Topic: Semi-random Thoughts
There is a collective effort this Easter weekend to blog against theocracy, and I figured I would get my 2 cents in. I just watched the movie "Jesus Camp" last night, so this is a more poignant topic for me at the moment. If you have not watched "Jesus Camp" I encourage you to do so via the links at the bottom of this post.
There is an interesting split within the Christian community, and within many other religious communities, especially among Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). This is a very basic split along theocratic and secular lines. Of course there are an almost infinite number of splits within these religious communities, but one of the most basic splits is over the role of religion in government.
Christianity and Islam both stem from Judaism, and the Jews from which these religions sprang were indeed theocrats. All three of these religions establish theocracy as the only acceptable form of government. This fact has caused great struggle and contradiction and strife within societies dominated by these religions for as long as they have been around. In the 1st century the Jewish historian Josephus commented on this himself in a work that was directed against the critics of Judaism. He stated:
"Now there are innumerable differences in the particular customs and laws that are among all mankind, which a man may briefly reduce under the following heads: Some legislators have permitted their governments to be under monarchies, others put them under oligarchies, and others under a republican form; but our legislator had no regard to any of these forms, but he ordained our government to be what, by a strained expression, may be termed a Theocracy, by ascribing the authority and the power to God, and by persuading all the people to have a regard to him, as the author of all the good things that were enjoyed either in common by all mankind, or by each one in particular, and of all that they themselves obtained by praying to him in their greatest difficulties. He informed them that it was impossible to escape God's observation, even in any of our outward actions, or in any of our inward thoughts."What many people don't realize is that prior to the rise of Christianity, most of the Western world was governed by secular government. The ancient Jews were not a secular people, and when Christianity split off from Judaism it retained the anti-secular values of Judaism, eventually taking over the Roman Empire and leading to the establishment of over 1,000 years of Catholic theocracy in Europe.
- Josephus; Against Apion, 1st century
Eventually people had enough of the abuses and social destruction that reigned under this system and efforts to put and end to theocracy emerged, even among Christians. The Founding Fathers of the United States of America were among the leaders of the movement for secular government. What they established, through great effort, both physical and intellectual, was a secular Constitution and a secular model for government, after over 1,000 years of European theocracy.
"The settled opinion here is, that religion is essentially distinct from civil Government, and exempt from its cognizance; that a connection between them is injurious to both;"
- James Madison; Letter to Edward Everett, March 18, 1823
"Notwithstanding the general progress made within the two last centuries in favour of this branch of liberty, & the full establishment of it, in some parts of our Country, there remains in others a strong bias towards the old error, that without some sort of alliance or coalition between Gov' & Religion neither can be duly supported: Such indeed is the tendency to such a coalition, and such its corrupting influence on both the parties, that the danger cannot be too carefully guarded agst.. And in a Gov' of opinion, like ours, the only effectual guard must be found in the soundness and stability of the general opinion on the subject. Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance. And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Gov will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together;"The problem for Christians, however, is that there will always be a conflict between secularism and theocracy, because at base the Christian religion really does call for theocracy. At base the establishment of Christianity as the dominant religion of Europe was only possible under theocracy, and the continued dominance of Christianity over the long term is only possible under theocracy.
- President James Madison, 1822
With the rise of Fundamentalist Evangelical Christianity in America over the past 20 years many so-called moderate and liberal Christians have claimed that the Religious Right misrepresent the "true values" of Christianity, but I disagree. I think that the Religious Right in America are the true embodiment of Christianity, they are reading the whole Bible and taking it seriously. It is really the secular, moderate, and liberal Christians who misrepresent the religion. They are merely espousing modern secular values and then claiming that those values are reflected in the Bible or in the teachings of Jesus, but in fact they are not. It is the secular Christians who fail to be honest about the religion.
The movie "Jesus Camp" offers the perfect example. In the movie "Jesus Camp" there is a well meaning "moderate Christian" who comes in at intervals and comments on how the "extremists" have twisted and distorted the "true message" of the Bible and Christ. If only that were true, but in fact I found that all of the ideas espoused by the extremists were solidly rooted in the Bible itself, indeed in the New Testament.
