(First published on Urban Times on 20th Jul 2011)
Theocracies are under fire. Why? Because they deserve it. They are chiefly inflexible belief systems that claim the path to righteousness and absolution via the words of their scriptures, via the decrees of their prophets and holy men. Be you a non-this or a non-that and, in their eyes, you are considered unworthy, unfit, impure, illegitimate.
The above statement may sound stereotypical or far-fetched. But a trip round most theocratic countries or territories says otherwise. Going to these places and paying attention to what is being said, what their populations are being taught and made to believe by their religious figures, paints a disturbing picture. Forget the liberal pockets of theocratically-inclined religions here and there, in certain parts of open society, they are very few and far between; their secularly-oriented and broadminded subscribers constitute only a tiny portion of their given cultures. Beyond that, believers of religions that work as theocracies across the board are, in their majority, going by the words of their leaders and their minions – words that are neither flattering nor favorable toward those not like them, not because religions are bad per se, but because most religious figureheads have become corrupted.
The terms most theocrats use to rally their people against outsiders and make them feel morally and righteously superior to them vary, but they have one common characteristic: prejudice and discrimination; like kaffir once did in South Africa, like nigger did in America, and jude in Germany. Born out of secular totalitarian regimes – or bigoted communities – these terms were designed to separate the righteous from the “trash,” creating a pure society of “Aryans”.
They call it dehumanization, one of bigotry’s favorite methods.
Theocracies practice the same racist tactics, trying to demean and undermine all those who don’t subscribe to their religion. The terms they use to describe outsiders are supremely dehumanizing, harboring fear, loathing, disgust, intolerance, ignorance, and moral righteousness over others, branding them with all kinds of foul labels, conveying an unwillingness to see people for what they are, as human beings, and casting them out of what they consider acceptable society – as if they were the gatekeepers to righteousness and the rest of the world lepers.
The cause to the problem is ideology. Some people just don’t like others, period, and they are sanctimonious about it. It’s not about faith per se, but about what kind of faith. Some theocracies indeed consider people of faith better than people of no faith – which is poor consolation in and of itself – but beyond that, there is deep animosity between certain believers. There are scores to settle between rival religions, making each side place the other at the bottom of the pile, even below the impious and unfaithful ones.
Then again, many religious fanatics and zealots don’t care either way. Religious or infidel, it doesn’t matter, outsiders are all unworthy and unfit to mingle with. Segregation must take place as far as they are concerned, if not in body, then in spirit and principle, to create a pure and righteous society.
“My Belief Is Better Than Yours”
Theocracies are, in general terms and effect, nothing more and nothing less than intolerant, obstinate organizations. Their hierarchical structures are such, and the power their agents wield so total, that they are habitually twisted and turned into belief systems that work on self-righteousness and divine racism.
How does it work? in a nutshell, blind faith is pushed through the agenda systematically, slowly taking over. No one is allowed to challenge the word of their deity or its emissaries – they are above everyone, immune to all review and criticism, save the deity’s. Only he/she/it can pass judgment and make claims on what is right and wrong.
It is an all too familiar and dangerous scenario, one we have unfortunately dealt with before. Totalitarianism in new guise, expressing itself in the form of reverse religious persecution, whereby instead of people being punished for believing in a specific god, we have people being looked down upon for not believing in a specific god. It is a setup through which fanatics teach their followers how superior they are to everyone else.
Allowing this scenario to play out is not an option. We have challenged, criticized, castigated and defeated all belief systems that tried to claim supremacy over others, no matter their creed – especially when those claims were based on divine right or totalitarian demands. From Absolute Monarchy to the Church, to Nazism and Communism, whenever a creed rose up in an attempt to rule over individuals by claim to absolute righteousness, turning out the lights and bringing darkness to human affairs, it was beaten down and ousted like the monstrosity it was. Society has no place for ignorant dictatorships. The only thing fit to reign supreme is knowledge.
The age of science and information has granted society a critical mind. Much of the “anti-religion” polemic so prevalent in this day and age comes from atheists, agnostics and other people of non-religious or idiosyncratic disposition. Some of these people are very radical indeed – almost extremist and intolerant in their views and attitudes toward religious people on the whole – but most of them are reasonable and right on the money. Their criticism of religious dogma is superb and valuable. Being critical does not earn them many friends but it clears the ludicrous and insane from the picture – unless you’re Jon Stewart, in which case you can do both, and make people laugh at the same time.
Whatever the case, the scathing arguments and polemic actions of these critics are doing humanity a service. They strike at the heart of the unreasonable parts of religious dogmatism, without reservation, ridding the world from outrageous claims to divinity. No belief system, whatever its standing and no matter how fearsome or populous it is, can ever get be allowed to get away with folly, just because it claims to be divinely guided.
Some people feel that this critical approach has gone too far. Followers of religions that work like theocracies are unfairly targeted across the board, in ways that are neither fair nor functional, goes the argument.
They may be right. Many religious people are getting a bad name from extremists’ acts, who, in the name of perverted faith, give everyone in said religions a bad name, resulting in harsh judgment from the rest of the world. It makes them feel targeted, stereotyped against and persecuted, rendering them disinclined to align themselves to open society and unwilling to embrace universal values based on human rights, as opposed to their deity’s commands.
It is a point to consider. If we, as humanity in the greater era of global openness, want to shave the extremist and intolerant edge off theocracies in our effort to be rid of all righteous dogma, both religious and secular, making it possible to integrate deeply religious people to open society, we have to bear in mind how these people view things. We have to understand that it is difficult to woo individuals over, toward universal values, when they consider themselves to be under attack – even though that attack is not personal and has been targeting the preposterous aspects of all totalitarian creeds for some time now. Religious and indoctrinated people don’t know that, they don’t care. They just feel discriminated against.
Which is why we must foment change from within. Theocracies must be exposed to knowledge so that their own subjects may begin to open their minds to it. Only then will they rise to the challenge and put their given dogma under the lens, neutralizing the stranglehold it has over them – cutting it down – ousting its corrupt figureheads – opening their faith up – reforming and liberalizing their religion – bringing it in line with the times, with current fact and knowledge. If we really want to curb intolerant theocracy and the vicious and self-righteous agents exploiting it, we ought to guide that change and help people rise up against oppression by promoting open debate and research.
Part of this debate and research involves neutralizing all claims to divine right, infallibility, righteousness, holy war, violence, control through fear and terror, abuse of multiculturalism, censorship in the name of multiculturalism, censorship in the name of God or other deity, intolerance in the name of tolerance gone awry. All these issues have to be addressed, thoroughly and with conviction, if the preposterous parts of all religions are to be shaved away from everyday affairs so that their subjects may turn into citizens and take their place among the rest of the cultures of the world. Let common sense guide the way.
With that in mind, and without further delay, let the dismantling of theocracy, blind faith, and divine racism intensify.