Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Is Risk of Theocracy Overblown?

Ken Brown has a post pointing to Joe Carter’s essay on the subject of theocracy and the fear of it that is often expressed by those on the left. Carter argues that accusations that the religious right is pushing for theocracy are empty political rhetoric. While he admits that “some conservative Christians in our country do want to establish a theocracy” he also argues that their numbers “are rather negligible and their political influence almost non-existence (sic)”. I’m going to agree in part and disagree in part. Yes, I think the left often exaggerates the risk of theocracy and applies the term to people who aren’t really theocrats; on the other hand, I think Carter downplays the amount of influence that true theocrats do have within the various apparati of the religious right and even the Republican Party itself.

First, let’s define who we’re talking about. I don’t think that most religious right followers or leaders are actual theocrats. A theocrat is one who believes that religious law, as defined by sacred text, should be the civil and criminal law of the land. There are disagreements among theocrats as to which laws specifically should be enforced and how to do so, but this general definition works for our purposes. I think we should define this narrowly enough that it does not include, for example, someone who applies such laws only minimally.

For example, your average conservative Christian likely thinks, for example, that gay marriage should remain illegal and their primary motivation for thinking that is their understanding of the Biblical conception of marriage. But I don’t think that alone makes one a theocrat. The vast majority of people who are against gay marriage would not go so far as to actually institute the Mosaic law as the civil and criminal law of the land. I think it’s important to distinguish those whose political views are informed and shaped by their religious views – something unavoidable and normal, even if sometimes I find the results dangerous – from those who want to impose the whole of their religion’s laws as the law of the land.

Jerry Falwell and James Dobson, for example, do not quality as theocrats in my view. While it’s possible that, given the political power to do so, they would in fact turn out to be theocrats and would impose Biblical law directly through the civil and criminal law across the board, they at least do not advocate that position either politically or theologically. However, I would argue that the mainstream religious right, while not fitting my fairly narrow definition of theocrats, do at least make common cause with those who do and work side by side with them in many ways.

So who are the theocrats? They are people who hold to a position called, variously, Christian reconstructionism, dominionism (aka dominion theology), or theonomy. Generally speaking, they are post-millenial in their eschatology, though not always. They divide the Old Testament law into two types, moral and ceremonial. Ceremonial law, they argue, was made obsolete by Christ’s coming to earth, but moral law they view as applicable in all times and all places. Thus, they would institute the Mosaic moral law as the civil and criminal law in the US and around the world, unless such law was explicitly overturned in the New Testament.

The leaders of this movement include: Greg Bahnsen (though he is now dead, he remains enormously influential in Calvinist circles in particular); Andrew Sandlin, head of the National Reform Association; Gary North of the Institute for Christian Economics; Gary DeMar, head of American Vision; RJ Rushdoony of the Chalcedon Foundation (in many ways, the founding father of reconstructionism); John Lofton, Howard Phillips and the Constitution Party leadership; and Howard Ahmanson, a billionaire philanthropist whose money funds a wide range of religious right organizations. As we will see, these are not obscure men; they are deeply involved in religious right groups across the nation and prominent in politics as well.

One of the primary religious right groups that few have heard of is the Council for National Policy. The CNP acts as a sort of central steering committee for other religious right organizations. Founded by Tim LaHaye, who also co-founded the Moral Majority with Jerry Falwell and Paul Weyrich, the CNP’s behind-the-scenes influence among the religious right can hardly be overstated. To give you an example of how this all integrates with politics, consider that Weyrich is also the co-founder of the Heritage Foundation and the Free Congress Foundation.

The list of members of the CNP reads like a Who’s Who of conservatives, especially religious conservatives, from Jesse Helms to Jack Abramoff to Ollie North to Pat Robertson. But it also includes a large number of reconstructionists. The CNP Board of Governors and executive committes have included Howard Ahmanson (also a major funder of the Discovery Institute), Howard Phillips, Weyrich and many others with close ties to theocracy movements.

Some of these men are also high officials in the Republican Party itself. David Barton, who has very close ties to reconstructionism, is the vice chair of the Texas Republican Party and was a key advisor to the 2004 Bush campaign. Many others, including DeMar, are regular guests on conservative talk shows like Hannity and Colmes, or write columns for influential conservative outlets. So while it may be unfair to consider most religious right folks as theocrats, they at least make common cause with them often.

What are the chances of America actually becoming a theocracy? Pretty slim, I think. But I do think it’s important to recognize that there are genuine theocrats around and they are taken seriously in the halls of power. Contrary to what Joe Carter thinks, their influence is very real even if it is unlikely to result in an actual theocracy. But our side must be careful not to use the term theocrat to apply to all conservative Christians. If we do so, we risk being viewed as the boy who cried wolf. So let’s be specific about who we apply that label too and let’s not exaggerate the risks; but let us also not pretend that theocrats have no influence on the right because they surely do.

Comments

  1. #1 KeithB
    April 19, 2006

    Isn’t this the whole point of Kevin Phillip’s new book, whose name escapes me at the moment?

