Discover more from Remembering Sion
The Inseparability of Church and State
A glimmer of truth appeared in The Washington Post several days ago when Kathleen Parker responded to yet another legal battle being waged across the country relating to the separation of Church and State: can government entities grant funds or contracts to religious adoption and foster care agencies who decline to place children into the homes of same-sex couples? Parker criticizes the city of Philadelphia for answering “no” to this question, but she does not do so as a religious partisan. In fact, she partially bases her argument on purely practical concerns:
I’m not Catholic, nor do I share the church’s belief that same-sex marriage is a sin. And defunding CSS is no good answer. On a typical day, Philadelphia’s CSS serves on average more than 120 foster children and supervises about 100 homes, according to the lawsuit. In 2017, CSS worked with more 2,200 at-risk children.
That’s a lot of slack for other agencies to pick up, explaining why the city issued an emergency call in March for 300 new foster families.
An important consideration, but nevertheless it is not the crux of the issue — as Parker well knows. Rather remarkably, she identifies the real battle taking place:
On the surface, one might say this is a classic case of state vs. church: The city must uphold its policies forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. And CSS must honor Catholic teaching and not place children in LGBTQ households.
On a deeper level, however, the issue cuts right to the core of religious liberty. Although the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom has always meant that the state couldn’t impose a religion upon its people, secularism would seem to qualify as a religion inasmuch as the state’s policies are really beliefs — articles of faith based upon far less information and experience than the church’s. There’s no dogma like no-dogma, if I may quote myself…
Threatening to cut ties with CSS in June, based solely on its religiously informed policy, seems like discrimination by any other name.
This is precisely what is happening: one religion is attempting to subjugate another. The only reason why we don’t immediately realize this is because that religion (which goes by the name of secular liberalism, but which is in reality a precursor to Antichristianity) has convinced the world that it is not a religion at all, but rather moral truth distilled into its objective essence (often called “human rights”) — and that it is therefore superior to, and binding upon, all other religions.
The War for the Soul of the West
This legal battle is simply the latest episode in the history of a religious war which has been fought throughout the Western world since even before the time of the Enlightenment. And one of the most effective weapons in this war has been the idea that there can be — even in principle — any such thing as state neutrality in the matter of religious belief or practice. It is no exaggeration to state that this weapon has shaped the modern world; this idea is the basis of all liberal democracy. And since we have all been deeply conditioned to view liberal democracy as the only conceivable form of morally acceptable governance, it can be extremely difficult for us to objectively consider the basic tenets of this ideology, much less evaluate the moral and religious implications of accepting them.
Thankfully, one of the many benefits of liberal democracy is that we have free access to old books, books written by men who had not yet been wholly steeped in the subconscious ideals and values of modernity. One such man was Sir James Stephen, a 19th-century British lawyer and political philosopher, and perhaps the most invaluable service which he rendered to mankind took the form of a book entitled Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. If you want to understand what I mean when I say that the modern world is embracing Antichristianity — or, more accurately, that modernity is Antichristianity — perhaps the best place to start is by reading Sir James Stephen’s book.
The Creed of Antichristianity
But alas, who has time to read books? Nevertheless, to hopefully pique your interest as well as to demonstrate the monumental nature of the book in question, I will simply quote the opening paragraph:
The object of this work is to examine the doctrines which are rather hinted at than expressed by the phrase ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.’ This phrase has been the motto of more than one Republic. It is indeed something more than a motto. It is the creed of a religion, less definite than any one of the forms of Christianity, which are in part its rivals, in part its antagonists, and in part its associates, but not on that account the less powerful. It is, on the contrary, one of the most penetrating influences of the day. It shows itself now and then in definite forms, of which Positivism is the one best known to our generation, but its special manifestations give no adequate measure of its depth or width. It penetrates other creeds. It has often transformed Christianity into a system of optimism, which has in some cases retained and in others rejected Christian phraseology. It deeply influences politics and legislation. It has its solemn festivals, its sober adherents, its enthusiasts, its Anabaptists and Antinomians. The Religion of Humanity is perhaps as good a name as could be found for it, if the expression is used in a wider sense than the narrow and technical one associated with it by Comte. It is one of the commonest beliefs of the day that the human race collectively has before it splendid destinies of various kinds, and that the road to them is to be found in the removal of all restraints on human conduct, in the recognition of a substantial equality between all human creatures, and in fraternity or general love. These doctrines are in very many cases held as a religious faith. They are regarded not merely as truths, but as truths for which those who believe in them are ready to do battle, and for the establishment of which they are prepared to sacrifice all merely personal ends.
