Thursday, January 13, 2005

`The question is,' said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master, that's all."

Can church and state ever really be separate in such a way that one is not the master of the other? Or is it like the 'separate but equal' doctrine of the pre-segregation South? Separate, but one a little more equal than the other?

I don't like the idea of the Church being subordinate to the state (historical examples: Prussia, Russia...). I do like the idea of the state being subordinate to a supranational Church (historical examples: Christendom, the early Caliphate). But, this seems completely impractical and impossible to implement at the current time. So I have conceded that it is better for them to be separate, hoping that the State will not stomp all over the Church too much...

American-style separation of Church and State will work best if the Churches involved do not have any particular ideas about how the State should be run- if they assume that God will look after his own in this world, I guess. American-style separation of Church and State will work poorly if the Churches are opposed to the State, even to the passive degree of forbidding their adherent from participating in the workings of democracy- e.g., in Italy before Mussolini, Catholics were not supposed to vote or work for the government. If a Church has very strong ideas about what the laws of a country should be, it will cop flak for voicing them (e.g., from people like Kerry O'Brien), on the basis that the State is leaving the Church alone, so back off. Yet, voicing those ideas might be absolutely essential to what that Church is.

I am reading a book ("The Judgment of the Nations") which suggests that 'Western Democracy' is an indirect product of Calvinism. You probably know that I don't have much time for Calvinism, but when you think about which countries have been relatively democratic over the last few hundred years, it seems to fit. Here is a big long quote:

"In an age when the Papacy was dependent on the Habsburg monarchies and when Catholics accepted the theories of passive obedience and the divine right of kiongs, the Calvinists asserted the Divine Right of Presbytery and declared that "the Church was the foundation of the world" and that it was the duty of kings to "throw down their crowns before her and lick the dust from off her feet." But these theocratic claims were not hierarchic and impersonal as in the mediaeval Church, they were based on an intense individualism deriving from the certainty of election and the duty of the individual Christian to co-operate in realising the divine purpose against a sinful and hostile world. Thus Calvinism is at once aristocratic and democratic: aristocratic in as much as the "saints" were an elect minority chosen from the mass of fallen humanity and infinitely superior to the children of the world; but democratic in that each was directly responsible to God who is no respecter of persons. Calvinism is, in fact, a democracy of saints, elect of God, but also in a sense self-chosen, since it is the conscience of the individual which is the ultimate witness of his election...the great experiment of the Cromwellian Commonwealth, short-lived though it was, by the momentum of its religius impulse opened the way for a new type of civilisation based on the freedom of the person and of conscience as rights conferred absolutely by God and Nature. The connexion is seen most closely in America where the Congregationalist Calvinism of New England ... leads on directly to the assertion of the Rights of Man in the constitutions of the North American States and to the rise of political democracy."

"An elect minority chosen from the mass of fallen humanity and infinitely superior to the children of the world." Doesn't that sound like Americans to you? :)


Dave said...

Re your last question: applied to Bush, I can see where he might have been chosen from the mass of fallen humanity, but I'm balking at the 'superior to children' part... [grin]

Being an agnostic with atheistic inclinations (I don't necessarily discount the possibility of a god or gods, but regard any such as wholly unnecessary and irrelevant to me, an attitude that will undoubtedly see much struck down one day), my preference is for utter separation of Church and State in every respect.

However, people being what they are, any given body of politicians, policy-makers, judiciary etc etc is going to be shaped by the values, positive and prejudicial, imparted to individuals by their respective religious communities. Likewise, church leaders and the like are popular and respected figures and have the same right/responsibility to speak out on matters they deem important (which is not to say I don't wish Archbishop Pell would shut the hell up sometimes) and are apt to influence opinions and even decisions thereby.

Where I get uncomfortable is with political figures elected in a (for want of a better word) secular process overtly pursuing faith-based agendas (sorry, hate that expression but can't think of a better one) - even when they clash with the values held by their voters in the electorate.

To be fair, though, I despise any politician who, having been elected by a majority, then pursues a contrary agenda on the basis of their personal ideology.

I seem to have strayed away from the topic, but then I didn't have much of a point to begin with.

Dr. Clam said...

I promise to move on from the separation of Church and State thing, really truly...

"Where I get uncomfortable is with political figures elected in a secular process overtly pursuing faith-based agendas - even when they clash with the values held by their voters in the electorate."Are there any examples of this you are thinking of in particular? Here, John Howard pretty much told Tony Abbott to keep his mouth shut, while I'm sure it would have been hard for any Americans to remain ignorant of George Bush's faith-based agenda- looming large as it does in the imagination of the Left, for all that it seems a feeble and wilted thing to "Restore the Caliphate" types like me...

Dave said...

Cynically, my observation is that Howard only told Abbott to pull his head in when it became apparent, after two or three weeks of media-prodding, that there was going to be no popular uprising demanding the overturn of abortion laws. No political mileage = new issue.

Which is politically pretty smart of him, but in no way morally admirable.