What is a Theocracy?

A theocracy is a form of government in which one person or a group of people rules in the name of a deity or god (or multiple deities and/or gods). In most theocracies, government officials are considered divinely guided, and most laws are derived from sacred texts and religious teachings. Though it is ancient in origin, this form of government is still prevalent in some parts of the world.

History of Theocracies

Theocracies have changed over time as religions themselves have changed. However, multiple ancient societies are recorded as having been theocracies. For example, ancient emperors in multiple kingdoms across the world were considered to be extensions of gods themselves, predestined to rule. Then in the Dark Ages of Europe, bishops often ruled in the absence of “true monarchs”, using religious teachings as law of the land. In the Middle Ages, multiple kings came forward claiming a divine right to the throne.

It is also worth mentioning that it wasn’t until 1924 that Chinese emperors were no longer considered to have heavenly powers. Many Asian governments have been influenced by their religious histories but are not currently theocracies.

Comparisons with Other Forms of Government

A theocracy is different from other forms of government (namely republics and democracies) that make it a point to not be guided by religion. For example, the United States government observes no particular religion in order to allow individual citizens religious freedom. The Pledge of Allegiance does say “One nation, under God”, but this was added in 1954 and has been attributed to everything from a knee-jerk response to Communism to corporations wanting the public to believe they were “blessed”. It does not necessarily indicate the government observes any particular god.

It is also worth noting that theocracies greatly differ from governments that have a state religion or are religiously affiliated. For example, monarchs in the United Kingdom have a long history of practicing Christianity. However, the government itself does not make laws according to the Bible, nor does it view its officials as divinely guided or chosen.

Modern Theocracies

Vatican City is the most famous Christian theocracy, with the Pope as the head of state and voting limited to bishops. Numerous Islamic theocracies also exist, such as Afghanistan, Mauritania, Yemen, Iran and Somalia, where the Islamic teachings of “Sharia” are considered law. Saudi Arabia is another example, going so far as to have “religious police” that ensures compliance among citizens.

 

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