What do you understand by theocratic regimes?

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Theocracy is a society governed by priests, or one whose government is heavily influenced by religious leaders. Originally, theocracy meant a system where divine law was the basis of all humanly enacted law, and in which religious and political hierarchies were merged. Today, the term theocracy is applied to refer to the dominance of religion over state.

A “theocratic regime by its very nature is a religious state. It is wedded to a particular religion. It believes and functions on particular theological principles. Theocratic regimes are not merely dominated by particular theology; they are, in fact, controlled by that theology. In other words, in these regimes, politics and religion get assimilated into each other: religion dominates politics and carried on religious principles. Since, these states are uni-religious states, allowing only one particular religion to flourish and shape its polities, their attitude towards other religions is one of ‘distance’. People belonging to other faiths are treated as second-class citizens. There is neither religious harmony nor any religious tolerance.

Some of the characteristic features of theoretic regimes are as follows:

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a) A theocratic state is associated with a particular religion. It believes in the principles and precepts of the religion it advocates. All the rules and regulations, laws and by-law framed by the state are in tune with the state religion.

b) A theocratic regime preaches practices and promotes the religion it follows. It expects its citizens to follow the state religion. Here, religion is not merely a private faith of the individual; it is a public faith. It is the faith of the state and also of its members. The theocratic state demands its people true and faithful allegiance to the religion of the state.

c) A theocratic state does not separate religion from politics, nor politics from religion. For such a state, religious precepts become political precepts and the laws of the state are so framed that they do not interfere into the religious dictates of the states faith.

d) A theocratic state does not treat other religions, whether within its boundaries or outside, with equal respect as given to its own religion. In fact, such a state treats other religions with the sense of immutability, that is, as a secondary kind of religious faith only to be condemned and curbed.

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e) A theocratic state is predominantly a totalitarian state, or it tends to become totalitarian. It attempts to control every aspect of an individuals life by projecting itself as the torch bearer of not only ‘this’ world, but also of heavenly’ other world.

f) A theocratic state by its nature is a rigid state and therefore, by those standards, a fundamentalist state, an authoritarian one and hence an anti-democratic one. Theocratic regimes, with more or less intimate interaction between religion and politics, are few in contemporary international relations. In this category we have pure theocratic regimes as well as other regimes having close relationship with religion.

A good example of the former is the Islamic Republic of Iran, where the state apparatus is subordinate to Islam and religious leaders have a decisive say in political affairs. There are also countries where even though there is a state religion, religious leaders and institutions are to some extent subordinated to the interests of the state. Countries with Muslim majority populations like Egypt, Malaysia, Indonesia and some predominantly Christian and Buddhist countries such as Sweden and Thailand fall in this category.

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