Fred Rich on Theocracy

Fred Rich on Theocracy June 22, 2013

Fred Rich, who apparently has a novel coming out called Christian Nation, has a column at the Huffington Post about the desire of far too many American Christians for theocracy. He cites a recent poll, which I also cited, that shows an alarming number of Americans who think Christianity should be the official religion.

A YouGov Omnibus poll conducted this spring provides the answer: not at all. When asked whether they would favor or oppose establishing Christianity as the official state religion in their state, 34% of respondents were in favor (with 20% “strongly” in favor). You read that correctly: 34% in favor of establishing Christianity as the state religion, as in creating a theocracy. There’s more: when asked whether they would favor an amendment to the U.S. Constitution making Christianity the official religion of the United States, 32% said yes. This was a national poll; imagine what the numbers must have been in Alabama, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

Frightening, indeed. But he gets this quite wrong:

Also this spring, a group of representatives in the North Carolina House introduced actual legislation — to my knowledge, the first of its kind since the founding of the republic — to permit that State, or any of its subdivisions, to declare Christianity its official religion. The North Carolina bill had a great deal of regional support, but was withdrawn by House leadership after a barrage of national criticism.

No, it was not the first of its kind “since the founding.” In fact, most states did have Christianity as their official religion after the founding of the country. After the passage of the Constitution, the original 13 states slowly began to disestablish their state churches, with Massachusetts being the last one to do so in 1833 (bear in mind that the First Amendment’s prohibition on religious establishments did not initially apply to the states, only to the federal government). But long after that, most states still had religious tests for office requiring that anyone holding public office be a Christian, sometimes a specific type of Christian. It wasn’t until 1961 that the Supreme Court made such requirements unenforceable.

And there were dozens of attempts to amend the Constitution at the federal level to declare the United States an officially Christian nation; the last one was in 1980. All of them failed, obviously, but the North Carolina legislation is hardly unprecedented.

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  • Trebuchet

    You read that correctly: 34% in favor of establishing Christianity as the state religion, as in creating a theocracy.

    That’s a bit of a leap. The UK has an official state religion, but it’s hardly a theocracy. I’m pretty sure that’s true of other European countries as well.

  • brucegee1962

    I don’t recall if it was enacted or not, but I recall that Virginia was working on a bill to give everyone a religion tax and split up the proceeds among the legitimate ministers. As you might expect, things got a bit dicey when it came time for the ministers to discuss which among them were “legitimate,” and good old TJ + Madison managed to get the whole thing scrapped. I’m sure there would be plenty who would love to reintroduce that idea.

  • garnetstar

    These people need to be careful what they ask for, because they might get it. The first time some Christian denomination whose dogma they disagree with in the slightest degree gets into power, religious war. Perhaps literally.

  • TCC

    brucegee1962: The bill you’re referring to (which was submitted by Patrick Henry, IIRC) did not pass, and then the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom ended up being passed in the next session.

  • gorgias

    I’m not overly fussed about it at this point, mainly because “Christianity” covers so many different denominations, subsets within denominations, cliques within subsets, etc. American churches have a long, proud tradition of splitting over petty doctrinal bullshit on a regular basis, and the individual members within churches treasure their ability to make up their own theology too much to submit too deeply to a large-scale “official” Christianity.

    Now, individual churches in smaller U.S. counties or towns trying to take over their little patch of land and turn it into their own private theocracy… THAT’S what I worry about.

  • Chiroptera

    Ed Brayton: Fred Rich, who apparently has a novel coming out called Christian Nation….

    A quick check on Amazon seemed to show that the novel is actually out now.

  • D. C. Sessions

    Well, we already have the totally Christian “Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-Day Saints.” I don’t see much of a problem with the usual “Messianic Jews” — the Baptists and such will be glad to have them. Santeria? No sweat. Voodoun? Hard to argue against that one. A bit more of a stretch but after all, Islam reveres ol’ Jeshua of Nazareth so they can claim to be “Christian.”

    I could go farther, but by the time that last hit the courts I think we’d be seeing the usual suspects up in arms demanding that the State be stripped of its power to recognize abominations like the Anglicans.

  • robnyny

    I can’t think of a country that has ever been generically “Christian,” let alone generically “Judeo-Christian.” They’re either Catholic, or Lutheran, or Anglican, etc. I guess there are non-denominational chapels, but I don’t think that the Catholic Church recognizes them as “real” churches. I’m not sure how the theocrats would work this out.

  • When I was on the legislative staff in Sacramento, one constituent approached my boss to ask him to support her plan for a California Department of Religion. It wouldn’t be unconstitutional she claimed, because it would support all religions! (My boss turned her down.)

