Friday 11 March 2016

Theocratic Christian denominations ought to regard themselves as elite (not universal) and regard non-religionists as second-class citizens (not as evil heretics to be persecuted)

I regard theocracy as the only truly coherent (and best) form of government - by which I mean that all the various officially-approved aspects of national life ought (ideally) to be unified by the religion.

But Christianity is an opt-in kind of religion - and belief cannot be coerced  - so in practice there are always a sizable proportion of the population who will not or cannot or are not eligible to opt-into any specific Christian church. So how should a theocracy treat them, given that all public affairs will be run in accordance with the ruling religion?

This thought-experiment can be examined using a wealth of historical experience - and I think the best solution is that the ruling Christian church (or denomination) ought to regard themselves as an elite and privileged group; but not as a universal church - because even when theoretically the church is open to 'anyone' in practice there will always be (and there must always be provision for) those who for various reasons cannot or do not want to join that church - or whom the ruling church will not have as members (perhaps because they fail to reach minimal standards of observance or obedience).

No matter how minimal is the compliance required by the ruling church - there must be rules, and these rules must be enforced - so there will always be those who do not wish to opt-in, or who are excluded.

Clearly, there must be some arrangement by which the ruling church is maintained and not allowed to be subverted or corrupted - so there is no possibility of treating all religions (and no religion) equally - and indeed this has never happened anywhere (except where religion is abolished, in which situation some secular ideology - typically Communism - has replaced religion; and religious people are treated as the non-compliers).

Too many Christian theocracies have treated non-church members with an appalling (and un-Christian) harshness based on hatred rather than love. These were, I think, those churches which implicitly (and usually explicitly) regarded themselves as universal; and therefore anyone who did not join them was assumed to be hostile, evilly motivated - and therefore deserving of harsh suppression.

This was applied even to 'heresies' so microscopic and (in practice, as history showed) theologically-insignificant, that even thoughtful and informed people of that era could not understand the difference between the labelled and persecuted heresy and approved orthodoxy - as with the supposed Monophysite heresy of the Fifth century, which was persecuted by the Christian Byzantine Empire with such unrelenting viciousness that the Oriental Orthodox welcomed the advent of a particular type of non-Christian monotheism as a blessed relief. There are many analogous and equally appalling examples from Christian history - Western and Eastern Catholic, Protestant and Anglican.

So what is the answer?

That denominations should regard themselves as in-practice an elite rather than realistically-universal. The ruling denomination can then be strong in its demands on believers; without being vicious towards non-aggressive unbelievers.

I emphasize non-aggressive - no nation can for long tolerate deliberate, organized subversion of its ruling order without opening the door to collapse. Non-believers must therefore submit to the ruling order - and must refrain from intervention to subvert or attack the ruling order in the public sphere - including refraining from generalized evangelism outwith their own group.

But it follows that non-believers must, in practice be treated as in some significant respects second class citizens - because the positions of leadership and authority must (as a matter of basic order and cohesion) be reserved for those in good standing with the ruling church.

Conversely, those who do not or cannot join the ruling church must accept that they are indeed second class citizens, who will inevitably (at least under normal circumstances) be excluded from power; as the price of not being persecuted for their discordant beliefs and their freedom from established church authority.

An example of what I am talking about was the theocratic Mormon state under Brigham Young (which I regard as having been potentially-sustainable - although in practice suppressed by the USA).

Of course, this situation is not optimal for everybody - because being a second class citizen excluded from significant privileges is not ideal for those people. On the other hand, being a constrained and second class citizen it is better than being coerced into conformity with the sanction of unbridled persecution for refusing - which has been the usual situation for most societies for most of history; and remains so.

(Ask the Copts of Egypt, or the millions of other Christians in the Middle East who have, in the past couple of decades, gone from being second class citizens able to practice their religion under constraints for more than 1000 years; to almost-all being forcibly converted, perpetually tormented and tortured, dead or expelled.)

A religious/ ideological free-for-all is not sustainable - so need not be considered as realistic.

One implication of this is that - in my opinion - Christian denominations should in practice (even when not in theory) regard themselves as an elite of the most devout of the potentially-saved, rather than themselves as the only path to salvation and everyone else as actively evil hence necessarily-damned.


AureliusMoner said...

I think Christians should believe the Truth and adhere to the Apostolic preaching, and not search about for new ways "to think of themselves."

Much of the rhetoric about past persecutions has been exaggerated for the purposes of various partisan agenda. Even the most horrific period, supposedly (the Spanish Inquisition), has now been revealed to be a rather mild episode that actually enriched the European tradition of jurisprudence. When I did a study on this for a lecture I presented in my graduate program, I learned that the Catholic Church had been remarkably consistent through history, in forbidding attempts to convert people by force, and in forbidding the persecution of others solely for failure to be Catholics - including the Jews, who were particularly disliked for various reasons. The lecture focused mostly on the treatment of slaves, and I was surprised to discover how consistent the Church's opposition to the modern slave trade had been; it only allowed a limited involvement in slavery, chiefly to redeem slaves who had already been captured and mistreated by Moslems, but forbad engaging in the slave trade and the mistreatment of indigenous peoples, otherwise. Even with the slaves, the Catholic Church taught that it was morally licit to compel them to hear the Gospel, but not licit to force their conversion or mistreat them for their failure to convert.

