[SOBRAN’S THE REAL NEWS OF THE MONTH, February 1999] — I grew up in a theocracy. I didn’t
realize it as a boy; in fact I never heard it described that way. The only reason I now know it was a theocracy is that people who want to
restore the America of the Fifties — anti-abortion Catholics, the “Christian Right” — are accused of wanting to
establish a theocracy.
I remember growing up in the quiet little city of Ypsilanti, Michigan. In my teens I joined the Catholic Church. My family lived near St. John
the Baptist Catholic Church, and some of my happiest memories are of walking over to the rectory any time I had a question about the Faith. Father
Leo Broderick, a kind young priest with a wonderful sense of humor, always welcomed me, answered my questions fully, chatted pleasantly, and sent
me home with a book or two from his library. Mine was a blessed life, and I didn’t even suspect we were being un-American.
In those days religion had high prestige in America. It seems comical that Protestants actually feared
that the Kennedys would take orders from the Pope, but that really shows how seriously people took religion in those days. I’ll bet that many
Protestants now wish the Kennedys would listen to the Pope.
It seems comical that Protestants actually feared that the Kennedys would
take orders from the Pope, ... I’ll bet that many Protestants now wish the Kennedys would listen to the Pope.
What’s wrong with theocracy? Well, it violates the separation of church and state, which of course is holy. Other than that, we are never
really told, because the sort of people who use the word don’t know what they mean by it. There are some words (“parameters,”
for instance) that are specially favored by those who don’t trouble themselves much about definitions.
When conversing with such people, you have to beware of assuming that they intend the word to mean what good dictionaries say it means.
More people die in traffic accidents every year than were killed by the Spanish
Inquisition over three centuries.
Theocracy is rule by the clergy. But that’s not what today’s anti-theocrats mean;
they mean politics dominated by religion, even if the domination is purely democratic and consistent with the Constitution. They have vague but lurid
mental images of the Spanish Inquisition and the Salem witch trials, of which they know little but to which they constantly refer.
(In the old story we learned in school, the “Pilgrims” came to America to flee religious persecution and made friends with the Indians,
bequeathing us a heritage of freedom; in the new version, the “Puritans” persecuted women and minorities and imposed their morals on everyone
else, bequeathing us sexual repression.)
A sense of proportion is in order. More people die in traffic accidents every year than were killed by the Spanish Inquisition over three
centuries. It isn’t even close. A fair estimate is that the Inquisition executed a grand total of 5,000 people. The Salem trials killed fewer
than are murdered in any big American city in a month. Fewer, in fact, than have been killed by bombings ordered by Bill Clinton.
The reason is simple: these were Christian, if not “theocratic,” proceedings.
Each of those killed received a personal trial. The results may be regrettable, but they weren’t killed en masse like the victims of modern
totalitarianism or modern warfare.
The outcry against theocracy is really a hysterical warning against any religious
influence in politics. It comes from people who don’t want human law controlled by any higher law...
Since Christianity teaches individual responsibility, even the innocent victims of Christian judicial proceedings had to be killed separately.
And if anti-Christian polemics can’t find anything worse than these two abuses over 2,000 years, Christianity’s historical record
would seem to warrant some respect. Let’s hear it for theocracy!
The outcry against theocracy is really a hysterical warning against any religious influence in politics. It comes from people who don’t want
human law controlled by any higher law, either divinely revealed law or what Catholics call Natural Law (though pagans like Cicero have also
The “separation of church and state” has been twisted to mean total
secularization: whenever the state claims authority over an area of activity, such as education, religion must depart from it.
By the standards of such people, the Declaration of Independence is theocratic too. It appeals to “Nature
and Nature’s God” and names the “Creator” as the author of our rights, the first of which, of course, is the right
But the “separation of church and state” has been twisted to mean total secularization: whenever the state claims authority over an area of
activity, such as education, religion must depart from it. If the federal government decides that the humanity of a human fetus is a “religious”
or “theological” question, it forces the states to withdraw their protection from the unborn child.
The godless states of the twentieth century have been notable in their common contempt for human life, deeming millions of deaths a small price to pay
for utopia and human “liberation” - which is really the liberation of rulers from higher law. One of these godless states is the current
regime of the United States of America, which has effectively repudiated the principles of the Declaration and the Constitution while pretending to
Copyright © 2016 by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved.
“Two Cheers for Theocracy” by Joe Sobran was published originally in the February 1999 edition of SOBRAN’S THE REAL NEWS OF THE MONTH.
You can read this and 116 other Sobran columns in the latest collection of his essays titled, Subtracting Christianity: Essays on American Culture and Society (FGF Books, 2015).
Joe Sobran (1946-2010), an author, journalist, and speaker, was a syndicated columnist for over 35 years.
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