Such is the creed of Antichristianity. And if you can read Stephen’s description of it and not immediately begin to see it everywhere around you, then I fear that this may not be the site for you.
The Origin of the Secular Ideal
I swill have more to say in the future about this creed, as well as Stephen’s analysis of it, but for now I should return to the topic of hand: the inherent impossibility of any separation of Church and State.
It is important to note that the essential secular idea — the doctrine of the separation of Church and State — arose after a period of extremely bloody European wars fought largely on the basis of religion (naturally, many other factors came into play as well). The split between Catholicism and Protestantism had proved to be insoluble, and so the only hope for peace in Europe appeared to be the possibility of finding some other basis of unity than the unity of Christendom, which had been the foundation of the Western world up until that time. And thus was secularism born.
I emphasize the importance of this history because we must understand full well the laudable motivations of those who first came to believe in the secular ideal, as well as the true nature of the promises which secularism was born to make. And more than anything else, it is absolutely vital to realize that the origin of secularism lies nowhere else than in the failure of Christians to be true Christians. It is only by overcoming this failure that we can possibly hope to overcome its effects.
A False Peace
Nevertheless, it is perhaps impossible to overstate the attractiveness of a theory of government which promises to allow all men to live together in peace, regardless of their creed, and which moreover also promises to allow the full and unhindered practice of all religions equally. The only problem is that such a promise is impossible to fulfill. In the words of Sir Stephen:
The fatal defect in the arrangement, which must sooner or later break it up, is that… it is but a temporary and not a very honest device. To turn Churches into mere voluntary associations, and to sever the connection between them and the State, is on the part of the State an act not of neutrality but of covert unbelief. On the part of the Churches which accept it, it is a tacit admission of failure, a tacit admission that they have no distinct authoritative message from God to man, and that they do not venture to expect to be recognised as institutions to which such a message has been confided.
This problem is elaborated upon:
When priests, of whatever creed, claim to hold the keys of heaven and hell and to work invisible miracles, it will practically become necessary for many purposes to decide whether they really are the representatives of God upon earth, or whether consciously or not they are impostors, for there is no way of avoiding the question, and it admits of no other solutions.
This is indeed the heart of the matter: if the claims of any one religion are true, then without question this fact will hold vast and innumerable implications for the living out of human life on every conceivable level: personal, familial, economic, governmental, etc. Therefore to organize our society without taking those religious claims as its basis, to disregard the implications of those claims in regards to the rule of law, unavoidably implies the tacit belief that those religious claims are not really true. As Stephen states elsewhere: “When religious differences come to be and are regarded as mere differences of opinion, it is because the controversy is really decided in the sceptical sense, though people may not like to acknowledge it formally.”
In another place Stephen gives the following concrete example to demonstrate his point:
If a Mahommedan, for instance, is fully to realize his ideal, to carry out into actual fact his experiment of living, he must be one of a ruling race which has trodden the enemies of Islam under their feet, and has forced them to choose between the tribute and the sword. He must be able to put in force the law of the Koran both as to the faithful and as to unbelievers. In short, he must conquer. Englishmen come into a country where Mahommedans had more or less realized their ideal, and proceed to govern it with the most unfeigned belief in the order of ideas of which liberty is the motto. After a time they find that to govern without any principles at all is impossible, though they think it would be very pleasant, and they are thus practically forced to choose between governing as Englishmen and governing as Mahommedans. They govern as Englishmen accordingly. To suppose that this process does not in fact displace and tend to subvert Mahommedan ideas is absurd. It is a mere shrinking from unpleasant facts.
