Pot Stirring Tuesday: Is Theocracy Unavoidable?

Relax. That's just an AirSoft gun.
My real one is in my office at home.

This won’t be an overly long post, as I’ve not spent too much time thinking the topic through (it only popped into my head this morning as I read this story about Sarah Silverman and her sense of politically charged humor). And perhaps, by admitting I’ve not thought it through, I am saying this post should not be written at all.

But what would a Tuesday be without a little something to talk about?

So, with that being said, I was wondering this morning if the end of any system of belief, be it Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Atheist, whatever, necessarily ends up in theocracy. Meaning that no matter how much a system of belief may state its intention/desire/doctrine for human beings to be free of systemic coercion, the system itself – and the desire for people to convert to its teaching – means freedom is not possible.

I wrestle with this as a Christian. My faith in Christ and the teachings of Christ mean that I am committed to living my life under the authority of both. Which means I am opposed to certain ideas or behaviors. Which means that I find myself in conflict with other people who hold to ideas or behaviors I don’t agree with.

Now, theoretically, there doesn’t have to be conflict. After all, the Bible (and in particular the New Testament) makes it abundantly clear that human beings are, in fact, possessed of free will; this means that they are capable of rejecting anything they like (or, if you want to be positive, believing anything they like). Which means we are free to disagree without the universe imploding.

Or something like that.

But if what I believe really is what is true about reality and all other systems of belief are in some form or fashion detrimental to your life, then letting you live outside of reality is not only dangerous for you, it’s fundamentally wrong.

So here’s where the question of theocracy comes into play.

(Or maybe fideocracy? The rule of belief? Since not all belief structures have a god [theos] as a central component? I digress AND I’m making up new words.)

If my system of belief is indeed correct, and your being outside of that system poses a danger to you or to the society of mankind, shouldn’t I make it my mission to bring you into my system of belief? Shouldn’t I do whatever it takes to make you see that your way is hurtful and adherence to my belief is best?

If that sounds familiar, then you’re up on your current geopolitical affairs.

Most of us would say that we don’t want someone else to impose their beliefs on us; we would argue, in fact, that it is our right to believe whatever we wish – whether that means Christ, or Shiva, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or the Great Space Nothing. Most of us would fight to the death to be able to live as we so choose.

Which brings me back to my question: if we’re so willing to fight for our right to live with our own beliefs, and to make sure that those beliefs are respected by all, then all systems of belief end up trying to set themselves up as THE system of belief.

In essence, we’re all working towards theocracy/fideocracy.

What do you think: is it possible for competing systems of belief to co-exist?

11 thoughts on “Pot Stirring Tuesday: Is Theocracy Unavoidable?

  1. “If my system of belief is indeed correct, and your being outside of that system poses a danger to you or to the society of mankind, shouldn’t I make it my mission to bring you into my system of belief?”

    You should.

    However, it need not lead to theocracy if you have one important thing: evidence.

    Give me evidence that my worldview poses a danger to me or society or mankind, and I will follow where the evidence points. Merely assert it without evidence, and you’ll have to put me at gunpoint (literally or metaphorically) to get me to change.

    • NotAScientist – agreed, evidence is key. But what kind? Empirical evidence seems to be the de rigeuer answer, and yet empirical evidence still requires a leap of faith that A) the evidence is being presented exactly as it really is (no spin) and that B) we are sufficiently smart enough to understand the evidence in its context. And even when you have rock solid evidence on some things, some people still won’t believe. So what do you do then?

      • You’re never going to get everyone to agree with you on any one thing. We have rock solid evidence that smoking cigarettes is detrimental to your health, but some people still smoke.

        But if you present good empirical evidence, you can seriously reduce the number of people being harmed. As has happened with smoking.

        If you can’t demonstrate how my beliefs are harmful, why should I believe it when you assert it?

      • The smoking illustration is a great one: strong evidence is ignored to the detriment of the smoker. The medical and scientific community, having conducted the tests and experiments and gone over the numbers and results, knows that smoking is dangerous. They know that because they are inside the system that informs. The smoker, being outside of the system that informs, doesn’t know firsthand; they come to the information second-hand (ironically) and can reject it in spite of the proofs.

        It’s the same in a philosophical sense: if my system of belief is true, and I know this because I am within the system and am experiencing first hand that the evidence of that truth, then anyone outside of my system doesn’t experience the evidence that it is true. They have only my testimony to go on, even if I show them hard proofs of the correctness of my system, because they are not part of the system and have not experienced it for themselves!

        So even if (and this is theoretical) I could provide you proof of your beliefs harmfulness, you wouldn’t necessarily believe the proofs any way because you are not part of the system that is providing the evidence! I would expect you to disagree with me.

        Which brings me back to the war of attrition between beliefs, and the notion that there will always be conflict.

        And by the way, I’m not attacking any worldview here. Even though I am a Christian, I am merely seeking a good philosophical discussion; I hope you’re not construing the question (or the questioner) as a de facto criticism of whatever it is you believe. If so, I apologize for the confusion.

  2. “The smoker, being outside of the system that informs, doesn’t know firsthand”

    But they can. The information is there, the studies are done openly, and one need not become a doctor or scientist to investigate and understand. The experiments are done again and again, and we only say we know when they are showing the same results consistently.

    The same can not be said for religions. At least, it hasn’t.

    “even if I show them hard proofs of the correctness of my system, because they are not part of the system and have not experienced it for themselves!”

    What hard proofs would those be?

    “Which brings me back to the war of attrition between beliefs, and the notion that there will always be conflict.”

    There will always be conflict. True.

    But provided the conflict isn’t physical, I think I can live with that.

    • Again, information consumed in the process of gaining knowledge doesn’t necessarily become empirical evidence. Empirical evidence, at bottom, is something YOU know with certainty, and unless the smoker is conducting the experiments for himself, doing the research for himself, anything he reads or hears from others (regardless of their credentials) is second-hand testimony that he can evaluate and discard at will, even though everyone else in the known universe is screaming, “THIS IS TRUE!”

      The discussion at this point is becoming almost epistemological – how do we know what we know, and what constitutes true knowledge. I personally am quite comfortable acquiring knowledge through credible sources, and have no problem exercising faith in that regard. Others are not so comfortable, and so they draw a line farther down in the sand.

      Again, I’m not trying to convert you, so the hard proofs question might just become a non-starter, but the proof of which I speak is best seen in the change in my life since I became a believer in Christ, and the multiple ways my faith has changed my circumstances. But again, unless you’re experiencing those things first hand, it is acceptable for you to dismiss that as anecdotal evidence. Again, epistemology and perspective come in to play.

      I am in complete agreement with you on the final point: as long as we can be civil with our disagreements, then I’m fine with the tension. But as another comment in the thread references, not everyone feels the same way.

  3. I think the answer to the question is relative to the type of belief and or system. Some beliefs can tolerate others quite well, while others cannot tolerat another sytem in the least. Some versions of belief call for the eradication of other beliefs, and the list of those might surprise many of us. So I guess in the end we have to answer with, “well that depends”

    • BH – “that depends” sums it up nicely. And your point that some systems of belief want other systems destroyed is the fatal flaw in relativism: not everyone is going to be relativistic. Some folks are, in fact, going to raid the party and bust everything up, simply because that’s what they believe is right. So at some point, we need (or have) to have an absolute standard.

      But that’s another topic for another Tuesday.

  4. Nothing is reality, everything is just a matter of perception…

    We are very fearful from inside and that fear will alter our perceptions (reality) constantly…

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