    Found it: American Theocracy
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/067003486X/sr=8-1/qid=1145464725/ref=pd_bbs_1/102-0057455-3772961?%5Fencoding=UTF8

    (Though he may be playing fast and loose with the word “Theocracy” – with a bit of sour grapes.)

  2. #2 Chance
    April 19, 2006

    Good thought Ed. I read this from the beginning of the original essay.

    Is theocracy in the United States,” asks Phillips, “(1) a legitimate fear, as some liberals argue; (2) a joke, given the nation’s rising secular population and moral laxity; (3) a worrisome bias of major GOP constituencies and pressure groups; or (4) all of the above? The last, I would argue.”

    I agree that the USA is well on it’s way to having a European style religious flavor. I simply think the arguments on a variety of issues are to strong in that direction and most people once they overcome immediate emotional reactions accept them as true. This is something that takes decades to measure however.

    But I think his number 2 is incorrect. I don’t see the USA having any moral ‘laxity’. I feel it’s wishful thinking on his part.

    I don’t think the risk of theocracy is a real worry unless something happens to destabilize the nation at which time a wild power grab makes anything possible.

  3. #3 Mark Paris
    April 19, 2006

    I see your point, Ed, but I think you are not considering the form that a modern American theocracy would take. I don’t think it would look like a fundamentalist christian version of Iran. I think it would look a lot like what the US used to be. Consider blue laws, abortion laws, divorce laws, alcoholic beverage laws, censorship laws. All of these laws were enacted out of religious motivation. I think one difference in a modern American theocracy would be the inclusion of nationalist sentiments. That would include things like a flag-burning amendment (or, as I see it, a flag-worship amendment), and probably suppression of anti-government expression. It would almost certainly be less protective of the environment, because many mainstream protestants believe these are the end times, so there is no need to conserve natural resources. It would also probably be more warlike, for the same reason. I don’t think this version of an American theocracy is all that far-fetched. I do think it would be a very dangerous player on the world stage.

  4. #4 Ginger Yellow
    April 19, 2006

    While I don’t entirely disagree with the fundamental (sorry) point, I think it’s important to recognise a category beyond (your definition of) theocrat and non-theocrat. You can call them establishmentarians if you can be bothered to type it. These people, like Roy Moore and many of those who spoke at the recent War on Christians conference, insist that the legal and political system must recognise Christianity both as the semi-official religion of the US and as the basis of the law. They may not ostensibly call for either establishment or the imposition of the entire Mosaic law (although some do propose a constitutional amendment to “clarify” that awkward establishment clause), but their purpose is for their particular religious morality to be explicitly enshrined in law, so the difference is one of degree. One of the curious twists of this ideology is that despite the explicit establishment of churches in many European countries, they usually have much less direct connection to the law than would be the case in the country envisaged by the US establishmentarians.

  5. #5 Ginger Yellow
    April 19, 2006

    Oh, and I agree with Mark. I think the real risk is theocracy by proxy, enacted by people (often at a state or local level) who aren’t necessarily theocrats themselves but fear or respect the electoral clout of those who are and their allies.

  6. #6 David Heddle
    April 19, 2006

    Mark Paris,

    “because many mainstream protestants believe these are the end times”

    As Ed pointed out, the theonomy movement in the US is dominated by post-millennialists, not “mainstream” protestants. (I am a post-millennialist, but not a theonomist.)

    At any rate, post-millennialists believe that the world will get vastly better (more Christians, Great Commission succeeds, more peace, etc.) leading to Christ’s return in victory rather than defeat. Given the state of the world, it is then not surprising that theonomists, dominated by post-millennialists, absolutely do NOT think we are in the end-times–and so your comment about the effect of a theocracy on the environment and the “warlike” nature of a theocracy, given that you based your views on a alleged belief that the end is near, is unwarranted.

    If there is a “mainstream” American protestant, it is a baptist. Generally they do believe the end is near. However, they are not big supporters of theonomy–after all part of Baptist hereitage is that they effectively invented the idea of separation of church and state in Europe.

  7. #7 Ken Brown
    April 19, 2006

    Hey Ed,
    This is a good and informative post, and I think it fits well with my point: certainly there are those on both the left and the right who want nothing more than to see their opponents wiped off the political map. But the fear of such people (on both sides) far outweighs their actual numbers, and baring some massive upheaval in our political system, I really can’t see either group gaining enough power to accomplish their goals. That is, unless we continue with the inflammatory rhetoric until everyone is forced to join one extreme or the other. Who knows, maybe that’s their goal?

  8. #8 Ed Brayton
    April 19, 2006

    Ginger-

    The only thing I would quibble with in your comment is that Roy Moore is a genuine theocrat. He really does believe that the Biblical law takes precedence over the Constitution and that judges should enforce the Biblical law through the common law tradition. This is about as un-American an idea as one can imagine.

