Friday, April 13, 2007

Some Final Reflections on the Blog Against Theocracy

Ed Brayton, displaying his typically insightful take on all things complicated in their nature but simplistically illuminated through repetitive blogging, cautions all of us against too broadly generalizing the nature of our cultural adversaries’ positions by labeling them “theocratic”. Lest we make the term “theocracy” meaninglessly vague and reduced to a simplistic sticker, the purpose of which is nothing more than to identify those with whom we disagree (much like “conservative” and “liberal” today - words I find currently to be the most useless in the English language), we must restrain ourselves from painting with too broad a brush. Ed’s warning should not be taken lightly. Language serves a purpose: a precise purpose. As one who understands the nature of often minute distinctions in academic verbiage that can convey significant differences in meaning, I find myself sympathetic to Ed’s argument. I certainly find myself guilty of over-generalizing the use of common terms such as “Christian”, without reflecting on the often significant distinctions simplistically summarized within those definitions.

Yet, clearly those of us who so enthusiastically participated in the “Blog Against Theocracy” are deeply concerned about something that has motivated us to draw cultural lines in the sand. Academic distinctions are important: they serve to clarify the specific nature of our differences. But there is also a continuum of ideas and positions, blurred at the margins. Combine that with the human propensity to classify things and ideas, and the result is often the promotion of broad brush definitions that fail to capture the vital minutiae necessary for a reasoned evaluation of the topic (just look at Uncommon Descent or Reasonable Kansans for examples). Brayton has argued that it is technically not an established theocracy that we are all “blogging against” and that not all who advocate biblical ideals are advancing theocratic proposals. In this I would agree. Clearly that is not what many of us are intending to say with the word “theocracy”. Brayton’s distinction between “theocrat” and “accomodationist” is an important one, but the two are part of a continuum - and if the “Blog Against Theocracy” may have missed the mark somewhat in its title, its authors absolutely understood which continuum was being targeted.

Organization of the “Blog Against Theocracy” to coincide with the three holy days of Easter certainly appears to be an affront to those who hold these days sacred and some voiced outrage at the event. Yet I can think of no more appropriate time to voice alternative opinions than during such a sacred event. For while most Christians identify Easter as a life-renewing event and celebrate it as a spiritual awakening and opportunity for the unification of all believers, it also draws to the surface, in a way that no other Christian ritual does, the total array of Christian thought many of us often find illogical, frequently unsubstantiated by historical and scientific evidence, and yet is taken as incontrovertible truth. It is the political legitimization of this “truth” that a lot of us (including, I might add, a significant portion who would call themselves Christian) find disturbing, even threatening. It is the potential for theocracy that we blog against. Ultimately, this potential has its roots in all religions. And the battle must be fought at the nexus between religious expression and the public sphere, where the possibility for theocracy begins with political acknowledgement (accommodation?), followed by public policy development , and becomes theocracy with the formulation of law based predominately or completely on a religiously-derived foundation.

Brayton was not the only individual voicing concerns about the use of terminology during the “Blog Against Theocracy”. DakotaVoice complained that last weekend’s effort to highlight the danger of an American theocracy targeted a non-phenomenon. In a series of posts offered during Blog Against Theocracy campaign, Dakota Voice (perhaps the only blogging voice against the effort) suggested those of us who participated “…haven't the slightest idea of what a theocracy is, nor why America isn't a theocracy and is in no danger of becoming a theocracy”. In essence then, like Brayton, DakotaVoice emphasized concern with using “theocracy” to paint a false impression of the issue at hand. Yet, unlike Brayton’s thorough and reasoned discussion, in DakotaVoice’s posts we find the very foundations of what spawned the “Blog Against Theocracy”. DakotaVoice clearly follows religious conviction in defining cells as the equivalent of a child and would encourage the government to criminalize reproductive choice at the earliest stages - of course this is a philosophical debate but one clearly guided by a religious view - if this viewpoint is eventually encapsulated in law, does it not have the current potential to be theocratic in origin? DakotaVoice also clearly thinks that not only beginning of life decisions should be subject to religious outlook, but also end of life decisions as well. His view of how the rest of us should make choices is derived exclusively from his religious viewpoint - one that he seems to feel the government should subsidize. DakotaVoice argues that a creationist viewpoint is not theocratic, yet no forms of creationism are derived from scientific evidence, they are religious viewpoints. His post on this subject was filled with the same false analogies and distortions of data that many of us argue against daily, yet he fully expects that the public school system teach this viewpoint. Apparently when the method of science weeds out inviable religious alternatives because they fail miserably to explain the evidence at hand, the government should step in and correct the situation. So, legislating equal time for creationist views is not on the road to theocracy?

Of course the largest issue with DakotaVoice appears to be that opposition to Christianity is occurring at all. The most imminent potential "theocratic" danger that he and others pose, is to suggest that questioning the historical and scientific foundations of Christianity is itself inhibiting his free expression of religion. I believe DakotaVoice and others want a country in which Christianity cannot be questioned publicly - and if we're not there yet, the last seven years have put us squarely on the path toward it.

So, I would agree with both Brayton and DakotaVoice in that the technical definition of theocracy has not been met. But the potential for it remains (and by the way, I think Brayton understands this in a way DakotaVoice does not). This is not to say that the religious should not be able to voice their opinions or display their faith - this has never been the issue. If religion is going to be the foundation for developing public policy or law that will restrict or limit my ability to determine my own spiritual and moral path, then the foundations of that religion should be questioned and seriously debated…without its proponents being allowed to cower behind the excuse of “offending my religious viewpoint”. Religions of all stripes must be given no quarter in the public arena.


Blue Gal said...

Thank you again. You really got the idea behind holding it during the Easter season, too. I think it's essential for believing Christians (like me) to remind ourselves of the blessings that living in a pluralistic democracy gives us.

This was never a war on religion or a war on Easter.

Thanks again. Getting to know you and your blog was really one of the best things about organizing this blogswarm, for me personally.

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