CUNY philosophy professor Peter Simpson returns to follow up on his November 29th interview “Why Theocracy Is Better than Secular Liberalism.” Tonight we continue that conversation, and compare Christian and Islamic approaches to theocracy.
Contrary to popular stereotypes, theocracy is not religious tyranny. Instead, it is a system in which a spiritual authority exists alongside secular authority. Peter Simpson explains:
“The important thing about theocracy…is that there has to be, and there is in these three great religions (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) a spiritual authority that has some real say and control over what goes on in society, and that can condemn, even depose, a given secular ruler. So Popes, for instance, would claim the right to depose kings; just as imams would depose sultans, if the sultan or the king or whoever it was behaved in an egregiously immoral way. And the imams and the bishops or whoever it might be were charged principally with the care of, as we say in Christianity, faith and morals.”
“If you have a spiritual authority alongside the political authority, a spiritual authority really is an authority, what it says makes a difference, and the spiritual authority can depose the political ruler—if you have a spiritual authority like that, it functions as a significant check on what the political ruler can do, and expects to do, and will be allowed to do by common opinion and expectation. So kings in the medieval world were subject in certain ways to the Pope. And because of that fact people expected kings to honor the spiritual authority. And if a given king did not, it often led to problems. So oddly enough, the spiritual power, existing and having real power, was a check on tyranny, because it prevented the political ruler from doing whatever it wanted regardless. Once you removed any such spiritual authority—and of course liberalism does, it has each individual pursuing their particular desire, subject to the proviso that they don’t interfere with anybody else’s, and for that reason you need a political authority to keep control so that those who are tempted to do more than they should can be prevented—once you have that situation in place you only have one authority left, which is the political authority. And we all know from history, even from ourselves, how much we are tempted to take more of what we think is good than we should have, but not more than we could get if we tried hard enough to get it.”-Peter Simpson