I’m writing this partly in response to a certain topic that’s kind of going on in the news lately. I’m sure you all know what it is. Personally, I’d really appreciate it if we avoid any partisan political conversation in this thread. If anyone would like to discuss the current political situation, there are a few other threads in global that would probably be appropriate. At the same time, while this is an area that interests me a lot, I’m neither a historian nor an expert, so take everything I say with a grain of salt and feel more than free to contribute your own thoughts and ideas.
As a side note, a lot of this I learned in school way back when and all of those old school books are now gone and my memory is rusty so I’m going to be leaning heavily on Wikipedia links in here. I’m also leaving a lot out because I’m not certain enough of what I remember is accurate so I think it’s better to say nothing. Most of what I'm omitting has to do with pre and early history, and empires such as Rome, India, etc. With that said, here we go . . .
I think the best way to start out is to point out that (in general) for a long time in human history, religion, government, ethnicity, and culture were so intertwined that there wasn’t a real distinction from one to the next. They influenced not only a person’s beliefs and world view, but also how they saw themselves as individuals a members of the world. The Separation of Church and State, as we know it, is relatively modern. I’ve heard some arguments that even though the concept as we know it started out during the Philosophical Enlightenment of the 16-1700s, at least in the west, the role of Church and Government was something analyzed quite often even when Christianity was a fledgling religion. So for us, as Americans, it’s something we take for granted, but keep in mind, history echoes and those echoes can still be heard today. For example, even though people think America adopted the motto In God We Trust as a cultural reaction to the anti-religious position of the Soviets, the phrase and use of the term has been around for a pretty good chunk of American History.
A lot of times, when people talk about divine authority and governments in the west, the first thing that comes to mind is The Divine Right of Kings. This is the western thought in that the core argument is that a king’s Authority to rule comes from God and God alone, and as such, it cannot be challenged or usurped. It has pre-Christian origins, but I’m not too sharp on the hows or the whys, but I do know that as The Catholic Church gained more power and more and more of the west became Christian, it was able to gain leverage on this idea and really start to exert an international influence on governments. I’d like to take the time to note here that there is a blind spot in my knowledge. I do not know the amount of influence either The Oriental Orthodox Church or The Eastern Orthodox Church had on governments in their regions of influence. If anyone knows, and would like to chime in, I’d love to hear it. Anyway, while he wasn’t the first Protestant Reformer, thanks to the advent of mass print Martin Luther and men like him afterwards were really able to start chipping away at the power and influence of The Catholic Church and I feel like this was probably the start of the end of their overwhelming influence. That’s not to say the Catholic Church isn’t influential today, because they are, but they’re no longer the monolith they once were.
In the Middle East, we have a few interesting ways this concept can be found. It is an idea investigated in philosophically in Zoroastrianism. Biblically speaking, it is considered that King David was appointed by God and while the historical accuracy of the Bible is a much debated issue, King David is at least believed to have existed. Either way, there’s all sorts of themes and concepts in The Books of Samuel that people like to explore, some of which are obviously related to Divine Authority and Governments. In Egypt, Pharaohs were considered both the Religious as well as the Secular rulers. The Middle East can’t be brought up without one of the most influential and enduring concepts of religion and governance, Caliphates. I will readily admit right here, somewhat ashamed, that my knowledge of Caliphates are near zero, so I don’t think I’m well equipped to discuss them, but for obvious reasons they can’t be left out. If someone has any good books to recommend on the subject, please let me know.
If we direct our attention East, we have a similar but different mechanism in China’s Mandate of Heaven. One of the really interesting aspects of this philosophy is that while rulers’ power derives from divine authority, it’s not guaranteed to be permanent. If for some reason a ruler was deposed, this signified that they have fallen out of divine favor and were meant to lose their power. Even more interesting, a person didn’t have to be of noble birth to take power. While it’s not exactly egalitarian, it does seem to offer a little wiggle room.
Cross culturally, there is a lot of religious symbolism in many states. Both Regalia as well as Coronations have various degrees of religious connotations. They run the whole gamut from subtle to overt, from merely symbolic to literal. Some countries even have traditions that state that either or both state artifacts and royal lineages are divine in origin. At the same time, a country’s historical origin often contains religious elements as well. How widely these ideas are believed vary from state to state, but these beliefs aren’t insignificant.
So that’s what I have, in a nutshell. If any of you guys have anything you’d like to add, by all means, please share. If you have suggestions for books or authors I should check out that have information on this subject, I’d especially love to hear those.