In the Jesus camp, "Children on Fire", children from toddlers to teenagers were fundamentally instructed to believe in authority, not to question, to take all belief on faith and on what they felt in their hearts. The issues go beyond the camp however, and into the fundamental basis of evangelical ideology. Fundamentally evangelical Christians preach that "truth" is determined by feeling, by emotion. "You know the truth when you feel the Holy Spirit come into you." That is the message of evangelical Christianity, and what does this really amount to?
Science is about looking for ways to objectively evaluate observations and data to determine objective facts. Science relies on impartiality, peer review, and intentionally trying to remove one's emotions from the equation. Religion, especially evangelical religion, is about the complete opposite of this. Evangelical religion is about feeling and emotion and "sensing" the truth. In addition to this, it is also strongly about social ties, hierarchy, and your status among peers. This is the real reason why the evangelical movement is so widely embraced by politicians, because evangelicals learn to believe and accept "truth" based on feelings and social pressures, not on objective observations, skeptical inquiry, and rational argumentation. No, for evangelicals, emotion is truth, and when emotion is truth that means that one's beliefs can be manipulated by charismatic people, dramatic presentations, and social pressures.
The thing is, the precedents for all of this are indeed in the New Testament itself. This was the core of Christianity in the very beginning, and indeed I do think that evangelicals are very close to resembling the beliefs, values, and traditions of early Christianity.
In early Christianity it was all about faith, believing what someone said was true because of who they were, how they made you feel, what social groups they were a part of, and the types of things they said. This is made very clear in both the letters of Paul and the later Epistles. These letters were indeed direct appeals to real living people, the real living congregations, they weren't stories about someone, like the Gospels, these were live documents.
Anyone who doubts this should read not only letters from Paul like 1 Corinthians, but also the later epistles, such as 1 John and 2 Peter.
1 John 2:You can see here very clearly where the ideas of Evangelical Christians come from, they come straight from the Bible itself. This is not a religion that can be apologized for, and this is not a religion that ever was, nor ever will be, compatible with secular democracy. The only way in which Christianity and civil society can co-exist is through the common ignorance of Christians about their own religion and their lack of faith in it. Christians who actually take the time to read the Bible and believe in it and follow the religion are people like Evangelical Christians, who will only accept theocracy, and why shouldn't they if what the Bible says is true? If the Bible is true then theocracy should be the standard, democracy should be abolished as the way of the devil, secularism should be abolished, science should be destroyed, and we should look to our hearts and our feelings for the Holy Spirit to guide us to the truth.
3 We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4 The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. 11But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.
15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For everything in the world the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. 21 I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. 22 Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist he denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
24 See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is what he promised us even eternal life.
1 John 3:
7 Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. 8 He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work. 9 No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.
11 This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous. 13Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
24 Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
1 John 4:
1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.
13 We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
2 Peter 3:
3 First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be burned up.
11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.
12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
13 The Pharisees challenged him, "Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid."
14 Jesus answered, "Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. 16 But if I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. 17 In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid. 18 I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me."
19 Then they asked him, "Where is your father?"
"You do not know me or my Father," Jesus replied. "If you knew me, you would know my Father also." 20 He spoke these words while teaching in the temple area near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his time had not yet come.
21 Once more Jesus said to them, "I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come."
The core problem of Christianity is that it is not an objective world-view and it is wholly incompatible with objectivity. From the epistles of Paul to the Gospels to the later epistles, everything is about believing in authority, accepting things as true because of authority, because of a feeling, because of faith, etc. There is no room in this religion for objective or skeptical thought. There simply is no logic or reason to the religion at all, there never was. It is a religion that at its core leaves followers open to manipulation because it has always been based on charismatic appeals, social pressure, faith, and emotions. It leaves people with no way to objectively evaluate "truth", they can only "feel it", and those feelings are of course nothing more than emotional strings that charismatic leaders can and do pull. That is why this religion became, and has remained, so popular with government and politics. Believers in it are eminently vulnerable to manipulation.
There is no way that secular society and Christianity can ever be compatible, not in the long run. It's time that the so-called moderate Christians wake up to this fact and reject this ancient cult for their own good, the good of society, and the future of humanity.
Segment on Jesus Camp from ABC News
Jesus Camp the movie