A “Theocratic” basis for Democracy

I stumbled upon this short-ish (two paragraph) section in Jürgen Moltmann’s Ethics of Hope, which summarizes his argument for “theocratic democracy”. I realize that “theocracy” is something of a loaded word in our day and age, so many of us would be hesitant to use it the way he does for fear of being misunderstood. But I think Moltmann’s argument is worth hearing out.

Today the word ‘theocracy’ is used for religious dictatorships which want to dominate everything in the name of God. That is wrong. Literally speaking, ‘theocracy’ says that all power and force belong to God alone and that it is therefore in principle withdrawn from human scope. No one has the right to rule over other human beings, for God alone is the Lord. If human beings are to rule over the earth, they have to be given the charge by God (Gen. 1.26), since ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness theof, the world and those who dwell therein’ (Ps. 24:1). Understood this way, in a theocracy the fear of God permits no one to rule by the grace of God. If human beings act as representatives of other human beings, and thus exercise rule, that rule must be humanely based and answerable to God, to whom all power belongs.

Through the influence of Christianity, the cult of the God-emperor came to an end in Europe and was replaced by intercession for the ruler, for whom power was a danger and a temptation. Under the absolutism of Louis XIV, the sovereign was not answerable to the people. In the Nazi dictatorship, the Führers’ will counted as law. In the Communist totalitarian state, the party ‘was always right’. Calvinist theocracy taught absolute and total resistance to these absolute and total deifications of the state, providing the justification for the alternative of modern times: constitutional democracy. The prohibition of images and the fight against idolatry had lasting political consequences. In America, democracy is always viewed as the Christian form of the state and put in relation to the kingdom of God. It was only in the old countries of Europe that democracy counted as atheistic or relativistic, because in France it had to prevail not only against political absolutism but also against the clericalism and papism of the Roman Catholic Church. True tolerance, springing from concern for other people, is rooted in the theocracy which withdraws human beings from the absolutist claim of others or of a state. Since modern democracy was founded on the basis of universal human rights, it has a charge for humanity and a missionary character of its own: ‘To save the world for democracy.’ In this slogan parables of God’s universal kingdom of peace and his righteousness are evident.

Ethics of Hope, p. 23-24