A friend liked this picture:
I’ve heard arguments like this – that if voters or legislators act on their religious belief, it adds up to theocracy. But I’m not so sure. To be clear up front, here’s what I mean by the main terms:
- theocracy: a government where the laws are determined by some particular religion’s teachings</p>
- democracy: a government where the laws are determined by the expressed opinion of the majority of voters
I won’t distinguish between indirect and direct democracies, or democracies vs. republics. With apologies to political wonks, I’ll use “democracy” as a kind of umbrella term for all those situations where the majority of peoples’ opinion sets the rules. That’s different from a theocracy or a monarchy or oligarchy or whatever, where you have one person or a small group deciding what reasons are good. In a democracy, the fact that I don’t find your reason convincing (even if I’m right on that point!) doesn’t take away your right to have your opinion counted along with everyone else’s.
So let’s take an example. Earlier this year North Carolina voted to make gay marriage unconstitutional. Let’ suppose we knew somehow that those people who voted against marriage equality did it for religious reasons: they believed their Bible told them marriage was one man, one woman. Would this be theocracy at work? I don’t think so – it’s still the majority’s opinion that’s deciding things here.
Now, imagine some other religion came along and said this amendment violated their religion. They’re not trying to convince individual voters before the election; they’re saying that the vote be damned, their religion’s teaching should be the one that decides that’s legal and what’s not in North Carolina. If they actually got what they wanted, that would be theocracy. And if it was a non-religious group making the case on non-religious grounds, it wouldn’t be a theocracy but it would be something analogous. Philosocracy? Logocracy? Something like that.
To be clear: I was deeply upset by the North Carolina vote. I would love to see it overturned by the courts. And I hate the thought of religious people imposing their beliefs on society at large through the law. (This is not love of neighbor as yourself, IMO.) But I think it’s also important to remember that in a democracy you try to convince citizens to change their minds; you don’t cut them out of the loop retroactively, unless it violates some other democratically-passed bill. That may be a bad thing; I get as frustrated as anyone by the thought of people who haven’t thought things through having a voice that cancels out my own. But I really don’t think it rises to the level of theocracy.