  9. #9 Ed Brayton
    April 19, 2006

    David-

    I would only point out that one does not have to be a post-mil to be a theocrat. Most theonomists are post-mils, as are all reconstructionists, but one can still advocate theocracy in the manner I’ve described it and be a pre-mil. It’s not common, but it’s not a contradiction either. As for the Baptists advocating separation, I doubt that Isaac Backus or John Leland would recognize their denomination as advocated by Richard Land.

  10. #10 Leni
    April 19, 2006

    Ginger Yellow wrote:

    Oh, and I agree with Mark. I think the real risk is theocracy by proxy, enacted by people (often at a state or local level) who aren’t necessarily theocrats themselves but fear or respect the electoral clout of those who are and their allies.

    I agree with this as well. The only thing I’d add is that the milder types provide the necessary backdrop or landscape that makes it possible for the theocrats to get a foothold at all. They provide the backing, bedfellows and votes because their sympathies run in similar directions.

  11. #11 Chuck
    April 19, 2006

    More common than genuine theocrats are politicians and their supporters who, like Bush, speak in the language of religious fundamentalism in order to attract votes from that constituency, but enact policies that have very little to do with such rhetoric. It’s not really threatening, except insofar as fundamentalist rhetoric and moral panic increases the chances that some genuine theocrat will one day hold the reins of power.

  12. #12 Matthew
    April 19, 2006

    I agree that’s it’s almost only rhetoric. Real theocrats have no real influence. What is called theocracy by some isn’t theocracy. Even though I vehemently oppose any government endorsement of religion (more than even Ed), there is just no excuse to label any attempt to do so as a step towards theocracy. Real theocrats exist, and they are dangerous. Calling christian conservatives theocrats downplays how bad true theocracy would be (ask young Iranians).

  13. #13 Mark Paris
    April 19, 2006

    Theonomy, post-millenialist and other high-falutin’ terms to the contrary not withstanding, the present mainstream christian beliefs in large parts of this country tend strongly towards a theocratically-influenced government. Trying to put these people into neat, well-defined categories is an exercise in academic futility; however hard you try, you cannot put these square pegs into lyour own round holes.

    David Heddle, I suspect you are not familar with mainstream baptist beliefs in the US. Baptists are in the forefront of the movement to eliminate separation of church and state. I know it contradicts older, long-held beliefs in the baptist church, but the baptists have changed drastically in the last couple of decades. Pay attention to what they are saying and doing.

    Even less fundamentalist christians are typically not too supportive of environmental law because they don’t believe this world has any value. This is just a temporary testing ground. Everything of any importance takes place after you die.

    As to whether this is theocracy or not, it all depends on your point of view. Not all theocracies are the same. See my above post.

  14. #14 Matthew
    April 19, 2006

    Also I don’t think having theocrats as major funders is frightening unless they are using influence towards theocratic ends. Is the CNP supporting anything than the other religious political organizatiosn aren’t? If not, then the fact that they have theocrats among their members is pretty irrelevant to me. It’s like in the 1930s when the CPUSA still had some influence on national politics and threw support at the democrats. Looking back I don’t see any real evidence that they were influencing FDR to turn the country into a member of the soviet bloc.

  15. #15 Soldats
    April 19, 2006

    The beauty of incrementalism is that you don’t take it seriously until it’s too late.

  16. #16 Jim Lippard
    April 19, 2006

    FYI, R.J. Rushdoony, like Greg Bahnsen, is dead. He died on Feb. 8, 2001 (birthday of the Boy Scouts of America) at the age of 84. Gary North is his son-in-law.

  17. #17 Dexceus
    April 19, 2006

    If you want even part of your religous laws made into civil law….you might be a theocrat. If you think that there should be a state sponsered religion of any sort….you might be a theocrat. If your only rational reason for wanting something made law is that the bible said so….you might be a theocrat. If you think your religion should get special treatment….you might be a theocrat. If you think your majority religion is being presecuted….you might be a theocrat.

    Maybe not all of them want to completly install all of the laws of the old testament, but even a bit is a very slippery slope.

  18. #18 CPT_Doom
    April 19, 2006

    Although I agree with Ed that the full-scale “Biblical” Reconstructionist movement is small, I also agree with other posters that his definition of “theocracy” may be too limited. Certainly it is hard to differentiate among the true religious conservatives and those politicians who are just pandering to them for votes and money, but I think the “slippery slope” is hit whenever someone begins questionning the “myth” of the separation of church and state, or begins arguing that the First Amendment applies only to Protestant or “Christian” religions, has hit at least a nominal level of theocracy. In fact, while there is not necessarily a wide-spread movement to replace the Constitution with a religious government, there is a wide-spread movement to reinterpret the Constitution as a fundamentalist “Christian” document, with all the resulting assumptions about what that means.

  19. #19 Ken Brown
    April 19, 2006

    Soldats, Dexceus and CPT_Doom,
    You do realize “slippery slope” is a logical fallacy, right?

  20. #20 Ed Brayton
    April 19, 2006

    No, slippery slope is not necessarily a logical fallacy. I’m sure we can all think of lots of situations where slippery slope arguments have turned out to be entirely true. There are valid slippery slope arguments and invalid ones; the form itself is not invalid.

