So What’s Wrong With Violent Theocracy?
“Pastor” Wilson of Christ Church challenges Harris, the author of Letter to a Christian Nation which is apparently ranked number 21 on Amazon. Wilson sounds a little bit nervous, or perhaps this is just the unusual lack of chainsaw blaring and rude remarks. The kind of criticism secularists are mounting against Christian fundamentalism seems to be turning in the same direction as we are turning here in the Wood as far as I can tell—towards the problem of irrational and violent responses from conservative Christians who apparently feel threatened as their personality cults are called into question by the educational “establishment.” It is surely ironic that the author of the Serrated Edge would present himself as the Christian apologist to “defend” the faith against this book; in the Serrated Edge, Wilson claims sociological violence to be an inescapable cultural norm, with the good guys persecuting the heretics—whether or not the good guys are really the good Christian guys or not.
The reason a started writing this short post, was because of how well Wilson revealed his own understanding of what it is to be a religious human being. Wilson’s apologetics are not only going to be unsuccessful, they will no doubt prove Harris’ point to Harris’ sympathetic readers (not that they will be reading Wilson though). Wilson writes:
You want Christians to quit behaving in certain ways. But why? You want them to write nice letters, and you want them to stop turning America into a big, dumb theocracy. But why? If there is no God, what could possibly be wrong with theocracies? They provide high entertainment value, and they give everybody involved in them a sense of dignity and high moral purpose. You get to wear ecclesiastical robes, march in impressive processions to burn intransigent people at the stake, you get to believe you are better than everybody else, and, at the top of the doctrinal heap, that God likes you. Further, the material universe doesn’t care about any of this foolishness, not even a little bit. So what’s wrong with having a little bit of fun at the expense of other bits of protoplasm?
So what could possibly be wrong with theocracies? And what do we mean by theocracies? Well, what else but those places where priests can burn intransigent people at the stake, those places where the holy elite, the priesthood, knows with cogency that they are better than everybody else? Wilson here has revealed his hand fully. There is no such thing as man with natural imprint of dignity, the humanitarian man, that social creature who feels, thinks, and acts according to innate universals of passion and empathy. There is no way to take one’s feelings as a man, regardless of your origin, and empathize with your fellow social creature. Harris wants humans to be non-violent, empathetic, corporative social comrades; but all Wilson can do is ask “why?” Why would Harris “want” Christians to be kind, humble, rational, and merciful? Why would Harris not want the next arrogant theocracy to bloom in the soil of pluralistic America? Wilson concludes that Harris has no ‘reason’ at all. Supposedly, Harris is entirely incoherent; supposedly, Harris is offering us a meaningless plea if he cannot “ground” such a “want” on some kind of foundational, fixed, Will of God, some authoritative Archimedean point – Mosaic maxims and all. Perhaps Harris fails to offer us a delightful and fully worked out theory of moral responsibility and our natural, social and emotional aversion to violence; but it seems clear that Wilson has offered us nothing better. And all evidence so far suggests that Wilson has offered us something altogether worse. Perhaps Harris wants Christians to be nice for the same reason he feels the way he does when he hears of this true narrative:
A young Muslim mother in Bosnia was repeatedly raped in front of her husband and father, with her baby screaming on the floor beside her. When her tormentors seemed finally tired of her, she begged permission to nurse the child. In response, one of the rapists swiftly decapitated the baby and threw the head in the mother’s lap. (Plantinga cited this in WCB 2000)
This offers Harris a reason for writing a book; it apparently doesn’t offer Wilson one. Should we be worried about this fact? I think so. This reminds me of Bahnsen’s handling of the problem of evil; Bahnsen at least tipped his hat to the real problem the way Wilson never has, but he concludes: oh, no problem; we wouldn’t have rational justification for objective and timeless moral claims about the evil we experience if it were not for the propositional presuppositions about the Christian God. We don’t have rational justification for moral claims without presupposing the Christian God, so therefore there is no problem of evil for the non-Christian. Ya. That sounds convincing. Solved that problem! Unfortunately, not many human beings out there care about a philosophical justification for moral propositions; must of them do care, however, about getting raped and having their baby’s head cut off.
Thus, Wilson simply helps prove Harris’ worry and illuminates for us just what is so dangerous about the theonomic stance, and perhaps even certain forms of fundamentalism in America. Wilson’s enemy theology and social proposal of inevitable violence helps remove any remaining elements of human compassion, natural love, and emotional empathy. What people “want” reduces to “morality,” morality reduces to “right and wrong,” and right and wrong reduce to axiomatic authority and power. This just is one face of the theonomists timeless approach to “law.” God wills it! The priestly rhetoric to power can certainly be turned into the justification for action for the Christian Knight.