Advantages & Disadvantages of a Theocracy

Written by shannon stoney
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Advantages & Disadvantages of a Theocracy
Theocracies often severely restrict the personal freedoms of their citizens, particularly women. (Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

There are only a few truly theocratic states in the world, as of 2011; these include Saudi Arabia, Vatican City and Iran. Some would say that Israel is a theocratic state. In the past, Tibet and Afghanistan were theocratic states. These nations could be said to be more unified than those in which church and state are separate, but the citizens of theocratic states give up many freedoms.

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What is a Theocratic State?

A theocratic state is one in which the civil leaders are also leaders of a dominant religion. The state apparatus is guided by clergy of the dominant religion, and these clergy claim to be divinely guided and inspired. Thus, the deity or deities of the religion act as head of state. This theocracy can have two arms---a church and a state---but the state arm must always be subservient to the church.

Advantages of a Theocratic State

In the modern world, theocratic states are thought to be less evolved and more backward than a modern democracy. However, certain advantages accrue in theocratic states: with God as the ultimate head of state, the government can command more loyalty from the citizens. Also, the citizenry is likely to be more united and less fractious than in a democracy. Everyone, at least on the surface, agrees that the law should be based on divine law, such as the Torah in Judaism, or the Koran in Islam. Theocratic states can be quite formidable in war, as when Iran was able to muster millions of young men in its war against Iraq by promising a heavenly reward to the "martyrs" killed in that war. The wars of a theocratic state are all holy wars, and thus the soldiers may feel more inspired to fight fiercely and may have less fear of death.

Disadvantages of Theocracies

Most modern humans would say that the disadvantages of theocracies outweigh their advantages. There is much less freedom and fewer civil liberties in a theocratic state than in a state that separates church and state. For example, in a theocratic state, a person with a different religion from the dominant one may be persecuted or even killed. The laws may not be based on logic or fairness, but on the words of an ancient book, and they are not debatable and cannot be easily changed. Many theocratic states restrict the freedom of women, especially in the case of Islamic states. Freedom of speech is severely restricted, and it is difficult to mount a successful challenge to the state when people believe that you would be fighting against God himself.

Separation of Church and State

Because of the many disadvantages of theocracy, modern states usually separate church and state, even if there is still a state-sponsored religion. For example, the Anglican Church is the state religion of Great Britain, but belonging to the Anglican Church is not compulsory, and other religions flourish in Great Britain. In the United States, there is no official state religion, and the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from favouring one religion over another. This provides the citizens with the freedom to follow any religion, and it prevents the government from teaching any religion in state schools. This is part of the post-Enlightenment trend in Western society toward secularism.

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