Why Separating the Church from the State is the Best Policy Essay

Published: 2020-04-22 15:24:05
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Those sympathetic toward the British dissenters and critical of the aristocratic foundations of eighteenth-century British life have found it easy enough to dismiss Burkes arguments as a simple defense of Whig oligarchy. [1] But Burkes belief that religion and society, church and state, stood or fell together was only the latest and perhaps most eloquent expression of a very old tradition in all of Christendom.

For men of Burkes temperament, the lesson was finally driven home by the general weakening of religious establishments in America after the Revolutionparticularly the formal disestablishment of the Anglican Church in Virginiaand the assault on religion by the French Revolution. [2] It is probably more difficult for Americans, whose government and society rest precisely on the very political philosophy and religious nonconformity which Burke opposed, than for citizens of more historically grounded nations, to view his defense of established religion and the confessional state with great sympathy.

But in this authors view, it is well worth the attempt. Jacques Maritain observed some forty years ago that while the confessional state may have only constituted the legal rather than the living, vital form of medieval sacral civilization, nevertheless medieval man and woman entered civil society and citizenship only through membership in the Church. Modern man and woman are citizens regardless of religious affiliation.

Maritain cited the view of the distinguished Catholic theologian, Charles Journet, who distinguished between the Christian state which was at the service of right and truth, and the modern state which justifies itself in the service of freedom and the realization of human dignity. According to Journet: It would be incorrect to describe medieval times as those of a confusion between the spiritual and the temporal . . . Their interrelations were characterized in medieval society by the fact that the spiritual order did not confine itself to acting on the temporal as a regulator of political, social and cultural values.

It tended . . . to become . . . a component element in the structure of society . . . Those who did not visibly belong to the Church were from the first dismissed society: the heathen over the frontiers, the Jews into ghettos. Those who, having first been Christians, afterwards broke with the Church, as heretics or schismatics, constituted a much greater dangerthey shook the very bases of the new society and appeared as enemies of the public safety. [3] All justification of views supporting the need for the true faith to force compliance comes in the last analysis from St.

Augustine. Peter Brown has called him the first theorist of the Inquisition and explains that his pessimism and belief in predestination allowed him to disbelieve in the wisdom of permitting error to do battle freely with truth in a competition of ideas, the preferred choice of a John Milton, perhaps of a John Locke, and of all liberals. Augustine was convinced that sinful man required firm handling, in his term discipline. This was how God had ruled Israel, and Christian society could do no less.

[4] Burke himself, during the intense excitement of the French Revolution, did not shrink from praising even the Spanish Inquisition, along with Joseph de Maistre, finding that as to the clergy, they are the only thing in Spain that looks like an independent order, and they are kept in some respect by the Inquisition, the sole but unhappy resource of pub-lick tranquility and order now remaining in Spain. As in Venice, it is become mostly an engine of State, which, indeed, to a degree, it has always been in Spain.

It wars no longer with Jews and Hereticks: It has no such war to carry on. Its great object is to keep atheistic and republican doctrines from making their way in that kingdom. [5] In view of the fact that for St. Thomas Aquinas nothing less than the Eucharist created the civic community, and because the conservative model of the good society was always medieval Europe, can one doubt that religion must lie at the foundation of the conservative understanding of citizenship? [6] Perhaps no one has understood the religious foundations of citizenship as well as J. G. A. Pocock.

His analysis deserves our full attention: To those for whom all intolerance is ridiculous and unnecessary, it is hard to imagine a world in which differences in religious belief had serious political consequences; but if Jesus Christ were less than an equal person of the holy and undivided Trinity, still more if he were a divinely appointed human being and not himself divine, there could be no thought that the Churchany Churchwas part of his continuing divine presence on earth, or in any corporate sense part of the presence of God among men.

Religion could only be a community of belief or opinion among those who voluntarily held beliefs or opinions in common; it could not be the institutional form of a communion between God and men . . . . Richard Price desired more than toleration for Protestant Dissenters; he desired a full equality of civil rights, irrespective of denominational membership or doctrinal subscription.

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