Most people ascribe the governing system in Iran as a theocracy. The titular head of the nation is a supreme leader with theological training (Ayatollah) who should have (or must have) theocratic credentials. There is an implicit connection among Iranians, that if you are religious then you must support the theocracy. And if you support secular forms of government (or constitution) then you MUST NOT be religious. An assault on theocratic leaders is confused as an assault on religion.
There is a BIG difference between religion and theocracy. Religion and theology are two terms that are often confused. Religion is based on personal faiths and convictions when it comes to the receipt of superhuman powers in the form of God or gods that may or may not be shared. On the other hand theology revolves around theistic thought. Theism is the acceptance of God’s presence or superhuman power as it influences nature. Theologians APPLY religious thought among mankind. The very existence of a theologian is the “promote” the application of religion. A society however, can be religious without being theocratic.
Religious thoughts as well as facts should be conventional primarily so that Theology can develop properly. In effect, theology is based on religion. Religion does not deal with sort of rational analysis. On the other hand theology concerned with the rational analysis and application of the faith in and related to religion. Religion has a private component, ultimately belonging to the realm of private (almost personal) beliefs. Theocracy on the other had has a public component, ultimately belonging to communal (almost social) settings.
Western philosophy of religion, as the basic ancestor of modern religious studies, is differentiated from theology and the many Eastern philosophical traditions by generally being written from a third party perspective. Theology stands in contrast to the philosophy of religion and religious studies in that, generally, the scholar is first and foremost a believer employing both logic and scripture as evidence. Theology according to this understanding fits with the definition which Anselm of Canterbury gave to it in the 11th century, credo ut intelligam, or faith seeking understanding (literally, “I believe so that I may understand”). The theologian then has the task of making intelligible or clarifying, the religious commitments to which he or she ascribes and communicating these clarifications. The scholar of religious studies however, has no such allegiances.
The theologian works with the idea of rational evidence and analyzes the religious truths that have been established by religious leaders already and thus provides utility to religion. Note that the theologian can be ‘incorrect’ in his working and analysis of religious truths, while a religion is absolute in the sense that a faith ‘is what it is’. Theologians provide dynamic interpretations (and may disagree with one another); while religion remains relatively static.
It is remarkable to note that both branches of religion and theology have their own leaders. Religious leaders launch religious truths whilst the theological leaders ascertain analytic truths. These are the differences between religion and theology.
Thus it is very possible, indeed the case that someone can be devoutly religious yet disagree with a theologian’s analysis. Theologians are inherently fallible, because in essence they provide analysis – this is important even though many Theologians retain a posture of high dignity and divinity.
Americans actually are generally religious but not dominated by theologians. Personal beliefs are respected without theologians imposing on the rest of society. It is through the individual act of voting that personal moral values are expressed publicly – not through the imposition of moral code via theologians. There is respect for an individual’s beliefs and reasoning. Reasoning is not abdicated to Theologians alone.
A nation can be religious yet not theocratic. In France for example, many Christian holy days are official holidays for the public administration, and teachers in Catholic schools are salaried by the state. For sure the UK is not a theocracy, yet The Church of England is the established state religion of England – though not Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales – with members holding seats in the House of Lords as the Lords Spiritual. Traditionally they do not vote, though the potential is there for direct church involvement in law-making decisions over the entire United Kingdom. Parliament is opened with prayers, in the House of Lords usually led by one of the Lords Spiritual and in the Commons by the Speaker’s chaplain. The full term for the expression of the Crown’s sovereignty via legislation is the Crown-in-Parliament-under-God. At the coronation, The King or Queen is anointed with consecrated oil by the Archbishop of Canterbury in a service at Westminster Abbey and must swear to maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel, maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law and to maintain and preserve inviolable the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England. Thus though the Church of Ireland is no longer established and the Church of England has been disestablished in Wales to the Church in Wales, the Crown is still bound to protect Protestantism in general in the whole of the United Kingdom by the Coronation Oath and the Bill of Rights, and to protect the Church of Scotland by the Act of Union. All Members of Parliament must take an oath of allegiance to the Queen upon taking their seat, swearing by almighty god. However there is the option of using the alternative oath, still with the allegiance to the Queen, however with no reference to God and no requirement to put their hand on a Holy Bible. The majority of Members of Parliament use the oath whereby swearing by Almighty God.
Interestingly, Israel on the other hand claims to be secular, yet has been established as a Jewish state. Despite all the fanaticism and war mongering in Israel, it is comforting to appreciate that its institutions are first and foremost governed by reason – not religion. Reason prevails.
Iran is often used as an example of how a state can go from being secular to a religious theocratic state – where the secularized state of the Pahlavi dynasty was replaced by the Islamic Republic. This is counter to the general global trend towards secularism for these past 250 years. In fact it would be wrong to call Iran before 1979 a true secular state. People went from abdicating reasoning from one powerful leader to another. This is NOT true secularism. This is replacing one form of abdication for another. Or to put it another way, it replaces one form of conformance (from a dictator’s dictates) for another.
My core point is that a society can be religious without abdicating all reasoning to theologians or dictators. Indeed, reason must prevail. Respect for other points of view is critical. And with this respect there has to be a strong willingness for open, civil debate. And, from this attitude or approach then democracy flows easily.
I have one final point. What makes America an exceptional society and therefore great is in fact this incredible emphasis on individual liberty. What makes America great is you. Your views, your beliefs, your thoughts, your deeds and ultimately how different all these views, beliefs, thoughts, and deeds are from the next person. It is the variety of Americans from the Dutch Amish in Pennsylvania to Red Indians in New Mexico, to bankers in New York, to engineers in California. There is NO insistence on uniformity and conformity. It is a tolerant society that ultimately allows every single participant to contribute to the fullest of that person’s capacity. This in the end enables greatness.
When a society can be religious but not theocratic – it can walk down the path to greatness.