Theocracy in America: An Historical Perspective

Yesterday we considered the reality of theocracy going on today, both in Muslim Iran and in the Supreme Court and politics of current America.  And intrinsic to theocracy there very often lies misogyny.  Women are under fire wherever patriarchy (and Empire) rule.

“Sen. Kristen Gillibrand: Abortion Bans Are Leading to a Rising Theocracy in the U.S.” NowThisNews.

One of the insights that David Korten has researched in his book The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community is the reality that theocracy has a history in early America.

Indeed, he underscores that it is “crucial to understanding current U.S. politics” to recognize a legacy that includes “extremes of theocracy” along with genocide, slavery, racism and sexism in US history.  “Religious theocrats of a mind to flog, imprison, or hand all who did not share their particular faith” were part of the scene at the time of the Revolutionary War that overthrew the English king. 

The official charter that established the first colony in Virginia in 1609 declared that one purpose of the colony was to convert the “people in those Parts unto the true Worship of God and Christian Religion.”  

“Christian Nationalism Appears Ascendant In GOP Politics” MSNBC‘s Ayman Mohyeldin interviews Harvard professor Lawrence Tribe.

The Puritans, escaping Anglican persecution in Europe,

…came to North America in search of the freedom to establish a theocracy based on the teachings of John Calvin which meant using the authority of government to deny others the same religious freedom they had come to America to gain for themselves.

Puritans settled Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, established Congregational churches there, and mandated the Calvinist faith while banning the practice of any other.  One influential preacher, John Cotton, preached that theocratic rule and not democracy was the will of God calling “Theocracy the best forme of government in the commonwealth, as well as in the church.”  Religious liberty is understood as freedom from the “heresies of Anglicanism, Catholicism and all other deviant faiths.”

Author Eric Foner outlines the origin of religious freedom in the United States. Norton History.

Mary Dyer, a Quaker preacher, was exiled from Massachusetts twice and when she returned a third time was hanged along with three other Quakers for refusing to cease preaching their religion.  

For the Quakers, religious pluralism was part of their faith.  

It was pluralism that ultimately found its way into the US Constitution with its strict a separation of church and state.  As Korten observes, “it would otherwise have been impossible to establish the Union.”*

Today, there are actual politicians in America taking us back to these pre-constitutional and theocratic times.  There is also the Opus Dei driven Supreme Court and its enablers.


*David Korten, The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, pp. 159-164.

See Matthew Fox, “Opus Dei,” in Fox, The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved, pp. 106-124.  

And Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul & Society.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: The Quaker “Mary Dyer led to execution on Boston Common, 1 June 1660” Artist unknown. Wikimedia Commons.

Queries for Contemplation

What do you learn from being reminded that American democracy had to first shed American theocracy when the constitution was enacted?  How does it shine light on today’s politics which also means, sad to say, today’s Supreme Court?


Recommended Reading

The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved

The Pope’s War offers a provocative look at three decades of corruption in the Catholic Church, focusing on Josef Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI. The final section in the book focuses on birthing a truly catholic Christianity.
“This book should be read by everybody, not only for its ferocious courage, but also for its vision for what needs to be saved from the destructive forces that threaten authentic Christianity.” ~ Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope.
“In the gripping The Pope’s War, Matthew Fox takes an unwavering look at the layers of corruption in the Catholic Church, holding moral truth against power.”   — Jason Berry, author of Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II


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12 thoughts on “Theocracy in America: An Historical Perspective”

  1. Avatar

    O may I learn to be humble, may I remember to be humble, may I remember that whatever is going on anywhere, it is going on in me too… is in my history/herstory too, my land has been such a perpetrator… may I learn to be humble, please may I learn to be humble and in this humbleness may I be of service to the change that needs to happen to help us love, serve and understand each other. Thank you for today’s Daily Meditation

  2. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Today you continue with another one of the insights that David Korten has researched in his book The Great Turning, is the reality that theocracy has a history in early America. Indeed, he underscores that it is “crucial to understanding current U.S. politics” to recognize a legacy that includes “extremes of theocracy” along with genocide, slavery, racism and sexism in US history. Our country was established by religious refuges who came to our country seeking freedom of religion, however they did NOT extend the same freedom to others of other faiths. Just consider that the official charter for the first colony of Virginia in 1609 declared that one purpose of the colony was to convert the to the Christian Religion. However, she was hanged along with three other Quakers for refusing to cease preaching their religion. For the Quakers, religious pluralism was part of their faith. It was pluralism that ultimately found its way into the US Constitution with its strict a separation of church and state. As Korten observes, “it would otherwise have been impossible to establish the Union.” You ask us: “What do you learn from being reminded that American democracy had to first shed American theocracy when the constitution was enacted?” What I have learned is we must protect that our freedom of religion. But where we see the remnants of theocracy once again is in the not-so-supreme court.

  3. Avatar

    The current topic of discussion within the DM’s over the past few days, has been extremely painful to engage with; bringing up to the surface the deep soul wounding, held within the collective of humanity. I find myself personally lamenting as I walk through the valley of tears of this shared history and the long generational afflictions that extreme theocracy combined with the patriarchal misuse and abuse of political and judicial power has oppressed and suppressed within the original blessings of all that is inherently good and beautiful within the true nature of our soul-self, our divinity hidden within our humanity… especially regarding the sacredness of the feminine and the masculine aspects within this. These horrific acts, based on the illusions and delusions of man made zealous religious, theocratic, judicial and patriarchal extremes, defined as moral righteousness, is in reality hate crimes, a slow progression of genocide inflicted upon all those deemed as other than. I now understand more deeply, the mystics prayerful words, “God, rid me of god”, in the sense of the false god humanity has made in his own image. Throughout my own personal lamentations, I find myself often turning to Psalm 23, for comfort and consolation that leads me to the pathway of wisdom counsel; as I walk through this dark valley.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, Your words: “I now understand more deeply, the mystics prayerful words, “God, rid me of god”, in the sense of the false god humanity has made in his own image.”–AMEN to that !!!