A Compromised Christianity
It might be convenient to suppose that this example does not apply to Christianity, on the grounds that Christianity does not make claims upon society in the same way that Islam does. It might be thought that Christianity does not inherently oppose any of the tenets of secularism upon which our society has been founded. Because of the outward similarity between the two religions, there are doubtless very many Americans who believe in such a claim.
But one need only to have paid the scantest attention to American society over the past ten years to realize that such a claim has no basis in reality. One need only read Kathleen Parker’s brief op-ed piece to recognize that it is a mere fantasy. The conflict is real, and it is absolutely unavoidable. And if there are any who believe that they have avoided it, then it is likely because either they have not yet been truly confronted with it, or else — whether they realize it or not — they have already chosen a side.
Though written nearly a century and a half ago, the following passage from Stephen’s book applies directly to the issue at hand:
To take prominent concrete cases, who can say whether laws about marriage… belong to the spiritual or to the temporal province? They obviously belong to each. They go down to the very depths of the human soul. They affect the most important outward actions of every-day life. Again, if the two provinces exist, and if the temporal and spiritual powers are independent, it is obvious that the line between their territories must either be drawn by one of them, or must be settled by agreement between them. If either has the power of drawing it, that one is the superior of the other, and the other has only to take what its superior leaves to it… If the limits are settled by agreement (which has never yet been done in any part of the world), you have no longer two provinces divided by a natural boundary, but two conflicting powers making a bargain. You have not a Church and a State each with a province naturally its own, but two States or two Churches—call them which you please—of rather different characters coming into collision and making a treaty. This is a merely conventional and accidental arrangement, and does not answer, as according to the theory it ought, to a distinction founded on the nature of things.
The latter choice — the idea that the Church and the State are “separate but equal,” to borrow a phrase — is therefore clearly impossible. It must then be the former: one is superior to the other. And America has clearly decided that the State is superior, and that, as Stephen says, the Church “has only to take what its superior leaves to it.” Which is, obviously, increasingly little.
The Inevitable Method of Persecution
But the fiction that the two can peacefully coexist, that there is no inherent conflict between the two, is nevertheless undeniably useful. And the idea that there are certain common truths which all religions hold, and which can therefore form the basis of a common society, is exceedingly widespread. Therefore, as Stephen predicted, the conflicts which do arise between Church and State must be dealt with piecemeal:
The real opinion of most legislators in the present day, the opinion in favour of which they do, in fact, exercise coercion, is the opinion that no religion is absolutely true, but that all contain a mixture of truth and falsehood… When you persecute a religion as a whole, you must generally persecute truth and goodness as well as falsehood. Coercion as to religion will therefore chiefly occur in the indirect form, in the shape of treating certain parts—vital parts, it may be—of particular systems as mischievous and possibly even as criminal falsehoods when they come in the legislator’s way.
This describes precisely the history of religion and politics in America. Gradually, more and more “parts” of the Christian religion have “come in the legislator’s way” (or in the judiciary’s way, as is more commonly the case now than in Stephen’s time). And each time the State has triumphed, and Christianity has either adapted or been abandoned.
The Religious Claims of the State
Yet this process is in itself quite revealing of the true nature of the claims of the State:
It is for immediate practical purposes highly convenient to say, Your creed is, no doubt, divine, and you are the agents of God for the purpose of teaching it, but liberty of opinion is also more or less divine, and the civil ruler has his own rights and duties as well as the successors of the Apostles. But, convenient as this is, it is a mere compromise. The theory is untrue, and no one really believes more than that half of it which suits him.
