*Theocracy is partly the source of the biggest problem today in that it is a perspective that produces religious fundamentalists. Contrarily theology is the biggest source of hope for ending conflict in the world. Ironically enough these two concepts are closely related and one grows out of the other.
In its most basic form theology is about understanding the nature of God and answering basic question about human existences, two of which tremendously influence our interactions with others. The question of “how ought we behave?” is the part of any religion that outlines ethics and there are many commonalities between faiths; the question of “where are we going” address what happens after death and its answer contains fewer commonalities and therefore where the potential for conflict arises.
Given enough time a group of people will eventually make contact with another group of people who do not answer the afterlife question the way they do. When this contact is made these two groups can make the ethical question most important in which case they will attempt to live peacefully harmoniously alongside their new neighbors – this is the theological. Or the two groups can make the afterlife question most important in which case both groups perceive the other as heathen and attempt to eliminate the other religious perspective by converting their adversaries if not outright killing them – this is the theocratic response.
Historically we have documented many more cases of the second version of events following contact because of the wars that followed and the exchange of territory. But also of note is the correlation between religious wars and the institution of monarchy. Royal families that rely on hereditary rule and Diving Right to maintain their status are essentially claiming God wants them in charge. It is therefore an easy conclusion to reach that similarly God wants X so we do whatever it takes including war to attain/achieve X. This path of logic has been used so frequently and with such success that is the reason behind every empire in Western civilization since Rome. And so convinced of this mindset are some in Western civilization that when a nation fails to achieve a goal or expand its territory an explanation offered is that the country must not be following God’s will.
However, in a world where monarchical rule has become obsolete in favor of democracy, the “God wants this” line of reasoning has also fallen out of favor. Religious fundamentalists ultimately are advocating turning back the clock and the adoption of God’s law as the operating principle for a country, but even within any given faith there is much debate on what God’s law is. Furthermore this theocratic perspective on life obscures the theological perspective that allows for groups to live peacefully that under theocracy might be at war. Democracy can be said to be the opposite of theocracy and because of this it is impossible for a country to operate under both of these forms of government at the same time. On the other hand democracy and theology can coexist, and often do so to the benefit of both.
In the United States we obsess over Muslim fundamentalists and with good reason because there are many who seek to harm us. Equally dangerous though are the Christian fundamentalist principles that guide foreign policy. God wants Americans to have oil like God wanted Caucasians to expand across North America, that is to say not at all. God is being used to justify political and economic decisions. Most people are moderate and used to making compromises. Even within our religious lives few of us follow all of the rules – ask the most devout Christian you know whether he/she really would not have a woman in leadership. What is at stake in that instance is simply another perspective on a topic. How much more then should we be willing to compromise when what is at stake are thousands of lives? Theocracy yields fundamentalism, conflict and death. Theology yields moderation, understanding and peace. Which will we choose?
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War and he maintains a blog called This Seems Familiar. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org