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A theocracy is a political system in which religious values determine political decisions. The current arguments against same sex marriage in the United States are largely based on the idea that civil law needs to be based on religious law (i.e. laws from the Abrahamic religions). In other words, there are many in the United States who feel that the United States is, or at least it should be, a theocratic republic. In order to understand the nature of theocracy, I would like to explore the origins of this form of government.

Over the past 200,000 years human beings have devised numerous ways of governing themselves. About 10,000 years ago, humans were domesticating plants and animals. At this time they begin settling into larger, permanent villages. With these permanent villages and larger populations, they began to develop much more formal governmental structures.

Formal governmental structures created a need for full-time leadership. Previously, leadership had been a part-time responsibility, but with more people the demands of leadership grew to take up more and more time. The demands of leadership meant that leaders now had to devote most of their time to leadership duties rather than to raising food.

Agriculture also resulted in social stratification: the division of the society into two or more groups with unequal access to resources. Viewed simply, we can say that these two groups were the haves and the have nots, the rich and the poor. Since the rich wanted to maintain their wealth and social superiority, they needed to control the government. Thus leadership was usually selected from the ranks of the wealthy elites.

Religion also changed at this time. Reflecting the social stratification of these societies, religion now included gods. Therefore it seemed logical that the gods had somehow determined that certain groups of people should rule and other groups should be ruled. In other words, religion reinforced both social stratification and the power of wealthy elites to govern.

Information is a form of power. In the early agricultural villages, one of the most important types of information was when to plant. If the crops were planted at the wrong time, the people would starve. Thus, one of the roles of leadership was to announce when to plant. This announcement, usually based on the science of the time, was often cloaked in religious ceremony. The village leader thus was both a secular leader and a religious leader.

The First Theocracy?

One of the first well-documented theocracies in the world was created during the reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Amenophis IV, also known as Akhenaten, who assumed the thrones of Upper and Lower Egypt in 1352 BCE. With the support of his mother Queen Tiye and his wife Nefertitit, he created a new religious cult which focused on Aten. He viewed Aten as the divine and sole creator of the universe and therefore formally suppressed all of the old religions. Atenism was monotheistic, perhaps the first monotheistic religion in the world. There is an exclusive focus on worship and emphasis was placed on Akhenaten as the conduit for the delivery of the divine power of the Aten to the Egyptian people. Atenism was in effect wholly identified with Akhenaten and his family; the impression gained is that the new creed was tailor-made for them. The religion placed a great deal of emphasis on Akhenaten, his wife Nefertiti, and their six daughters.

In a polytheistic system, a variety of gods are recognized even though one particular god may be more closely associated with those in power. In a monotheistic system, however, there is only a single god and no others are viewed as valid. In fact, other gods are seen as a threat to monotheism. Therefore, under the monotheistic theocracy of Akhenaten other gods, with their priests and followers, were suppressed. Royal scouts scoured the countryside and destroyed the visible inscriptions of the old gods.

Around the world attempts at suppressing certain religious traditions has generally not been successful. The suppressed religions simply go underground and the religions themselves continue. This is what happened more than 3,000 years ago in Egypt. With the death of Akhenaten after a reign of 16 years, the country became divided and the unity of Upper and Lower Egypt was shattered. The old religions, their gods and their priests, re-emerged.

Modern Theocracy:

Today’s modern states sometimes wrestle with the role of religion in government. There are some states which are openly theocratic, such as Iran, while others attempt to blend the secular and the religious, and still others, such as France and China, try to be totally secular.

The former Soviet Union attempted to ban religion totally. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox Church has re-emerged as a political power in Russia. While still a predominantly secular state, Russia may begin to incorporate some elements of theocracy into its government. Russian religious freedom in danger is the headline of a recent report.President Dmitry Medvedev's inititiative to permanently assign Orthodox priests to army units and introduce religious education classes at state schools could prove detrimental to the idea of Russia as a secular state,

Originally posted to Ojibwa on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 07:53 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I believe you are using the term (4+ / 0-)

    incorrectly when you claim that some events signal a return of "theocracy" into the Russian government. Protection of religious liberty, or even some favorable actions toward religious groups, are a far cry from "theocracy." Russia is controlled by a dictator and a circle of oligarchs. There is no theocracy there whatsoever.

  •  Okay, I can't leave this alone. (0+ / 0-)

    Let me start by admitting I didn't read your entire diary, which although it looks quite interesting as a history lesson is nevertheless fundamentally flawed in its thesis, to whit: U.S. law is based on old testament law and is therefore a theocracy.

    While yes, it is true that much of our national law contains traces of and similarities to Abrahamic law, it is not because the US is a theocracy. (Not yet, at least). It is because the US is a democracy. Law in this country is set by two things:

    1. the Constitution, which has been accepted by us as a country as the basis on which all other law in this country is to be established and determined, and
    1. the legislation passed by our elected representatives.

