christ returned he would destroy anything deemed wicked (although the Left Behind treatment is a bit disturbing).
Just as the people of Jesus’ time didn’t “get it,” nor do many contemporary Christians when they clamor for theocracy. Indeed, while I have not had any at-length debates with a domionist about this issue, it is a common theme in Bible studies and chruch sermons; should Christians vote fellow Christians into office? The answer is nearly always “yes”, as who else with faithfully represent God’s interests here on earth? Further, many cite Bible passages such as Romans 13:1 (which is often also used as a Biblical anti-illegal immigrant mandate);
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except God, and those which exist are established by God.
Such is the tautology; all power and authority come from God, so leaders should be those who unapologetically recognize this statement. If we were to extend this further, it would suggest that in a democracy we are not really voting but God somehow influencing how we vote, but I will not get into such philosophical or theological abstractions. A monarchy (which is essentially how Christianity is set up politically), however, works well with such statements, and we have seen what implementing such ideas in monarchies result in; the Divine Right of Kings. Being that a king gets his power from God, he therefore bases his decisions on what God wants, not the needs or desires of the people. It’s not hard to figure out how easily this can become corrupt (and history does not hesitate to remind us how spectacularly this system failed), but vestiges of it are still seen today in leaders of democratic countries.
Before the (to borrow from Jon Stewart) “catastra-fuck” that is the lingering Iraq War began, many decried the governments actions. Many went to the streets to protest the government’s plans for “Shock and Awe,” but their protests went unheeded. Why? Because God willed war against Iraq. According to this article from the Guardian, quoting Nabil Shaath, Bush felt a strong theological basis for his actions at home and abroad;
President Bush said to all of us: ‘I am driven with a mission from God’. God would tell me, ‘George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan’. And I did. And then God would tell me ‘George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq’. And I did.”
Mr Bush went on: “And now, again, I feel God’s words coming to me, ‘Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East’. And, by God, I’m gonna do it.
Bush’ convictions are more directly evidenced by this quote, discussing the moments directly after he made the decision to go to war;
As I walked around the circle, I prayed that our troops be safe, be protected by the Almighty. Going into this period, I was praying for strength to do the Lord’s will. I’m surely not going to justify war based upon God. Understand that. Nevertheless, in my case, I pray that I be as good a messenger of his will as possible. And then, of course, I pray for forgiveness.
So he believes it’s his job to be God’s messenger, evidenced by the part where Bush says “I was praying for strength to do the Lord’s will.” What this suggests is that Bush was reluctant to go to war, but it was God’s will, so then Bush prayed for forgiveness for doing the very thing he thinks God wants him to do. While I don’t have a problem with the leader of this country having a religion, this brand of religion where leaders believe they have an open line to God and base their decisions not on rationality but on some abstract delusion of what God does or doesn’t will is dangerous and frightening.
Such a realization brings me to my final point for now (which I will expound upon later in the series); if a theocracy was to exist, what set of beliefs would the theocracy be based upon? While the potential theocracy most often discussion is a Christian one, Christianity covers a huge swath of beliefs, ranging from conservative to liberal, personal to evangelical, more rational to absolutely insane (see Mormons). What set of beliefs would dictate law? Would lawyers have to base their cases on Leviticus or Deuteronomy? Would people be stoned to death for blasphemy? Would women’s rights be thrown out the window? Who would the head of state be accountable to and how could a corrupt one be removed without a bloody revolution? Hopefully I’ll have some more historical precedent to show why theocracy doesn’t work tomorrow, but even without it, it is clear that theocracy does nothing but suppress and destroy.