  21. #21 Gryph
    April 19, 2006

    I think that the #1 reason to be concerned with those that are mixing their religion with their politics, (whether they are “theocrats” or not), is that the practical effect of their influence is the expansion of the reach of Government into all areas of our lives, personal and public.

    They do not seek to influence the National discussion by actually discussing anything. They do not seek to persuade anyone of the correctness of their views, rather they seek to compel compliance with them. Using Government as the means to an end.

    For example, if the anti-gay marriage amendment to the US Constitution were to pass, it would limit the freedom of local state governments to define marriage as they see fit, and as the citizens of that state desire. It limits freedom, (religous and otherwise) rather than protecting it.

    If a similar law had been in place outlawing inter-racial marriages, the reasoning of which was often justified by devout Christians of the time as being supported by the bible, then we would likely still have such bans in place to day.

  22. #22 Ed Brayton
    April 19, 2006

    CPT wrote:

    Certainly it is hard to differentiate among the true religious conservatives and those politicians who are just pandering to them for votes and money, but I think the “slippery slope” is hit whenever someone begins questionning the “myth” of the separation of church and state, or begins arguing that the First Amendment applies only to Protestant or “Christian” religions, has hit at least a nominal level of theocracy.

    I don’t think this is necessarily true of anti-separation arguments. There is certainly a coherent accomodationist position that does not at all implicate or suggest theocratic motivations, and it is one that is accepted even by many non-Christians. The accomodationist position is one which says that government statements about religion, such as proclamations of days of prayer or thanksgiving, are allowed so long as they are not binding or enforced with coercion. While I disagree with this position, it’s perfectly coherent and has at least as much historical evidence in its favor as the separationist position that I take. There is no question that this form of accomodationism was popular among the founding fathers. Certainly Washington and Adams saw nothing constitutionally problematic with issuing such declarations, but neither of them would have stood for any law which actually required people to engage in a religious practice. Jefferson and Madison took a more hardline separationist position, of course, and I believe they were right, but that doesn’t mean that this type of accomodationism leads to theocracy or is a form of theocracy.

    Interestingly, Madison invoked a form of the slippery slope argument in this regard many times. His argument was not that allowing slight encroachments would lead inexorably to theocracy, but that allowing slight encroachments would be used to justify later encroachments. That is why he argued even against congressional and military chaplaincies being paid out of public funds. And of course, his argument proved to be correct. How many times do we hear some new encroachment on separation defended with the argument that Congress begins every day with a prayer? Still, we should not mistake that argument for one that says this will lead to actual theocracy? The Supreme Court begins every day with the invocation “God save this honorable court”, but that has not led them to be the least bit theocratic in their rulings. So there is a balance to be struck here between pretending there’s no theocratic tendencies at all that should be identified, and pretending that we’re on the verge of a new inquisition.

  23. #23 Ken Brown
    April 19, 2006

    There are valid slippery slope arguments and invalid ones; the form itself is not invalid.

    You are right, and I should have been more specific. However, the form of argument is so easily abused that it falls on the person using it to justify why a given action has a reasonable chance of leading to further abuses.

  24. #24 SkookumPlanet
    April 19, 2006

    I’m with Mark. It won’t be overt, but indirect, theocracy. In current argot, it will be theocraticiness. [After "truthiness". The second "c" is hard. theocratickiness? And proponents -- theoxies.]

    Here’s a point not directly mentioned I take very seriously.

    The far right needs this constituency’s votes to stay in power, so the focus on population size is misplaced. It only need be enough to supply margin of victory.

    My concern is the far right pandering to the conservative Christians. The right has it’s own non-religious, faith-based master plan — The Resurrection of Mckinley. They’ve slaved away for 30 years and now Mckinley begins arising.

    The Christian right will realize it has the right by it’s you-know-whats. What will they be offered so the rightwing holds onto Congress, the Presidency, state governments? It’s a worry because the radical right has proven itself amoral. They view their political and economic goals as ultimate truth and best for the U.S., bar none. Relinquishing power for democratic principal will be extremely difficult for them.

    Thus, saying no to theocraticiness is tantamount to abandoning their own revealed truth and a legacy of effort that brought them to power.

  25. #25 Curt Rozeboom
    April 19, 2006

    The mindset of the religious fundementalists I grew up with is:
    -I am free to practice my religion in America.
    -My religion says that God is sovereign over all areas of life. Everything I do must reflect that sovereignty.
    -If I participate in a public forum, I must show that sovereignty.
    -Liberal atheist christian-haters want to persecute my religion by removing my “right” and “freedom” to express my religion in a public forum.
    -Therefore the separation of church and state is either wrong or wrongly interpreted and should be opposed.

    Because of their view of sovereignty, they see governmental laws as expressing moral law. It’s not that they want to make moral laws into governmental laws (per se), but that they see governmental law as already being a moral law. So, to them, granting legality to gay marriage is not simply a protection against discrimination, but rather a enactment of a new moral judgement.

