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Six Degrees of Theocracy: Guilt by Association

In the mid-1990s, American college students created a game called “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” The goal was to associate actor Kevin Bacon to random Hollywood actors, past and present, in no more than six steps, connecting one to another.

Since Hollywood is a small, tight-knit community, it wasn’t that hard to do. But the ability to connect one person to another in few steps isn’t limited to Hollywood: A 2003 experiment showed that the phenomenon may be global.

Some 60,000 participants in 166 countries were told to get an email to 1 of 18 randomly-selected famous people. They were to do this by sending the email to someone they knew who would, in turn, forward it to someone they knew and so forth, until it finally reached the target. On average it took — you guessed it — six steps.

So, given the amazing level of human interconnectedness, it’s not hard to see how easy — and misleading — it is to use guilt by association against your opponents.

I say this because that’s exactly what’s going on in the media today. But instead of playing “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” they are playing “Six Degrees of Theocracy.”

This game is played by taking the likes of the late R. J. Rushdoony or other writers who can rightly be labeled as “theocrats,” then linking current Christian writers and leaders to the “theocrats” in as few steps as possible.

It’s relatively simple, not because a lot of Christian writers and leaders are “theocrats” — far from it! — but because the world of Christian writers and leaders is relatively small: Most of us know each other, or at least know someone who knows the other person.

That’s how Francis Schaeffer came to play the role of Kevin Bacon in this game. Schaeffer, you see, read Rushdoony’s work and, on a few occasions, cited it. By the rules of “Six Degrees of Theocracy,” that makes him Rushdoony’s so-called “student,” and those of us who cite Schaeffer’s work intellectual descendants of Rushdoony. So many Christian writers who cite Schaeffer, as I do and as many others do, can be labeled theocrats. And politicians who read Schaeffer can be called dominionists or theocrats.

Missing of course, is any mention of the fact that Schaeffer explicitly rejected theocracy. Missing as well is any examination of Rushdoony’s influence on Schaeffer. When you play “Six Degrees of Theocracy,” you don’t need analysis, all you need is an association.

The people playing this game must appreciate how unfair this is. After all, if somebody tries to taint all Muslims with the actions committed by Islamists, they are the first ones to cry “foul!” And, of course, they despise the guilt-by-association from the 1950s involving Communists.

Yet, they play on. Instead of engaging us on the level of ideas, they impugn our motives. Instead of asking us what we really think, they find some obscure crank and then draw lines linking us to him or her.

Heaven help the overtly Christian political candidate who in some way can be associated with a theocrat. I talk more about this today on my "Two-Minute Warning" video commentary, which I urge you to watch at ColsonCenter.org. Find out why some in the media want to make sure Christian political candidates check their faith at the door before seeking public office.

Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.

Publication date: September 14, 2011.

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