Secular Theocracies

The Secular Values of Our Day Amount to Religion by a Different Name

In a recent online exchange, I responded to a comment about human nature and history. I suggested that a study of history forces acknowledgment of our fallen nature, and I said that salvation through Jesus is “The theological solution,” capitalizing the “T” intentionally. I thought the response was rather innocuous, and so I was surprised when someone raised the question of whether I was proposing a “theocracy.”

Was I? Consider the following:

The New York Times has promoted the idea of a threat to democracy from Christian theocratic mindsets. “Fringe” Bible-believing groups seeking “power” are labeled “conspiracy theorists and far-right activists.” The Christian groups critiqued are said not to advocate “theocracy,” yet the impression left for the reader implies otherwise. Elizabeth Dias in her Times essay “The Far-Right Christian Quest for Power” suggests Christianity in America is in decline while “pluralist and secular values have risen.”

The Washington Post and Jennifer Rubin put the problem in stark terms, saying, “Theocracy has infected the high court.” The phrase “pluralistic democracy” is the rallying cry for those who believe Christian thought has adversely impacted decisions on education, especially with respect to a ruling based on a tuition assistance case in Maine. In the Post’s words, “The right-wing justices” have an “increasing affinity for the views of Christian nationalists.” The perspective of the Post is obvious: arguments from progressive Justices Breyer and Sotomayor in the article are given extensive coverage, while “right-wing” Justice Roberts’s brief comment is labeled an “assertion.”

University of Pennsylvania law professor Marci Hamilton, interviewed by National Public Radio, concurred with a critique of the Supreme Court’s Maine decision saying that the court has "a more theocratic than secular viewpoint." Nina Totenberg’s NPR segment cited the 6-3 vote as one that fell along “ideological lines.”

In another NPR report Tim Whitaker of The New Evangelicals says white Evangelicals “reject pluralism – completely,” adding that some on the “Christian right” are committed to “theocracy.” The same NPR report said that Robert Jones, CEO and founder of the Public Religion Research Institute, “sees the Christian Right beginning to part with democratic norms.”

The online question about whether I was advocating for a “theocracy” makes perfect sense, considering these perceptions promoted by majority media outlets. But notice the predominant word choices of the alternative “ideological lines”: democracy, pluralism, and secular. These are assumed to be acceptable ideologies, but they are really replacement gods.

The call for atheists to speak out against “the looming threat of theocracy” asserts that, “What we need — and what our Constitution conveniently provides for — is freedom from all gods,” but what it really asserts is the replacement of any supernatural god with the natural gods of humanism, agnosticism, atheism, and generic unbelief. As Neil Gaiman tells us in novel form, American Gods exist.

Everyone Has a Theology

For my part, I flipped the conversation this way,

In this world there are many theocracies. As I'm sure you've heard me say or seen me write, "everything is theological." China and other so-called “secular” entities have a theocratic quest, so do some Muslim nations, and yes, so do some Christian nationalists.

Everyone has a "theology" even if the humanistic focus is on themselves. It is important to identify that "theocracy" is not simply seen as a Transcendent God's rule but can be appropriated by any potentate seen from ancient to modern times, from the pharaohs of Egypt to the ayatollahs of Iran, from Assyrian tyrants to Communist dictators.

What is meant by, “Everything is theological”? Simply, that everyone believes something. Whatever the belief, an assumption regarding origins means a commitment to a god follows. So, either matter (or the universe, consisting of matter and energy) is eternal, or God is eternal. Either raw, despotic power will be the authority, or standards have been given by a beneficent God. My views of the humanities, economics, justice, politics, or whatever sphere of life is under discussion are influenced by my dedication to a theological worldview that gives overarching direction to my thinking and living. But this is not a proclivity unique to me or to Christians in general. Everyone’s lived life is dictated by their theological perspective, their ultimate authority, their god.

Secularists tell us that it is bad when any religion is imposed on people. I agree. I would add that any time atheism is imposed on people it is really bad. The word “secular” is used to promote a viewpoint contrary to a Christian view, but in most contexts, “secular” is just as much a “religious” concept as Christianity.

Jesus proposed His own theocratic Kingdom. And as He clearly told His followers, “My Kingdom is not of this world.” But there will come a Day when Jesus’ Kingdom is established on earth, in this world; His return will be its progenitor.

Do I subscribe to or promote any kind of human-centered, political “theocracy”? Of course not. And neither do most Christians. My response to the original post was about the historical space-time event of Jesus' incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, and His solution to the human nature problem, namely, in His words, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

All worldviews have a theological foundation for salvation and authority and the human condition and what their future kingdoms look like. The words “pluralism,” “democracy,” or “secular” are not exceptions. They have just as much of a theocratic bent as any major world religion.

has taught junior high school through PhD students over four decades, in both Christian and public education contexts. He has a Master of Theology in Old Testament, PhD in Social Science research, and just finished another Master’s in English. He is a book review editor for Christian Education Journal. Mark has written or contributed to nine curricula and books. He has also authored scores of peer-reviewed journal articles and encyclopedia essays, and maintains online writings at

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