A caller on a recent broadcast of the Michael Medved Show said that the Bible advocated fascism. He argued that the Old Testament called for an absolute theocracy administered by kings, and that such a system favored one group of people (Israelites) over others (non-Israelites). He also said that the Roman Catholic Church’s papal rule demonstrates a modern dictatorship—albeit a benign one since the Pope does not command an army.
Webster’s dictionary defines fascism as: 1: a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition
2: a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control
Whether warranted or not, use of the word has resurged in recent years. You’ve no doubt heard the term Islamo-Fascism; and once in a while you might hear “fascism” used in connection to President Bush. In the case of the president, a professing Christian, some people might be thinking of a quote attributed to Sinclair Lewis:
When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.
A serious charge deserves a serious response. I wasn’t able to hear Medved’s reply—I’m sure he had a good one—so I thought I’d saunter down the hall here at RTB and ask philosopher Kenneth Samples about it. Ken’s father put his life on the line when he fought against fascism during the Second World War.
Here’s what Ken said:
While it is true that Old Testament Judaism didn’t practice Jeffersonian democracy (and nor will Jesus Christ at his Second Coming to earth in glory), to compare the biblical authority structure of ancient Israel with modern fascism is wrongheaded for a couple of reasons.
First, a just, righteous, and compassionate God (Yahweh) stood behind the monarchy of ancient Israel. And Yahweh was not a dictator, but rather a holy and benevolent divine monarch.
Second, Israel’s kings were not oppressive and ruthless dictators. Rather they were to rule with wisdom and justice as Yahweh had revealed in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). And God held them accountable for how they treated individuals as well as other nations.
Lastly, logically speaking, to equate the political structure of ancient Israel with modern fascism is to misapply a broad and general definition in a specific historical case.
Fascism is a tough word to have slung around the neck of thousands of years of biblical tradition. It seems that caution—and better understanding—might go a longer way toward bridging the gap between those who believe in the Bible and those who don’t.