According to Dictionary.com, a theocracy is defined as:
“A form of government in which God or a deity is recognized as the supreme civil ruler,
the God’s or deity’s laws being interpreted by the ecclesiastical authorities.”
A republic, on the other hand, is identified in that same source as:
“A state in which the supreme power rests in the body of citizens entitled to vote and is
exercised by representatives chosen directly or indirectly by them.”
What would one call a government that is elected by the people, but is governed by the tenets of religiosity? Might it be a theorepublic or a theodemocracy?
The orthodoxy of this particular form of government relegates the beliefs of nonbelievers or those who believe differently to second class citizenship under this rule, and would force everyone to live under the governmental belief system as the rulers and their religious advisors divine as appropriate. The United States thankfully does not fall under this category… yet.
There are those who would invite us to live according to Christian dogma and patterns because the believers are convinced that through governmental intervention, citizens will be saved from their sins and go to heaven. Because they are called to minister to those nonbelievers, their intention is to create a society that reflects these healing and saving traditions. It is clear that their intentions are good. The challenge is that these well-intended people are missing a basic American conviction that the laws of the land are meant to serve all people, of every race, creed, and tradition with respect and freedom, without regard at the legislative level to any religious beliefs.
In the Middle East, several forms of this religious-based legal system are in place. In Turkey, Mali, and Kazakhstan, Islamic religious leaders are welcomed to guide the legislators in the development of their sharia-based laws. In places like Afghanistan, Morocco, and Malaysia, sharia law takes a larger, but blended role. In Saudi Arabia and Iran, sharia law is the strict foundation of the governmental and legal systems.
Israel, although not a true theocracy, has many of the trappings of this type of government, including granting automatic citizenship only to Jewish individuals, and ensuring this system has many halakhic qualities.
Roman Catholics have Vatican City, a city-state ruled by the pope. Even in America, Catholic priests were threatening excommunication of legislators that voted against church teachings regarding abortion, marriage equality, and the death penalty. Geneva was a near-theocracy with Lutheranism leading its government. The exiled Tibetan government is overseen by the Dalai Lama. Even in United States history, the region from Colorado to the California Coast was identified as the State of Deseret by the Mormons until that area was incorporated into the United States by the Treaty of Hidalgo.
The concept of theorepublicanism or theodemocracy is not new. We can certainly see the revisitation of this concept today in our campaigns. A quality has developed to the language of those desirous of elected office to couch their beliefs in more acceptable terms; however, let there be no misunderstanding: In the same way as when “those people” were not welcome to move into the neighborhood, or when segregated areas were identified for individuals who did not meet certain standards of color, religion, or tradition, we are seeing an upsurge in exclusionary focus. This cannot be healthy or wise for the United States. We must look to people who are inclusive, both in language and action, to lead us forward. Intelligence, wisdom, and strength must be the only qualities that guide us.
When one hears individuals such as Barack Obama and Rudolph Giuliani, and others of their quality speaking to all the people in the country, regardless of identification, one has hope that we will see the light of day with our drive toward a theorepublic.
James Madison offered a speech in 1789 regarding the developing Bill of Rights, one of which was intended to secure the rights of all Americans in practicing their religion or not practicing any religion. In that speech, Madisons said:
“The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed.”
Inasmuch as an individual has the freedom and right to espouse, speak about, and act on their beliefs in their own lives, we also have the responsibility, based on our Constitution, to ensure that no one group dictates the religious beliefs or practices of another American citizen. A theodemocracy is antithetical to the very structure of our government and anyone who suggests it should be otherwise should be seen as misunderstanding our way of American life. We must depend on those leaders who ask the question, “What did our founding fathers intend for our people,” rather than, “What does my religion require me to do?” For those who practice a strong orthodoxy, this is admittedly a terrific challenge; however, to hold an elected office, there can only be one answer that will truly benefit the American people. After all, they were elected to uphold our Constitution, not our holy books.