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Theocracy (according to the Apple Dictionary as translated as theo = god, -ocracy = power, rule) is a form of government ruled by divine means or by leaders considered to be divinely guided. Israel was a theocracy before King Saul. The Islamic Republic of Iran is a modern-day theocracy, as many commentators believe that the real power in its government lies not in allegedly "democratically-elected" leaders like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but in clerics within the government since Iranian law requires Presidential candidates to be approved by the Guardian Council [1] and some Iranian laws on homosexuality and adultery come from the Sharia [2]. The Vatican is a formal Christian theocracy, with the Pope as head of both church and state.

Only two democracies reserve places in their legislature specifically for representatives of the state religion, these are the aforementioned Islamic Republic of Iran and the United Kingdom where Bishops of the Church of England sit in the upper chamber, the House of Lords under the designation of Lords Spiritual.

Theocracy as tyranny

C.S. Lewis wrote:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. [3]

Theocracy may also describe any government which seeks to impose religious principles or law, such as the Sharia, or the Hindu laws of Manu Smriti [4] on its population, even if the government is formally secular.

One well known example of such a state is Saudi Arabia who's legal system is based on the Sharia law, Saudi Arabia also has a religious police [5]

In Israel, civil cases under the Halakhah (traditional Jewish law based on the Torah) are allowed.


  1. Access Denied: Iran’s Exclusionary Elections Human Rights Watch [1]
  2. Netherlands, Sweden: Bar Deportations to Torture in Iran - Officials Must Not Return Gay and Lesbian Asylum Seekers to Iran Human Rights Watch [2]
  4. The laws of Manu George Buhler, translated by [3]
  5. Saudi Arabia - The Legal System U.S. Library Of Congress [4]
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