Survived Theocracy - The Amy Coney Barrett Hearings Horrify Me

FUNDAMENTALIST DANGER-Imagine that there was a woman who had agreed to submit to her husband, who in turn had submitted to the head of a sect, who had in fact matched them, both part of a sect where there was no dividing line between personal and private life, because everything — everything — was done as a crusade for God, and if you weren’t one of the pure, you were going straight to hell. 

If that woman was a Muslim, we’d call her, rightly, a fundamentalist — and say that she belonged a sect so extreme it rivalled the Taliban. 

That’s who’s about to have a seat on America’s Supreme Court. Since she’s a nice white lady, she gets a free pass — but she shouldn’t. 

We survivors and scholars of authoritarianism? Our alarms bells are blaring at deafening volumes. This is how theocracy comes to a nation. Do Americans really understand how much danger their democracy is in, at this very moment? The whole absurd spectacle has been, to those of us who’ve lived it before, exactly how theocracy comes to a society. 

But do Americans really understand what theocracy really is? 

For that reason, perhaps it’s hard to say what the most grotesque aspect of Amy Coney Barrett hearings have been. So let me try to explain just how dangerous and grim a theocracy really is.

Maybe it was when Ted Cruz started grandstanding about “religious liberty.” Or maybe it was when Lee (who tested positive for Covid, but still attended the hearing without a mask on) held forth on “originalism.” Or perhaps it was when she questioned Brown v Board of Education — effectively stating that she’d let states put segregation back in place

Or maybe it was when she refused to say if she’d let a president delay an election. Or maybe it was when she refused to say voter intimidation was illegal. Or maybe it was the fact that nobody asked her about this: 

Or maybe it was when she refused to give much of an opinion on anything at all. 

These are crucial aspects of any theocracy. Let me go through them one by one. 

Americans — enough of them, still not alarmed — appear to think a theocracy is a happy society where people go to church on Sunday. It is no such thing. It’s a caste society — one where the pure are on top, the chosen ones, and everyone else is below them, usually in ranked order of impurity. That, by the way, is why fascists and theocrats often get along — both want to build social orders where the pure and true have risen to the top. 

When ACB says that she’d give States the power to segregate themselves again — you should be flatly horrified. How insanely regressive is that? Well, only about fifty years, actually, which isn’t all that long. 

But you should also understand that segregation is a critical aspect of theocracy. Theocracies are not societies of equals. They are societies where hated minorities are made untouchables. Not so long ago, America had segregated churches, because that is how the pure wanted to pray, and the most ardent regions of the country, fervid with religion, were also the ones which practiced slavery most and hardest. That’s not a coincidence: in a theocracy, religion is often used to mask, justify, and morally exculpate slavery, segregation, exploitation, and abuse. The impure? They’re going to hell, anyways — keep them away from us! 

Sure, she “has black kids” — so she can’t be a racist, right? Of course, she can, if she’s willing to rule for a segregated society they suffer in too. It’s baffling and bizarre that someone would want to do that, but that’s an indication of the kind of fanatic America’s now at the mercy of — someone so extreme not even adopting black children can make her stand up against segregation. What the ---- ? 

What kind of person adopts black kids and then justifies segregation? What on earth? Someone for whom ideology rules supreme. The text, the literal interpretation of it. ACB is so well suited to the role of literalist legal pseudo-scholar because that is just what fanatics do with holy books, too. They are both forms of just the same thing — fundamentalism. 

That brings me to the second aspect of life in a theocracy. It is not free. Americans don’t really understand what this means yet, because they haven’t fully experienced it. 

Right now, the fanatics have the right to live the way they want. ACB’s strange religious sect has the freedom to practice as it wants. Nobody stopped her head priest from matching her to her husband, nobody stopped her from submitting to him, nobody stopped them from living in such a way that the sect appears to dictate all their personal and private choices. That’s perfectly fine in a democracy — if you want to live that way, as a grown adult, by all means, go right ahead. 

What the fanatics want, though, is for you to have to live like them. They want to turn freedom inside out — and still call it freedom, even though it’s no such thing. They want to have the right to live the way they want, but for you not to. You have to live the way they want, the way they do, or at least purport to do. 

That loss of freedom in a theocracy cuts freedom right down to the bone. The most basic rights of all are eroded, then lost, under religious justifications. Freedom of privacy? So sorry, we need to make sure you’re moral. Association? Sorry, you can’t mingle with those sub-humans and untouchables, if you want to be one of the pure. Religion? Sorry, you have to worship our God, and if you don’t, you become one of the untouchables. Expression? You hurt my God’s feelings!! That’s not allowed. 

