Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

The Injustice of Theocracy

Written by johnleemk on 6:43:33 am May 5, 2007.
Categories: , ,

Many religious fundamentalists around the world would like to see the establishment of theocracies — states where religion and government are closely intertwined. While some just reject separation of [name of place of worship] and state, others go further and insist that one religion's tenets be made law.

The normal arguments for a theocracy are that, for example, it would lend a greater sense of morality to the making and enforcement of laws. Or that as our laws were originally derived from some moral commandments in a particular religion, it makes sense to enthrone this religion as chief in the state.

Basically, theocrats can talk until the cows come home about how great it would be if we were ruled by God, how great it would be if our laws followed God's laws, and so forth. But this vision of theocracy will never come to be, and should never come to be.

The fundamental problem with every theocracy is that is innately unfair. Not just unfair to those who do not follow the state religion, but also unfair to those who do not follow the state religion as it is understood and interpreted by the humans who run the state.

After all, who really believes that all the Muslims in any of the Islamic theocracies we have today are happy? Those who believe the wrong things about Islam from one particular point of view are mercilessly vilified — the present civil war in Iraq is an excellent example.

Why a theocracy would be unfair to those who don't practice the state religion should be very apparent. Whatever flowery talk there may be of equality, if the laws are derived from one religion, then the laws will favour that religion, like it or not.

At this point, supporters of theocracy often get riled up. This is because they can point to passages in their holy book which they argue justify their claims that their religion would be fair to all. On occasion they will also argue that their particular God's laws are perfect.

All well and good, theocrats. But there is a gaping hole in your arguments which cannot be repaired: imperfect man cannot perfectly enforce the perfect laws of God.

Only God can mete out justice perfectly fairly. Only God can perfectly enforce his moral laws. Only God can have the incredible self-control and self-discipline required to refrain from abusing his perfect powers to abuse an imperfect humanity.

When God is made the head of state, he cannot govern it directly. So naturally the theocracy is forced to find people to govern in God's name. And that's where it all goes down the drain.

In the first place, these people cannot enforce God's laws perfectly. They lack his omnipotency, his omniscience, his omnipresence. They cannot catch people in flagrante delicto (assuming this religion we're talking about bans fornication, which seems reasonable considering normally Christians and Muslims are the main advocates of theocracy) and be absolutely sure that these people are in the wrong. (Malaysia, a self-proclaimed "Islamic state" despite its secular constitution, has had more than a few cases of such moral policing raids gone wrong.)

But even worse than all this is the problem of giving unlimited Godlike power to limited men. Already there is a problem of leaders getting bigheaded when they are both head of government and head of state. Imagine the problem of allowing powerful men to reign in the name of God, and doing as God tells them to!

Man is simply too imperfect for theocracy. He cannot be ruled by his fellow man in the name of God. What the world needs now is not more of such idealistic theocratic utopias, but more governments of the people, for the people and by the people. Not governments of perfect God, for the imperfect people, and by the imperfect people.

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