    They think that others (atheists, moral relativists) are already enacting their own “immorality” as law and want to enact Christian morality as law in retaliation.

    They forsee this principle being applied indiscriminantly to other abhorent behaviors because they do not believe that anyone who does not base their moral judgements on Biblical truths can possibly have a rational ethic. They fear the application of the reasoning of moral relativism.

  26. #26 Soldats
    April 19, 2006


    You do realize “slippery slope” is a logical fallacy, right?
    Posted by: Ken Brown [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 19, 2006 02:58 PM

    Well, I was referring to incrementalism as I understood it from a software design PoV. I guess the web form of it is the boiling frog method. People seem to think the boiling frog and slippery slope are identical, but they address different issues.

    Saying:
    If A occurs
    then the chances increase that B will occur
    Which is the basis of the slippery slope argument, is quite different from saying:
    If you do something in small enough steps, people won’t notice until they are at or near the end result.

  27. #27 Curt Rozeboom
    April 19, 2006

    Another cognitive dissonance I see is over the meaning of the word, “freedom”. Freedom, in the Christian way of thinking, means freedom from sin. Anything thought of as being sinful is also considered to be basically addictive. Sin draws you in like a addictive drug and makes you unable to act “freely” in the same manner a crack-addict is bound by his addiction. TRUE FREEDOM is seen as being free from any kind of sinful addiction.

    This concept gets misconstrued with liberal freedom, as expressed in our democratic philosophy. This kind of freedom essentially means freedom to make choices, good or bad, and to decide which of those choices are best for your life, for yourself.

    So, being free to do sinful things is not freedom at all, in their way of thinking. In their way of thinking, in order to be FREE (of sin), you can not be free (to make whatever mistakes you will). And you should be protected by law from yourself, not protected by law to do what you wish. That kind of law leads to slavery in sin and should be opposed. (to them, of course, I slip into that mindset too easily, yet)

  28. #28 Barry
    April 19, 2006

    As for Baptists being pioneers in the separation of church and state – IIRC, that was back in the era where Baptists were still being jailed for preaching that, or right after. Today, things are much different.

  29. #29 Ken Brown
    April 19, 2006

    Soldats,

    People seem to think the boiling frog and slippery slope are identical, but they address different issues.

    Either way the fallacy comes in when you fail to prove causation.

  30. #30 Matthew
    April 19, 2006

    The point is that if you have to use hyperbole in order to convince someone that a movement is wrong, then it really must not be that wrong. Otherwise you would be able to convince people by telling them the truth. I happen to think using other people’s money to fund advocacy is wrong in itself. Regardless of how extreme it becomes.

  31. #31 Ed Brayton
    April 19, 2006

    Curt Rozeboom wrote:

    Freedom, in the Christian way of thinking, means freedom from sin. Anything thought of as being sinful is also considered to be basically addictive. Sin draws you in like a addictive drug and makes you unable to act “freely” in the same manner a crack-addict is bound by his addiction. TRUE FREEDOM is seen as being free from any kind of sinful addiction.

    I think this strongly overstates the argument. That is not the “Christian way of thinking”, it is a very particular type of Christian thinking. I know lots of Christians who find that notion completely ridiculous and understand freedom perfectly well.

  32. #32 dkew
    April 19, 2006

    How far do the theocrats want to take this, or does it depend on the theocrat? Obviously women and infidels would be repressed, their sabbath quiet and abortion illegal. Would they insist running society via their chalcolithic science? Do they call for killing witches? (Do they believe the Salem witches were guilty?) Do they want to re-institute slavery? How about the death penalty for disobedient children and homosexuals? Would there be laws against mixed fabrics and planting seeds in rows? Where, if anywhere, do they draw a line?

  33. #33 Matthew
    April 19, 2006

    Depends on the theocrat. I think some theocrats would simply make the country an official christian nation. Ed is probably more familiar with the various dominionist movements than I am. Certainly in the past theocrats have been much worse. In Spain they even expulled conversos and moriscos just because they used to be non-christians. I think it’s entirely plausible that some of the christian reconstructionists would persecute Catholics, who they see as heretics.

  34. #34 mark
    April 19, 2006

    At the same time we have Phillip Johnson and his ilk wishing to establish “theocratic science” which surely must give additional comfort to those who are more full-blown theocrats. On this front, at least, the courts seem firmly grounded in the Constitution.

  35. #35 dogmeatIB
    April 19, 2006

    I have to also point out the element of the Religious Right that targets public schooling. Do they fit within Ed’s definition of a theocrat? No, not really. But they are, in my opinion, just as dangerous. The movement is a rather subtle one, members of this “group” (not actually just one) run for school boards, foster and push for voucher and charter school programs, etc. In and of themselves, these acts are innocuous, but the overall program is a rather dangerous one. The self-avowed purpose of these groups (at least the ones that have been discovered) is quite simply the destruction of public education and the reintroduction of Puritan style theologically based education. All education would fall under the purview of religious institutions (emphasizing conservative evangelical ones) and anything that didn’t fit within their limited theological scope would be eliminated from the curriculum.