If that strikes you as somehow fantastical, let me make it concrete. Privacy is what guarantees things like abortion and healthcare. Expression is what guarantees any kind of cultural freedom. Association is what ensures things like segregation don’t happen — or at least aren’t supposed to. 

They are all going away in a regressive, theocratic America. 

That brings me to the heart of the issue here, which is what ACB referred to in the absurd spectacle of her hearings over and over again as “originalism.” 

That means that America’s founding documents, like the Constitution, are to be preserved in amber, and never allowed to evolve, change, or grow and mature. 

So here is a small list of things that “originalism” happily justifies. The idea that Black People are only 3/5th of human beings and deserve to be enslaved. That women shouldn’t have the vote. That discrimination against people of different orientations and creeds like the LGBTQ is perfectly acceptable. The notion that only landed white men should have rights at all. 

The notion that none of that should ever change

Is it any surprise that ACB is an “originalist” when all or most of that is more or less exactly what her extremist sect believes? The sect, too, believes, that only white men of a certain kind should hold power over their families, that the impure are going to hell, and so forth. One is a religious belief, one a political one — but they are mirror images of one another. Their precepts are precisely the same: a society ruled over by a benevolent father, in which all thought and action exists for the purpose of satisfying his dictates and whims, in order to achieve salvation. 

That’s hardly a surprise. The Founders were mostly fervently religious. It’s not exactly a surprise they built the kind of society that was a theocracy waiting to happen. One with a gossamer-thin separation between church and state, where men held all the power, making literalist interpretations of texts in a Promised Land of Chosen People. 

ACB wants the Constitution to be interpreted just like religious fundamentalists read holy books: with the strictest and most literal reading possible. Why? Precisely so that God’s wrath isn’t incurred. He — it’s always a “he” in these systems — might get mad if you don’t take it as literally as possible. Raised in the crucible of an extremist religious sect, that seems to be her bent, her attitude, her preparation: to be a fundamentalist making literal interpretations. 

But Constitutions are not holy documents. They are not divinely ordained. No person in the sky handed them down on stone tablets. People wrote them — flawed and complex people.

They are meant to evolve and change and grow. Otherwise societies never can. 

The idea that we should interpret the American Constitution just like religious fanatics interpret holy books is an especially dangerous one. It turns politics into fundamentalism. Religious fanaticism is not a substitute for a functioning politics. When the Constitution is read as a holy book, America never has the capability to, for example, make things like healthcare, retirement, pensions, and education basic rights, the way they are in Europe or Canada. 

And that’s not a political point. It’s not some kind of theory that making those things rights leads to better lives. It’s reality. It’s post-political. It’s a fact, because Europeans and Canadians do live vastly better lives, longer, happier, smarter, wiser, more trusting ones. 

That reality has been reduced to some kind of debate is how the fanatics won. When basic facts like these matter — then of course maybe praying to God is the answer. But which God? Whose God? The one of the majority of course. 

It seems that ACB reads the American constitution the way that the Taliban reads the Koran.

There is only one thing more dangerous than that, and that is reading holy books in a fundamentalist way, too. It’s not a coincidence that the same people tend to both things: that is what a fundamentalist attitude, way of thinking, mentality, is. 

A theocracy is a society ruled by such people. People who reject the basic tenets of modernity, civilization, and democracy. There seems to be absolutely no doubt that ACB is such a person. 

She supports segregation. And no, theoretically being indifferent is not a legitimate position. 

She does not support things like healthcare, retirement, education, for all — the freedoms which make up modern societies, of which Canada and Europe are exemplars. 

Why? Precisely because only the pure deserve such things. Only the pure deserve personhood. Dignity, liberty, freedom, equality. For the rest? The impure? Well, they are going to hell, anyways — so why bother with democracy here on earth? 

The only thing different in the fascist mindset and the theocratic one is the definition of “pure.” For the fascist, it’s in the blood, and for the theocrat, it’s in how hard you pray, and whom you pray to. 

But purity is what matters above all. 

America is now under assault from an unholy alliance. Call it an alliance of the pure — like some kind of ISIS or Taliban, which it’s a mirror image of. Fascists and fanatics, hand-in-hand. Both want to build a society of and for the pure. And the rest? The fascists think of them as vermin, animals, sub-humans. The fanatics think of them as dirty, corrupted, impure, filthy. That is why both are now joining forces to cleanse society and make it a Promised Land Again. 

When a society reaches this point, my friends, take it from us survivors. Things are much, much worse than you think. If forces like these are not defeated, with the triumph of democracy, civilization, and freedom, do you know what happens? They all die, faster and quicker than anyone much thinks possible. 

There is no doubt about that.


(Umair Haque writes on Eudaimonia & Co which is posted on Medium.) Image: Alex Edelman. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.