We are brought back, then, to the question, Are these doctrines true?
This is the vital question of all. It is the true centre… of all the great discussions of our generation. Upon this hang all religion, all morals, all politics, all legislation—everything which interests men as men. Is there or not a God and a future state? Is this world all?
“Is this world all?” Here is exposed the fundamental question. And with the question clearly revealed, it is no longer difficult to perceive also the fundamental claim of secularism: this world is all that there is… or at least all you need concern yourself with. It is this central doctrine that forms the basis of the creed of Antichristianity with which Stephen began his book.
The Need for a Shared Truth
All relativistic claims of the modern era were but means to an end: the destruction of Christian tradition, and the opening of men’s hearts to a new religion, to a new “absolute truth” — that this world is all that matters. Even the creed of Antichristianity itself is, in the final analysis, only a means to bring about this one belief in the heart of man. That creed — liberty, equality, fraternity — is full of self-contradictions, and this becomes clear as soon as it is put into effect in the real world. It gave us the French Revolution, it gave us the Gulag, it gave us consumer-capitalist America. It is Shigalyovism, as expressed in Demons by Dostoevsky:
I got entangled in my own data, and my conclusion directly contradicts the original idea from which I start. Starting from unlimited freedom, I conclude with unlimited despotism. I will add, however, that apart from my solution of the social formula, there can be no other.
Indeed, there can be no other. As Stephen points out:
The only road to peace leads through truth, and when a powerful and energetic minority, sufficiently vigorous to impose their will on their neighbours, have made up their minds as to what is true, they will no more tolerate error for the sake of abstract principles about freedom than any one of us tolerates a nest of wasps in his garden.
This is where we are now, in the modern world. A “powerful and energetic minority, sufficiently vigorous to impose their will on their neighbours, have made up their minds as to what is true.”
The Path of the Saints
So what are we, who wish to be faithful Christians, to do? Nothing other than that which the Church has always done in times such as these: to acknowledge that we are living under pagan rule, to pray with love and all sincerity for those whom God has allowed to rule over us, and to absolutely refuse to sacrifice to the state gods. And most of all, to cling faithfully to Christ, to His Holy Church, and to His commandments… no matter what the cost.
That is to say, we must become saints.
At the risk of coming under my own condemnation for this lengthy and rather philosophical article, I will close with these words of Archimandrite Vasileios of Iveron about who and what a Saint really is:
The Lord did not come through His Incarnation to do something for the people, to organize them in this temporary life, or to enlist them in a political or social struggle. Rather, He came to do something for mankind, to save it and raise it to its ancient dignity…
When we are in the presence of a Saint, he does not make our heads spin with theories. Our minds have become a seething mass of theories, anti-theories, and super-theories. But in the person of the Saint we have before us a true human being, a clear image of God; and the important thing is not what he says but what he imparts through his presence… The Saint imparts something: he imparts the grace of God, which tests man. For those who speak the language of the family, man’s natural language, it is a blessing. And for those who speak the language of self-love and hatred, it is hell. It cannot be otherwise…
But the Saint does not destroy us; he does not use us. He loves us. But do not think that his love is sentimental. It is harsh, much harsher than any cruelty. He wants each of us to be saved, to become god by grace.
The gratitude and reward for him is that we should find ourselves, that we should be sanctified, and that from the depths of our being there should arise the doxology: ‘Glory to God!’ He does not want to make us supporters of his party or members of his association… He only wants us to find our way in Christ Jesus. If this happens, then we are always together wherever we go and however many millennia pass. Thus, all creation and time are sanctified, and we already live in a different way, even now…
And precisely because we are gathered in the name of Jesus Christ and are a small portion of the leaven of the Kingdom of Heaven, we have a dynamism which never ceases and fears nothing…
We do not want to win by trampling on everyone else. We want to live the joy that raises everyone up.