Most religious conservatives aren’t theocrats

Bill Vallicella thinks the Obama administration’s decision to require employer provided health insurance to include contraception is an example of how “The Left is totalitarian by its very nature.” That is, of course, completely insane. But when I read it, it made me pause and consider how liberals must sound to conservatives when they accuse conservatives of being “theocratic.”

Ed has done some good blogging on this. There are genuine theocrats in America who want to impose Old Testament law on the country. But this isn’t most Christians, even most “fundamentalists.” Indeed, I’ve seen actual theocrats get snippy about the fact that more mainstream fundamentalists (it’s not an oxymoron) like Norman Geisler want nothing to do with them.

And part of the reason it’s a mistake to be calling people theocrats indiscriminately is that it’s a much more powerful critique to point out the incoherence of most of the people who pass for fundamentalists these days. The typical position is something like, “I believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God, and the Bible says that if two men have sex with each other it’s an abomination and they should be put to death, and therefore I believe gays shouldn’t be able to get married. Civil unions, maybe, but not marriage.”

It’s so much more worth our while to laugh these last vestiges of orthodoxy out of existence, than to imitate the overblown rhetoric of the right wing.


  • JSC_ltd

    While I am all in support of the premise that labels need to be accurate, I have trouble agreeing with you in two particulars. First, in my experience, demonstrations of the incoherence of ideas such as the one you presented above in your penultimate paragraph are lost on the people making such arguments. They feel that either they are making a concession to modernity in not demanding the execution of the Biblical sentence for such behavior, or that Jesus took away the necessity for the execution of that sentence. Therefore, they attribute the risability of their position to the non-belief of the laugher rather than to its inherent non sequitur, and the demonstration that their position is illogical simply bounces off their sheilds of ignorance.
    Second, also in my experience, many of these fundamentalists are of the mindset that U.S. law is already based on Biblical law; an accusation of theocraticism genuinely baffles them simply because we’re already ruled by God, as far as they believe.

    • JSC_ltd


  • Alverant

    I have to agree with JSC, look at the uproar that results when people are told their biblical law doesn’t matter, that only secular law does in the courts. For example in Crawford, RI when people were told their christian prayer banner was illegal the religious conservatives threw a fit. They thought their religion came first then the Constitution. That’s pretty much what a theocrat is.

  • unbound

    While I understand and appreciate the sentiment, the “mainstream” fundamentalist may not fully understand the position they are in and tacitly approve of. Pat Robertson is absolutely a theocrat…and his followers are the very “mainstream” fundamentalists that don’t want to be painted as such.

    In fact, the 700 club is so “mainstream” among the fundamentalists that they make nearly $300 million in revenue each year. So they can’t claim they only have a handful of believers following him and his every word.

    If they really don’t believe in righteousness of a theocracy, where are the “mainstream” fundamentalists objections to the extremists that supposedly don’t represent them? Hold your breath and listen closely. Yep, that is silence you are hearing.

  • John-Henry Beck

    Just because they don’t consider themselves theocrats, or don’t want to impose as harsh a theocracy as others, doesn’t make them not authoritarian theocrats.

  • michaelbrew

    The Christian Right calls the Left (and Moderates and Center Right, really) totalitarians and we call them totalitarian right back. It may seem like we should just stop name-calling altogether because, after all, if both sides genuinely believe the other is totalitarian, perhaps we’re both wrong. However, there’s this thing called projection… and one of these sides is doing it hard.

    • Alverant

      There’s this other thing called accuracy. When one side wants to ignore the law in favor of their own religion and actively discriminate against people different than them, calling them totalitarian is more accuracy than projection.

  • chrisgauthier

    Actually, both of your examples want their religious biases imposed in law. The difference seems to be a matter of degree and you may be right about the different approaches to them, but both seem theocratic to me. Surely you didn’t mean to say that the specific criteria for a christian theocrat would be advocacy of “Old Testament law” only, as it seems to read.

  • F

    “I believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God, and the Bible says that if two men have sex with each other it’s an abomination and they should be put to death, and therefore I believe gays shouldn’t be able to get married. Civil unions, maybe, but not marriage.”

    And this is somehow not theocratic?

    If the bigotry is to be enforced by law, and the bigotry is self-identified as being sourced from religion (whether or not the religious aspect is the cause or the supporting excuse), the intent is theocratic.

    If the same person holds many similar positions that the law should reflect their religious beliefs, then you get to call them a theocrat. But the position is theocratic whether or not the person holding said position is a full-fledged theocrat or wishes for a full-on top-down theocracy.

    But sure, maybe a handful of people play fast and loose with the term.

  • jamessweet

    I see the point you are trying to make, but I think it’s really more of run-of-the-mill theocrats vs. hardcore dominionists, not theocrats vs. non-theocrats. As others have pointed out, wanting to ban same-sex marriage because it says so in the Bible is, in a very real sense of the word, inherently theocratic.

    OTOH it is probably not useful to bandy about that word if your audience is religious conservatives. But when I’m trying to get progressives or even moderates riled up about this theocratic bullshit, I don’t shy away from the word.