    They don’t talk about a theocracy the way Ed defines its advocates, but the end result is effectively the same thing as generation upon generation is taught only using the Bible and then only within the narrow confines of conservative Christianity.

  36. #36 Mike Heath
    April 19, 2006

    What scares me most about the religious right is their influence on the judiciary appointments being made by Bush and I believe who will follow Bush if he’s a Republican. Tony Perkins uses the term “democratic conservatism” often expressed as “the will of the people”. Their express purpose is to protect new legislation that clearly deprives some Americans of their individual rights, with a Judiciary that will obligate the individual to prove a right rather than the government having the obligation to prove a numerated power.

    This change in judicial interpretation, coupled with control of Congress and the Executive branch is the opening that could lead not neccesarily to a theocarcy, but certainly to governmenal priorities that will greatly harm our country in terms of science, technololgy, education, and the quality of immigrants and bleeding edge companies that will look to locate somewhere other than Kansas, like Singapore or Scandanavia.

    You already hear it when the religious right expresses outrage that the “will of the people” is denied by judges overturning legislation that deprives Americans of their individual rights. The right will often claim for example “where in the Constitution does it state that sodomy is a right?”, and this sort of rhetoric isn’t just spewed by idiots like Hannity or Coulter, but also by Senators like Coryn and Brownback.

  37. #37 Ed Brayton
    April 19, 2006

    mark wrote:

    At the same time we have Phillip Johnson and his ilk wishing to establish “theocratic science” which surely must give additional comfort to those who are more full-blown theocrats.

    The phrase is “theistic science”, not “theocratic science”. There’s a pretty significant difference.

  38. #38 Ed Brayton
    April 19, 2006

    dogmeat wrote:

    I have to also point out the element of the Religious Right that targets public schooling. Do they fit within Ed’s definition of a theocrat? No, not really. But they are, in my opinion, just as dangerous. The movement is a rather subtle one, members of this “group” (not actually just one) run for school boards, foster and push for voucher and charter school programs, etc. In and of themselves, these acts are innocuous, but the overall program is a rather dangerous one. The self-avowed purpose of these groups (at least the ones that have been discovered) is quite simply the destruction of public education and the reintroduction of Puritan style theologically based education. All education would fall under the purview of religious institutions (emphasizing conservative evangelical ones) and anything that didn’t fit within their limited theological scope would be eliminated from the curriculum.

    I had to chuckle when I read that because I am, in fact, a strong advocate of vouchers, charter schools and other forms of private schooling. The notion that advocating vouchers or charter schools makes one a theocrat seems rather silly to someone who favors the first and abhors the second.

  39. #39 Ed Brayton
    April 19, 2006

    Mike-

    I agree with you completely. The place where the religious right is most obviously both wrong and dangerous – and gaining ground – is in the judiciary. That’s where a lot of my focus has been on this blog for a long time.

  40. #40 dkew
    April 19, 2006

    Somehow it’s not surprising that an outrageous liar like David Barton is on the theocrat side.

    Some of these men are also high officials in the Republican Party itself. David Barton, who has very close ties to reconstructionism, is the vice chair of the Texas Republican Party and was a key advisor to the 2004 Bush campaign.

  41. #41 dogmeatIB
    April 19, 2006

    I had to chuckle when I read that because I am, in fact, a strong advocate of vouchers, charter schools and other forms of private schooling. The notion that advocating vouchers or charter schools makes one a theocrat seems rather silly to someone who favors the first and abhors the second.

    Unfortunately voucher schools and charter schools play a role in the overall program. The more money/credit/validity they can pull from public schools, the better.

    I have to admit I am personally opposed to voucher schools and charter schools. Having lived and taught in Milwaukee and Arizona (two major players in each alternative effort), I can personally testify that far too many of the voucher/charter programs fail miserably. There have been legal issues, qualification issues, lack of certification issues, etc. etc. etc. The Daily Howler had an article in the last three weeks or so, that talked about the voucher schools in Milwaukee, it was sad, and didn’t scratch upon some of the shyte I’ve heard/seen.

  42. #42 SkookumPlanet
    April 19, 2006

    Ed
    I’m interested in hearing you discuss vouchers sometime. Just pointing me to previous topics would do just as well.

    At PZ’s I commented on the campaign selling vouchers, and got a crtitical response, a misreading actually. So I wrote another long language analysis titled, what else, Psychomarketing School Vouchers.

    But my first post there raised several issues that I never hear discussed by proponents. Your take on these, or just in general, would be …uh… educational for me.

    I also agree with dogmeat that vouchers are part of the right’ strategy. I thought they originated or popularized the idea.

  43. #43 Mark Paris
    April 20, 2006

    This goes off topic, but since the thread is aging and probably no one will read it, I’ll post it anyway. Things like vouchers are part of a right-wing (self identified as “libertarian”) effort to destroy public schools, which they call “government schools.” The idea is that you drain enough money and good students from public schools that they decine even more in quality of education and the educational experience. Eventually they reach the point, the “libertarians” hope, that public schools will either be closed entirely or will be relegated to trying to educate the poorest of the poor. Then the rest of us can go to our good schools.