  4. Avatar

    Job broke the belief that God is a punishing God who only showed favor to the “chosen few” and that his losses were not from God but in his own unique human/spiritual circumstance. God is a loving God who does not punish as some humans in positions of power attempt to impose their own narrow, erroneous belief systems making “their” beliefs a nationalized religion and imposing guilt upon those who do not obey their teachings. The mystics mirrored the Infinite Spiritual Paths to the Divine. The book of Job also broke erroneous belief system in Judaism, and paved the way for the Beatitudes of Jesus (Yeshua) “Blessed are the poor for they shall inherit the earth” This is ignored by Calvinism, the Supreme Court, and those other churches that exhume their power, controlling their members by guilt and obedience, rather than Love. They exclude people who are different (diverse) among us in their circumstances of poverty, misfortune, or otherwise that has nothing to do with Divine favor, but actually is the antithesis of Creation, manufactured by themselves in their decisions that created those circumstances. They know nothing of the real teachings of Jesus. Divine Love is given as a gift towards All human beings, equality for everyone, the fundamental principals of Democracy. “There are as many pathways to the Divine as there are people in the world, as there is “Being” throughout the “Uni-Verse”
    JAN JENNINGS, DR. DARRYL LUKE POKEA

  5. Avatar

    Matthew’s Question: What do you learn from being reminded that American democracy had to first shed American theocracy when the constitution was enacted?
    I was reminded of the dark side of ‘Christian’ religion imported from Europe where conflicts between competing ‘Christian’ religious systems had engendered mindless extremes of violence and bloodshed. It seems that the American Constitution was a ‘finger in the dyke’ against the rising tide of dystopian versions of institutional religion.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Gwen, I like what you say about how it seems, “that the American Constitution was a ‘finger in the dyke’ against the rising tide of dystopian versions of institutional religion.” And I think that as Matthew pointed out, “It was pluralism that ultimately found its way into the US Constitution with its strict a separation of church and state. As Korten observes, “it would otherwise have been impossible to establish the Union.”

  6. Avatar

    Would an atheist be elected president of our country or be on the Supreme Court? We have not shed the notion that people who are “ religious” are somehow more worthy and upright than those who are not.

  7. Avatar

    Thank you Matthew for reviewing in today’s DM the strong unhealthy and undemocratic influence of theocracy in American political history up to the present day. Of course theocracy and many religious institutions around the world historically have their unbalanced, toxic, and destructive roots in patriarchy, misogyny, and racism… Sadly, with many tragic consequences, most religious institutions with their patriarchal roots and values have historically negatively influenced human societies and caused much human suffering… The true spiritual roots and teachings of most religious founders, saints, mystics, and Indigenous shamans in history have been lost or devalued by patriarchy up to our present times with the consequent ongoing world problems of racism, misogyny, social inequities, human suffering, violence, wars, and destruction of our Sacred Mother Nature/Earth. Now humanity and Sacred Mother Nature/Earth are facing a deep painful existential and spiritual reckoning and transformation of our evolution as a species and as a planet. With God’s Divine Spirit of Love~Wisdom~Healing~Justice~Peace~Creativity~Oneness~Evolution our eternal souls will continue evolving compassionately within, with one another, with Sacred Mother Earth, and All our multidimensional and multiverse Cosmos in Loving Diverse Oneness….
    ?❤️??

  8. Avatar

    Great piece on Theocracy today! Wanted to bring your attention to
    a recent movie on Netflix promoting “Catholicism.” Here is my letter
    to the National Catholic Reporter. You have inspired me to do more
    research on Opus Dei and their influence on our courts, etc.

    Joshua J McElwee: News Editor NCR
    September 26, 2022

    Dear Mr. McElwee,

    I recently turned into a Netflix movie, Father Stu, about the life of Fr. Stuart Long.
    As soon as I recognized Mel Gibson in the role of the father, I became suspicious
    that this might be an Opus Dei backed film. The movie focused on Stuart Long’s
    temper and violent outbursts before his miraculous conversion to Catholicism.
    This led me to explore more information about the actor, Mark Wahlberg. What
    I found was shocking!

    Wikipedia laid out a rather lengthy section describing Mr. Wahlberg’s racially
    motivated verbal and physical attacks on people of color. He was charged
    with attempted murder and pleaded guilty to felony assault and served only
    45 days of a two year sentence. Following this another violent assault was
    reported in 1992.

    I am writing to ask if you, or someone on your staff, are in a position to investigate
    this movie in further depth as it is touted as representing Catholic values?

    Thank you for considering this request.

    Sincerely yours,

    Marijo Grogan

  9. Avatar

    Calvinism is indeed still alive and well in all religions that rely on fear and power over. I must add that many Presbyterian churches have grown away from theocracy and exclusivity. The Congregational Churches have mostly combined with others to form the United Church of Christ, one of the most liberal, progressive, inclusive and loving forms of faith that exists. Love is not considered a noun so much as a verb in their understanding. I grew up Congregational and am now an ordained elder in the local Presbyterian church, soon to be again on the session, the church’s group that looks after the spiritual well being of the congregation, along with the pastor. This church runs on solar power and has divested from all traditional sources of energy. And there are other churches in other denominations that are on the same path. I personally am not a fan of doctrine of any kind but have found this church to be actually acting out Jesus’ way. While theocracy has reared its ugly head once again, there are still places of worship of all faiths that stand solidly against it. I like one of the guidelines of the Center for Action and Contemplation: the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. But criticism there must also be.

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