  • davem

    I live in the UK, which has Christianity (well, Anglicanism anyway) as its state religion. Our Anglican churches are empty on Sunday mornings. It’s not a theocracy, rather the reverse. Maybe you should be embracing this idea with open arms?

  • psweet

    Trebuchet: I’m not quite so sanguine about the idea. There were some pretty nasty periods in UK history where the state church held a lot more secular power, weren’t there? Any new state religion here wouldn’t have the long “breaking-in” period you or the other European nations had, and I’d rather not have to find out how closely history repeats itself.

  • Pen

    @11 psweet – yeah, I wouldn’t do it either. The only reason I can think of not to scrap UK state religion is that through it we own some beautiful and useful buildings that would surely get privatised otherwise.

  • lofgren

    I don’t think Trebuchet is endorsing the idea of a state religion (which is blatantly unconstitutional anyway). But having an official state religion is definitely not the same as a theocracy. We have an official state dance in connecticut. That doesn’t make us a choreocracy. Theocracy is a government where civil authority rests with the priests or priestly class, or is conducted according to their dictates. As long as power remains primarily in the hands of the voters and politicians, those states are not theocracies. Establishing a state religion is a good first step towards a theocracy, but there’s a lot more ground to cover on that road before we get to the destination.

  • anubisprime

    Apart from rabid dominionists it seems highly unlikely that most folk that voted for it are aware of what a theocracy actually entails.

    They hear ‘jeebus’ mentioned…and ‘Pavlov’ kicks in with a vengeance.

    They presumably equate it with a ‘better’ society where no one is nasty to one and other and mom, apple pie and the American dream personified by the 1950’s naive commercial reigns supreme and personifies the lifestyle that everyone should aspire to, oh and the rest of the scary global denizens are not out to kick ‘merican butts!

    They have been told repeatedly that is all achievable but other folk have taken it, such claims made every Sunday and through every god soaked publication in the media, those to blame are the early civil rights advocates and the on going teh ghey ‘agenda’ and those commie democrats in the White house, you see they all hate jeebus and jeebus ain’t gonna break no sweat giving the faithful what they want cos he is pissed off at the ones that have no interest in his lunacy.

    There just ain’t enough godliness in this world apparently especially when drought, tornado, hurricane, floods, oil pollution and recession are in the mix and that is not to mention the murder of innocents and the diametrically opposed death toll of the god given right to bear arms.

    So they hear theocracy mentioned, and it seems to be linked to promoting more jeebus everywhere, and bingo!

    But they do not really understand the term, or exactly what it means, they have all been lied to after-all…

    By the time they find out, of course, it will have been far to late!

    I am fairly sure though that such dreams of holy empire are just that, dreams for the deluded and nightmares for the rational…ironically!

    USA is at the tipping point in religiosity, I think it is an inevitable the downward slide away from god bothering and jeebus drooling is under way and the momentum of direction of modernism has overcome the friction of traditionalism.

    This ‘suggestion’ is last gasp panic twitches of the deluded before they slip under the oily blanket of the tar-pit of posterity, because if it was a reality and possible it would have happened well before now.

    As some posters already point out, so many cults and only so many chairs at the big table, and no one authority speaks for all, because they all believe in different aspects and some believe in totally off in the fairy garden science fiction versions, others believe in apocalypse now, and others just want to be ‘king ‘o’ da hill’ in that disparity lies their weakness and the seeds of their destruction, that are apparently already sprouting…

    The kicker to death of the ‘idea’ is of course the money…who gets what and who gets most and who least, and a state delusion will not have the budget for every whim floated their way, that is the deal breaker right there, cos the money is the actual holy ghost that permeates all the delusions, it is, after all the raison d’être of the whole rag tag and bobtail of religion, it always has been and for as long as it lasts it always will be, there, right there is the fatal flaw in this cunning plan…ain’t no cash in it!

  • Childermass

    I rather doubt that there has ever been a time which some of the dumber people who happen to be Christian would not have said so.

    But when you get to the nitty gritty and say what it might mean in practice, the knee-jerk support would drop fast. Most Christians — even the evangelicals –don’t agree with everything their preacher man says. And that official religion would probably means endorsing a very particular version of Christianity which will result in the loss of support from most everyone else. And when people realize that this would give Congress the determine Christian doctrine even for the chosen sect… (I seem to recall Robert Ingersoll making fun of the absurdity that whether or not someone goes to Hell is determined by an act of the British Parliament.)

    Besides, most American rich people would scream at a percent of their was income suddenly being taken to make beautiful cathedrals…

  • CaitieCat

    Most Christians — even the evangelicals –don’t agree with everything their preacher man says.

    Wow, i need my eyes checked. I read that first as “Moist Christians”, and that’s…just a really weird sentence if the Christians are moist rather than most.