  44. #44 mark
    April 20, 2006

    The phrase is “theistic science”, not “theocratic science”.
    Oops, I thought that looked wrong when I reread it. I agree with you, Ed, that there is a significant difference between the movement to put a little God in science )like Johnson would like to do) and claiming that democracy is heresy and a new government based on Leviticus is called for (like the late Rushdooney wrote). But I think if the theistic science advocates got their way, it might make it easier for the real theocrats to make gains. I seriously doubt a true theocracy can establish itself in America; but I wouldn’t be surprised at numerous minor “theocratic-ish” developments, if only temporary.

  45. #45 Ed Brayton
    April 20, 2006

    Mark Paris wrote:

    Things like vouchers are part of a right-wing (self identified as “libertarian”) effort to destroy public schools, which they call “government schools.” The idea is that you drain enough money and good students from public schools that they decine even more in quality of education and the educational experience. Eventually they reach the point, the “libertarians” hope, that public schools will either be closed entirely or will be relegated to trying to educate the poorest of the poor. Then the rest of us can go to our good schools.

    Yep, you caught me. I’m just a right winger out to destroy the quality of education in America. I don’t just have a different idea of how to go about improving educational opportunities, I actually am motivated by that evil goal. You’re surely right to put the word ‘libertarian’ in scare quotes. What could be scarier than me? (/sarcasm)

  46. #46 Chance
    April 20, 2006

    Not wanting to enter into the voucher debate, as it is a routine conversation for me of late, I don’t see vouchers in any way improving education and for the most part have seen nothing from the majority of private schools in my area that indicates a single penny should be drawn away from the public schools.

    Now from a freedom standpoint I think proponents have a point of view that has merit. From an educational standpoint I don’t think they do.

  47. #47 dkew
    April 20, 2006

    My polite post yesterday was refused without explanation, and the alleged email address bounces mail, so it’s time to remove my links to Dispatches. As if anyone cares.
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  48. #48 Ed Brayton
    April 20, 2006

    My polite post yesterday was refused without explanation, and the alleged email address bounces mail, so it’s time to remove my links to Dispatches.

    Or you can just let me know a comment went into the moderation queue and I can make sure it gets published. I can’t imagine why that comment was put into moderation, there are no links in it or anything, but I don’t get notified when a comment is moderated, nor do I know much of anything about the spam controls. I use typekey specifically to avoid spam without having to tinker with all those controls. As for the email address, I receive mail to ebrayton@crystalauto.com all day long every day and yesterday was no exception.

  49. #49 Ed Brayton
    April 20, 2006

    Chance wrote:

    Not wanting to enter into the voucher debate, as it is a routine conversation for me of late, I don’t see vouchers in any way improving education and for the most part have seen nothing from the majority of private schools in my area that indicates a single penny should be drawn away from the public schools.

    I have no problem with anyone disagreeing with me on vouchers or private schools. Reasonable people can disagree. But I do have a problem with being told that I’m a member of a “right wing” conspiracy to destroy education for some nefarious purpose. That’s just a simple way to dismiss an idea without actually engaging the arguments made for it, by applying a label to the person advocating it and foisting an evil motivation on them. It’s essentially the argumentum ad labelum argument all over again – “I’ve labeled your argument ‘right-wing’ and therefore I’ve defeated it.” I find it particularly funny when it’s engaged in by people who laugh along with me when the same argument is made by those on the right in any other context, then they turn around and use it on me.

  50. #50 Chance
    April 20, 2006

    I agree ED your not part of a ‘right wing’ conspiracy.:-) Thats actually pretty funny to your daily readers.

    But I disagree with your voucher stance.

  51. #51 nicole
    April 20, 2006

    Well, I didn’t think people had implied the only reason to be pro-voucher was a right-wing conspiracy, but some people do fall into that category.

    I’m curious though, Ed, how do you reconcile giving all that public money to religious organizations?

  52. #52 shargash
    April 20, 2006

    Being a theocracy isn’t like being pregnant — you can be a partly a theocracy.

    To me it is clear that there are theocratic pressures in our society. Because individual agenda items of the pure theocrats are agreeable to many people who are weakly theocratic (or even non-religious) — outlawing homosexuality, for example — we will see one theocratic item after another advanced politically.

    Some will pass, some will not. We are already part of the way there. We will not, I hope, wind up as a pure Mosaic (Pauline is a better term, I think) theocracy. Nor will we wind up as a purely rational secular society, more’s the pity. We will wind up somewhere in between. Whether we are 10% a theocracy or 80% a theocracy will depend on a lot of factors, including how hard we fight against the theocrats.

    In any case, I think it is a serious mistake to underestimate theocratic pressures.

