Our theocracyDAVID WARREN
What makes our own society unique, is not its freedom from religion but rather the peculiar nature of the religion upon which our theocracy rests.
My last two provisional titles were, Wrestling with Islam (bits and pieces of which appeared here and there), and Christ the King (partially dispersed in several public "talks"). From those alone, my reader may have some idea how much trouble I could have gotten myself into. Better to make one tiny point at a time, serially, the way journalists do, then instead of gathering, cast them to the winds. Better, I guess, if one must write books, and have the sort of things to say that I treat with, to put them into "literary" novels, or verse. Poets are not prosecuted in our society, for heresies against the prevailing world view, because everybody knows that nobody reads them.
Back in another century (the 20th), I hit upon another device, for achieving ineffectuality. It was to edit a "literary" magazine, and see if I could goad others into saying what I thought needed to be said. Then myself contributing glossing and parenthetical remarks, under a variety of pseudonyms. The magazine in question was entitled The Idler, and lasted about a decade, until market forces killed it off. Were it relaunched today, I think human rights commissions might kill it faster.
The trouble that can come, to those who express ideas heretical to the established religion – whether it is Islam in Riyadh, Buddhism in Bangkok, or the nameless "zero-tolerance secular-agnostic posthumanism" in Ottawa – does not come from picking on minorities. It comes, instead, from picking on majorities: from causing an affront not only to the matrons and patrons of the governing creed, but beyond them to the mass of people who are perfectly contented that they should rule, and set standards for what is publicly acceptable.
In a brilliant, and fortunately little-read essay, entitled, Are NonTheocratic Regimes Possible? – published five years ago in the harmless Intercollegiate Review – the penetrating French Arabicist and philosopher Rmi Brague dealt with the issue I have unwisely raised. It is that every human society, from the most primitive to the most outwardly sophisticated, accepts a doctrinal order, and a cosmology to explain it. Therefore, the answer to that surprising question might well be: No.
As Brague admitted, "theocracy" has become, in the West, a term of abuse merely, to be hurled at regimes like Iran's, or less formally, at people like evangelical Christians who insist that their own most deeply held and cherished beliefs should sometimes be allowed to guide their conduct. It is taken to connote government by some class of priests or religious elders. It is assumed to exclude all "enlightened" polities, from which religious beliefs and ideals are methodically excluded.
I go only slightly beyond Brague in observing that what makes our own society unique, is not its freedom from religion but rather the peculiar nature of the religion upon which our theocracy rests. That is to say, we have an upside-down religion, in which there is no God, but that "Not God" commands an obedience more absolute than God ever required, stipulating everything from the sanctity of antinomian sexual behaviour, down to how we should sort our garbage.
It rides upon an inexhaustible series of mildly fluctuating, but invariably self-contradictory moral and epistemological premises (or more precisely, conceits); and because everything is "relative," nothing may be challenged. It is, as the lively Ann Coulter has suggested, a religion for which an extremely arid Darwinist materialism provides the founding cosmological myth. And abortion is its principal sacrament.
Or to put it another way, a religion that is not going to last forever, but has nevertheless been growing at an accelerating pace for more than 200 years. Moreover, a religion not without some real appeal, to a society of nearly pure consumers.
For while the great majority today implicitly accept the old, frankly religious maxim, "that you are dust, and to dust you will return," they find any other maxim irritating and bothersome. Unless it is the corollary: "You must seek pleasure, and avoid pain."
In that Idler magazine, I once commissioned an essay from the estimable Eric McLuhan, expounding the philosophy of Peter Pan. It was a subject I even began drafting a book upon, myself: about the ease with which people may be ruled, once the faith of Peter Pan has been accepted. According to that faith, those who age will die. The secret of immortality is thus to remain perpetually a child, wishing perpetually upon a star. It requires some Nanny, to fulfil all the wishes.
Hence, our theocracy.
David Warren. "Our theocracy." Ottawa Citizen (March 6, 2011).
This article reprinted with permission from David Warren.
David Warren, once editor of the Idler Magazine, is widely travelled – especially in the Middle and Far East. He has been writing for the Ottawa Citizen since 1996. His commentaries on international affairs appear Wednesdays & Saturdays; on Sundays he writes a general essay on the editorial page. Read more from David Warren at David Warren Online.
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