Oct 25, 2022
I will write (my law) upon their hearts… At that time, there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in their own mind.
At a time when our Atlantic culture has shed almost every vestige of common values, one meme remains largely unchallenged:
“The separation of church and state.”
While even now, the elaboration and application of this principle remains a subject of controversy, the fundamental concept is widely shared:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
Separation of Church and State is so thoroughly engrained in our political culture that it is rarely questioned. Yet, our modern Atlantic model is only one possible expression of this relationship.
Let’s look at some ways Church and State may (or may not) co-exist:
#1 No Church, All State
Religion, any religion, is the ‘opiate of the people’. It is objectively wrong and therefore harmful. It thwarts scientific progress, pays only lip service to reason, and threatens to delay the coming of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. It cannot be tolerated.
#2 Separation of Church and State
An impervious firewall must exist between Church and State. Church has no obligation to State, and State has no obligation to Church. In fact, State is to have no truc whatsoever with any religion or church. If Church is to ‘make it,' it must do so entirely on its own. For its part, State must adopt a strictly neutral position regarding religion in general and churches in particular.
#3 Co-existence of Church and State
States recognize that the voluntary practice of religion in no way undermines, and may even complement, the wellbeing of the realm. The position of Church is secure; churches enjoy all the same rights, privileges, and obligations as other institutions within the state.
#4 Hypostatic Church and State
Aka, the Carolingian model. Drawing on Christology, which holds Jesus Christ to be “true God and true man”, this view sees society as “true church and true state," Following the theological conclusions of the Councils of Nicaea (325 AD) and Constantinople (381 AD), Charles the Great (Charlemagne) imagined the relationship between Church and State to be similar to the relationship between Jesus’ Divine and Human Natures.
#5: Constitutional Theocracy
Both Church and State are necessary for the proper functioning of society. Church is sovereign in matters of faith. State, though sovereign in secular matters, governs under the umbrella of God’s Law (as interpreted by the Church).
State is expected to promote (but not require) the practice of religion; Church is expected to promote loyalty (but not blind) to the State. Logistical and ideological considerations may lead the State to recognize one church as the “official state religion” without prohibiting the expression and practice of other faiths.
#6: Absolute Theocracy
The Law of God, as interpreted by the Church, is normative in all things, civil as well as ecclesiastical. It is the entirety of the law. Therefore, the true theocratic state may have no legislative branch at all; or if it does, the legislative function can only apply to matters on which God’s law is silent, i.e., to the gaps between raindrops.
#7: All Church, No State
“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” – Jer. 31:33
“In those days, there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his (sic) own eyes.” – Judges 21:25
We seem to be living in a time when the question of church/state relations is once again taking center stage. We will all inevitably be drawn into the conversation. It may be useful to keep in mind that this is not a simple, binary choice between two discrete models.
Church/state relations exist along a continuum. They are analog, not digital. Intellectual history is not a jukebox. You don’t just punch two keys together to play a record.
A better analogy would be the hand turned dial (no button pushing, please) of an old-fashioned AM/FM radio. We move along the dial slowly but steadily. Along the way will encounter ‘islands of sound in a static sea’; that’s what we call ‘a station.'
Like what you hear? Good, let’s hang out there. Feeling the need for something more, or at least something different, no problem. Just make your way up the dial to the next oasis of sweet sound.
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