First published on Christian Converser
Recent decisions by the US Supreme Court intentionally push North America further in the direction of a theocracy. As explained in previous posts in this blog, the current ideal of theocratic government is strongly intertwined with the significant following that dispensationalist theology has gained in the US since the mid-19th century. The USA is an oddball country that has grown large and powerful enough to proclaim itself a world leader, exceptionalist in many spheres, including it appears the Church. Fundamentally, there is a historical dispute as to whether this was ever intended by the country’s founders, who are generally portrayed as either disciples of the Enlightenment (rationalist rejection of religious belief) who believed in deliberately limiting the power of government, or fervent Christians who believed in godly single-party government . Whichever is to be believed, the structure of the current US political system have played directly into the ascendancy of theocracy by making it too easy for powerful groups in society to subvert democratic ideals, to an extent that is not commonly seen in Westminster-system countries. The architects of the US political system essentially engineered a form of libertarianism, an extreme anti-government political ideology which receives very little support worldwide as its limitations are readily apparent.
The direction SCOTUS is taking is an ideology called “originalism”, which holds that the US Constitution must be interpreted according to the knowledge of the era in which it was written. New Zealand political commentator Chris Trotter ably expounds the many problems this belief system causes, as at that time, civil and human rights in the US were at a far lower state of development (as indeed they were in many western countries) than has become the accepted norm in the 21st century. If we add in the already questionable theologies of Christian nationalism, dominionism and dispensationalism into the mix along with similarly disposed political viewpoints, then it becomes plain that the American nation cannot claim to be exceptionalist in many key respects. Instead it looks destined to repeat the same mistakes as its predecessors in Europe. Let it not be forgotten that many of the early settlers that founded America were fleeing from political and religious persecution under monarchies and theocracies that were the dominant form of governance in Europe at the time. Over time, these evolved independently and quite differently into Westminster-style democracies, without the attempts to limit governance in the way that has been taken to extremes in the US.
Further compelling though somewhat different viewpoints from Trotter’s secular writings can be found from leading Christian conservative US commentators David French and Russell Moore. Both have previously expounded their views opposing the RvW decision and the reasoning by which it was arrived at, but at the same time see the wider problems likely to be caused by the reasoning being employed by those who have sought to utilise it as a political bandwagon. Whilst CCNZ believes that the earlier SCOTUS was entitled to arrive at its pro-choice position in enacting the RvW decision in 1973, as a matter of legal process regardless of whatever view one might have on the matter itself, it is gratifying to see that there is a great deal of understanding in conservative Christianity in the US of the likely harm that will result in the longer term from the process of reaching this decision, as it appears almost certain that politically aligned conservative evangelicals will seek to further roll back many rights granted in the 20th century addressing racism / sexism, for example. As French writes, “life and love are countercultural on too many parts of the right…in deep-red America, a wave of performative and punitive legislation is sweeping the land…the Dobbs ruling has landed in the middle of a sick culture, and the pro-life right is helping make it sick”.
Given that in New Zealand and everywhere else we see a kind of rabid fanaticism for the MAGAism that French and Moore excoriate, it is at least heartening that National Party prime-minister-in-waiting Chris Luxon, himself known for pro-life views, chose to make a firm statement that the recently changed NZ law would not be revisited. Regardless of which side of the fence one is on with this issue, New Zealand is a democracy with considerably more strength, as in most present and former British Commonwealth countries, than the US, and hence the fact that a majority of NZ voters support the present law carries much more weight than it does in America. Another recent SCOTUS decision to force federal funding of religious schools in NZ is somehow being cited as inspiration for people campaigning for state-integrated schools to be allowed to receive NZ government money whilst campaigning politically against the State. Bethlehem College in Tauranga has recently been in the firing line over its requirement for parents to agree to its opposition to same-sex marriage and has been asked to remove the requirement from its admissions agreements. It is quite possible that NZ state-integrated schools will eventually be compelled to remove all forms of discriminatory practice in order to continue receiving Government funding. The US decision is another one of entirely political character and does not follow any kind of common sense. It is plainly wrong to say the US government had the power to enact retribution against parents who chose to educate their children through religious affiliated schools. Given the nature of US society and culture in general, the belief of these parents that they are entitled to receive Government funding for their personal choice is a strange position indeed. State education systems in countries like New Zealand exist for the greater good of education in society as a whole and for the free availability of it as a public good. This does not in any way impinge upon the rights of parents to choose a different form of education for their children, but the argument that education that falls outside the State system and teaches against its principles is morally qualified for funding is very difficult to justify.