    As an aside, the theocratic pressures are only the political manifestation of a push on the part of the Christian right to impose a characteristically Christian world view on America (and the world). In politics they push for religious laws. In science they push for Biblical literalism. In foreign policy they push for defense of Israel and war on Islam, and against family planning in the UN. In the media they push for “family-friendly” programming. It is a broad-spectrum assault that I believe is very serious and threatening.

  53. #53 Ed Brayton
    April 20, 2006

    shargash wrote:

    To me it is clear that there are theocratic pressures in our society. Because individual agenda items of the pure theocrats are agreeable to many people who are weakly theocratic (or even non-religious) — outlawing homosexuality, for example — we will see one theocratic item after another advanced politically.

    On the specific question of outlawing homosexuality, that day is gone and is highly unlikely to return. We’ve advanced beyond that point in the debate, the other side lost and that genie isn’t going back in the bottle. It’s now only the lunatic fringe of actual reconstructionists who would outlaw homosexuality. Even the Falwell/Dobson types wouldn’t go that far now. 2/3 of the country now supports civil unions in one form or another. It’s too late to go back to sodomy laws.

    In fact, I think if we’re honest we have to recognize that, by any measure, we are a less theocratic society now than we have ever been. The days of forced prayer in schools, forced bible reading, anti-sodomy laws and the like are over. Within many of our lifetimes, as late as 45 years ago, it was still illegal to teach evolution in public schools in many states. Now it is illegal not to teach it and illegal to teach creationism (as it should be, in both cases). It was still legal to force students to pray and to read the Bible in schools. Now those things are gone and they’re not coming back. The religious right is more motivated than ever by those losses, but so much has been achieved on those fronts that they are struggling just to get a tiny measure of what they lost back again. They have been reduced to just asking for a “moment of silence” or for the “arguments against evolution” to be taught along with evolution because they have zero chance of getting anything further.

    Yes, there are concerns out there. We should be especially vigilant when it comes to the courts, but even there I see no reason to believe that John Roberts or Samuel Alito would overturn Engel or Epperson or any of the big church/state decisions. They might revisit Lemon and tinker around the edges, but I can’t imagine they’re going to overturn the core of the post-Everson cases and turn back the clock much. So while I think it’s important to continue to fight against the agenda of the religious right, we also shouldn’t exaggerate the threat they pose. There is no doubt that the momentum is on our side here, that we’ve won all the major battles and that the other side has been reduced, at least in terms of reasonable and attainable goals, to just trying to protect the last vestiges of accomodationism in the form of ten commandments displays and nativity scenes. And that’s a long way from theocracy.

  54. #54 dogmeatIB
    April 20, 2006

    Ed,

    I wouldn’t consider you part of a “right-wing conspiracy.” There are plenty of people who honestly want to improve education and believe that voucher schools are a route towards such an improvement.

    My own personal take on it is similar to one of the above posts. Vouchers, or “school-choice,” are simply a method to pull funding out of already underfunded (and by a VAST majority) urban schools. The voucher schools have been able to, for the most part:

    1)Select which children they want to accept (this is the actual “choice” in the program). This means they can avoid accepting students with special needs, LD/ED, ADHD/ADD, and those with serious physical handicaps. They can also cherry pick the regular ed kids that they want.

    -avoid having to prove they are better, comparable, or worse than the local public schools. In many areas where charter and voucher schools are “competing” with the public schools, they are exempt from local tests.

    So what you often get is a program that is allowed to pick their kids and STILL doesn’t feel confident enough to “prove” that they’re doing a better job than the public schools.

    Finally the voucher and charter schools are very detrimental to the teaching profession. Many of the states that are embracing the charter/voucher movement have few if any provisions in place requiring the administration and faculty of these schools to possess credentials. Independent, impartial reports about these schools have found examples of “instruction” that included downloaded worksheets that had nothing to do with state standards, field trips to McDonalds, classrooms that were nothing more than daycare centers with no instruction going on at all, and administrators for whom their “school” was a second job. In Milwaukee they had some schools that they couldn’t find, schools that had 40-50% truancy rates, and schools that reported students who didn’t attend fraudulently.

    These examples don’t represent all voucher schools or charter schools, in fact many of the established religious schools who accept voucher kids are excellent institutions. The problem is that most of these schools filled up almost immediately after the programs began leading to scam artists and fly-by-night operations that well meaning parents think will teach their kids but instead simply babysit them. Even with the religious schools there are issues. First, pay for faculty at those schools is WAY below the average in the field which most experts consider to be below the job expectations and requirements to begin with. Second, they still get to cherry pick their kids. Third, it is still an indirect way of funding religious institutions and while constitutional, questionable under the 1st amendment/establishment clause. It passes 2/3 of the lemon test, that 3rd 3rd is open to debate.

    Finally, while most of the religious schools that accept voucher kids follow something approaching state standards, they aren’t generally required to. They also, as religious institutions, are generally understood to have a certain frame of mind when it comes to science. Thus by supporting vouchers and charter schools, money goes to schools that can rather easily gut (or eliminate) science standards, especially evolution.

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