What persecution of heretics has existed, has traditionally been because these groups set themselves against the social order as radical "reformers" or agitators. They were persecuted not for believing differently, but for stirring up unrest, inciting rebellions, engaging in conspiracies or defecting from the State, etc. One only has to look at how the Protestant Reformation played out in many places, to see what a criminal band of people they were, without honor or loyalty; they were the first SJWs, convinced that any means were justified in their fight against "problematic" imagery, rites, customs and authorities. Certainly it would be right for the State to persecute and eliminate such persons; failing in this, has led to the triumph of the Western Counter-Tradition, that peculiar brand of transgressive iconoclasm, throughout all the West.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AM - Ahem! Even if what you said about exaggeration is true, it does not negate my point - but your tendentious comment on Protestants makes me infer that you would yourself perhaps be one of the self-righteous and hate-motivated theocratic persecutors of heresy which this post is designed to criticize. Apologies if I am wrong in this!

Imnobody said...

I know that you don't like my definition of religion as a worldview with a morality and my characterization of Modernity (including Leftism) as a religion, but bear with me for a while.

All countries have an official religion, because all countries need a law and the law must distinguish between allowed and forbidden behaviors. It must make this distinction on the basis of a vision of right and wrong, so it allows behaviors considered as "right" and forbids behaviors considered as "wrong". That is, it must have an official morality. This morality cannot be random, but must be based on a given worldview. So here you have it: a worldview with a morality (that is, a religion) who is the foundation of the Law. All countries have an official religion. All countries have a theocracy.

You don't feel that you live in a theocracy if you are a believer of the official religion, because you only feel that the State is based on truth and basic decency.

For a while, in Western countries,

- with exception of belief in God, the official religion of Western countries was similar to Christianity in its practical effects.
- Christianity had to be tolerated by the official religion because it was majority.

This gave the false impression that Christian people believed there was such a thing as neutrality in religion. But it was only a transitional phase.

As the official religion of Western countries (Leftism) differs more from Christianity and Christians become a minority, things get more clear and Christianity is not going to be tolerated. See the Christian guy who was not allowed to continue his studies on a British college because he has questioned gay marriage on Facebook. This is only the beginning and we are going to go back to Roman times.

All countries have an official religion. All countries are theocracies. All countries discriminate and persecute against members of another religion. You only get to choose the official religion.

Valkea said...

Would this societal arrangement be talked about openly by the elites and others, or would it be implicit in the order of things?

Clear Waters said...

I am actually in agreement with much of what you say here, though I will point out persecution of heretics was absolutely necessary in the early years of the church, where such heresies threatened Christian truth with various lies, especially those of Arians (similar people pushed forged scriptures).

Now, as to what an officially Christian state is to do regarding religious non-compliers, at least from an Eastern Imperial perspective, we would relate this to the ideal of the Imperium, that is the idea of an empire containing within it compatible nations, dominated numerically and politically however by one group who serve as the central ruling elite. In such a system, the nations of the Imperium are recognized through 'enclavism', and considerations are granted to those enclaves based upon the religious situation. Consider if you will, lower regions of Buryatia, Russia, where there are native Buddhist peoples. It was understood that they could practice Buddhism, within certain guidelines, because they were not part of the elite race which ruled from further west. There was no need to exact terror on them for forced conversion. Their population was largely static, unthreatening, and loyal. They could be drafted and taxed, and in exchange were allowed to retain their beliefs and communities.

Religious absolutism might work with a city state, or a small nation, but when one speaks of an Imperium, certainly somewhere as broadly expansive as the Third Rome, we Orthodox understand that not everyone will be Orthodox, even in the territory ruled by Orthodox Russians. After all, this has been the reality for us throughout our history, and rarely have we encountered problems. The Chechen flareup is a result of exports from Saudi Arabia.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Imn - Theocracy is *not* what happens in modern secular states, because there is no basis of The Good (Truth Beauty & Virtue in unity) around which the nation - in all its social systems - can be organized. There is a big contrast.

@V - Openly and honestly. This wasn't so unusual in the past - not least because it is necessary that second class citizens know that is what they are. When the Normans invaded and ruled England, the Anglo Saxons had a different set of laws applied to them from their overlords.

@MC - Broadly speaking, I regard the early centuries of Christianity (after about 100 AD) as a great tragedy - and the attitude to eg Arians as a grossly false emphasis on the nature of the faith, from which it never really recovered. We know very little about Arianism, except from its enemies - but what is said, the high Christian quality of some Arians - convinces me that it was compatible with Christianity and should not have been regarded or treated the way it was. The later Monophysite and Iconoclast disputes strongly suggest to me that the real problem was political, not religious - in other words the heresies were 'manufactured' in order to justify repression, or for reasons of faction or individual ambition; rather than the reverse.

Such matters aside; much can be learned from the Byzantine Empire and Holy Russia, and from their ideals of harmony between church, state and all secular institutions - and their sustained achievement of a society permeated generally by Christian values was greater than anywhere in Western Christendom (although there were blots: the savagery of persecution of the Old Believers in Russia - who were clea