    Now, obviously, our founding fathers, being (most of them) of Christian faith, were influenced in their decisions and proposals by that faith. Therefore, yes, there are certain traces of Christian belief contained in the Constitution. However, in terms of Abrahamic law, uh, the constitution is, like, so not.

    Now again, as throughout the bulk of our history as a nation a large proportion of US citizens were also of Christian or Jewish faith, the tenets of old testament law were a part and parcel of their belief systems -- and they tended to elect representatives who shared those belief systems. So again, there are certain attitudes, beliefs, etc etc that shape and flavor the laws of this country.

    However, to repeat, it is not because the US is a theocracy. It is because it is a democracy, and democratic citizens tend to elect representatives who share their beliefs and values (or who they believe to share their values...)

    Therefore, the original tenet you start this diary from:

    The current arguments against same sex marriage in the United States are largely based on the idea that civil law needs to be based on religious law...

    is inherently incorrect. Civil law does not need to be based on religious law, in this country. What it does need to be based on is the consensus values of this country's citizens, as embodied in and through their elected representatives. While those values are shaped and molded by religious law, then so, to some extent, will be the laws of this country.

    Why on earth do you think the teabaggers are fighting like it's Armaggedon, fer cryin' out loud?

    •  Please note (4+ / 0-)

      that I am not really addressing the issue of whether or not the U.S. is a theocracy. What I said was:

      In other words, there are many in the United States who feel that the United States is, or at least it should be, a theocratic republic.

      This is a position taken by many on the religious right, including the dominionist movement.

      From an American Indian viewpoint, government policies toward Indian nations certainly have shown many theocratic tendencies. For example, the creation of theocracies on many Indian reservations. See this diary.

      •  That was fascinating. And terrifying. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ojibwa

        And yes, the problem is that there are many in the US who feel it should be a theocratic republic -- or at least operate under laws agreeing with their interpretation of Christian law -- and elect representatives who share, or profess to share, that viewpoint.

        The only distinction I was really trying to draw is that this is an inherent function of democracy, to reflect and include the value systems of the majority (while limiting the influence of those value systems by the checks and balances of the Constitution -- and sadly we've seen how easily that can be shredded), and that the influence of those value systems does not, in of itself, mean that the US is a theocracy. As the common beliefs of the populace change, so do the values that influence lawmakers. A glacially slow process, to be sure, but it is happening.

    •  Huh? (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Timaeus, Kingsmeg, smellybeast

      This wasn't the thesis of the diary at all!

      its thesis, to whit: U.S. law is based on old testament law and is therefore a theocracy.

      If I had to roll up the whole diary in a topic sentence it would probably be, 'theorists attribute the origin of theocracy to the social stratification supported by the emergence of agriculture'.

      Also, you mistake the diarists's summary of the anti-marriage position with advocacy of the anti-marriage position.  You appear to be articulate in your arguments, there is really no good reason to be so incomplete or hasty in your reading.

      "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

      by lgmcp on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 08:51:43 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Theocracies even older (5+ / 0-)

    Check out the governments in Mesopotamia four to five thousand years ago.

  •  A lot of democratic countries (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Timaeus, QuestionAuthority

    have official religions. Is England a theocracy?

  •  I would say "no..." (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    millwood, Ojibwa

    ...mostly because these days, the Church of England has no real sway or input into political decision that I know of.

    Anyone?

    "Ridicule may lawfully be employed where reason has no hope of success." -7.75/-6.05

    by QuestionAuthority on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 08:53:54 AM PST

  •  Why focus on Akhenaten? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Involuntary Exile, Ojibwa
    Egypt was just as much a theocracy before and after the Aten experiment was attempted. Why would Akhenaten's reign be the "first theocracy"?
  •  What it basically boils down to is (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ssgbryan, Kingsmeg, Ojibwa

    People (wingnuts) want the US to be governed under the Christian Protestant Evangelical version of Sharia Law, rather than the secular Republic the Founders designed.

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White

    by zenbassoon on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 09:13:32 AM PST

  •  And where are you getting that Egypt divided? (0+ / 0-)
    I've never read of any disunity or split between Upper and Lower Egypt after Akhenaten.
    •  Amenhotep IV (Ahkenaton) (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ojibwa

      had a civil war on his hands led by the ousted priest caste.  After he dies, they had a coup and were the power behind Tutankhamun's throne.

      "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White

      by zenbassoon on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 09:19:42 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  That's not what I asked about (0+ / 0-)
        He wrote that "the unity of Upper and Lower Egypt was shattered." I've never heard that before.

        The "civil war," and there really wasn't much of one as far as I know, involved the pre-Amarna religious establishment convincing Tutankhamun to put an end to the Amarna reforms. I've also never read anywhere that this involved any significant amount of bloodshed.

        •  That was the seamy underbelly (0+ / 0-)

          It wasn't full scale, but there were riots and such

          "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White

          by zenbassoon on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 09:42:18 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

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