Government-Supported Religion

An Unrepentant Theocrat Has Died – But His Dangerous Ideas Live On

  Rob Boston

A recent obituary in The New York Times caught my eye. Gary North, an economist and avowed theocrat, died Feb. 24 at age 80.

When I say North was a theocrat, I’m not exaggerating. He wore that label proudly. North belonged to an extreme faction of Christian nationalism called Christian Reconstructionism or “theonomy.” Its views are so out there that the Reconstructionists make the Puritans look like hippies.

North was an advocate of extreme free-market economic ideology mixed with Christian theocracy. He called for abolishing most government services and basing the U.S. legal system on the Hebrew Bible’s legal code. Under North’s vision, people would be executed for “crimes” such as fornication, adultery, homosexuality, blasphemy, worshiping “false gods,” witchcraft and incorrigible juvenile delinquency. (One can’t help but wonder if there would be anyone left.)

North seriously argued that in some cases, the Bible calls for stoning people to death who committed these offenses. In one of his books, he outlined five reasons why stoning is the way to go: stones are plentiful; everyone can take part, but since lots of stones are thrown, the offender’s death can’t be traced to a single person; stoning promotes a collective response to crime prevention; stonings are public events; and, finally, stoning is symbolic of God crushing the head of Satan.

The Reconstructionists were always a fringe movement, but they were prolific. North published dozens of books, as did Rousas John Rushdoony, who is considered the dean of the Christian Reconstructionist movement. (North married Rushdoony’s daughter, but he and Rushdoony, who died in 2001, had a falling out over an obscure point of biblical doctrine and stopped speaking.) Many scholars say the Reconstructionists played a pivotal role in the rise of the Religious Right by urging conservative Christians to stop focusing on the afterlife and get involved in politics. They provided the justification for the “Bible-based” society so often championed by Religious Right groups.

In its obituary of North, The Times noted that, in 1981, “Mr. North wrote that ‘Christians must begin to organize politically within the present party structure and they must begin to infiltrate the existing institutional order.’” But North saw the ballot as merely a means to build a theocratic society. He was no fan of democracy and once wrote, “The modern world has been threatened by the rise of mass democracy, the politics of one man, one vote.”

The society based on The Handmaid’s Tale that North yearned for has not come to pass – yet. But every time you hear Christian nationalists scheme to take away the rights of LGBTQ people, attack reproductive rights, plot to replace America’s public schools with a network of taxpayer-financed religious academies, assail the teaching of evolution, demand censorship in public libraries or insist that the United States was created by and for fundamentalist Christians, you’re getting an echo of North and his disturbing vision of biblical law.

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