Self-Anointed Saints

olitical discourse is rife with the issue of the separation of Church and
State. It regularly traverses controversial territory, with hot-button topics
such as abortion and the right to have the biblical story of creation taught in
public schools.’

During this years primary campaign Republican presidential candidates tended
to favor a more porous boundary between the institutions of Church and State.
They eagerly took every opportunity presented to them to declare a religious
fervor of one magnitude or another. During the Republican debates there were
times when one might have been prompted to ask, “Are these candidates for
political office or self-anointed contestants for sainthood?” George W.
Bush named Jesus Christ as his favorite philosopher. Alan Keyes proclaimed that
his candidacy was a mission from God. Gary Bauer even went so far as to claim
that the founding fathers of the United States did not intend for the Church and
State to be separate at all. The sole purpose of the first amendment, according
to Bauer, was merely to prevent one single religion from becoming a government
sponsored affair. This is clearly a distinction without a difference on Mr.
Bauer’s part. For to prevent one single religion from becoming a state sponsored
affair implicitly calls for a separation of Church and State. The first
amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an
establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”‘

The intentions behind the first amendment had a much broader scope than Mr.
Bauer would have us believe. Its purpose was not only to prevent government
sponsorship of one single religion but was also meant to ensure religious
freedom and prevent government from using its power to impose particular
religious views on people. The first amendment took aim at the power of
government and sought to prohibit it from claiming absolute authority for
itself. This was, of course, the overriding concern for the framers of the
United States’ constitution. It was expressed in the very architecture of their
revolutionary government. The checks and balances imposed upon the three
branches of government clearly demonstrate the founders’ paramount concern with
the separation of powers. The first amendment justifiably addresses the
separation of powers. It was penned to prevent the British doctrine of “the
divine right of kings” from taking hold in the United States. The doctrine
gave the monarchy absolute power as Head of the Church of England as well as
Head of the State. The framers saw that the obvious way to prevent Church and
State from joining forces was to keep them separate. So, Gary Bauer’s remark
about preventing State sponsorship of one single religion, with which he
intended to disclaim a constitutionally mandated separation of Church and State,
actually supports it.’

Mr. Bauer does not realize this because his thinking is, perhaps, blurred by
his religious fervor. Gary Bauer and his ilk will point to the use of the word
“God” in documents like the Declaration of Independence and on
government issued coinage to support their view of the compatibility between
Church and State. This is clearly a non sequitur. The one has nothing to do with
the other. A separation of Church and State does not categorically deny any
governmental association whatsoever with God. But the God that is mentioned in
the Declaration of Independence is a guarantor of “life, liberty and the
pursuit of happiness”. It is a God that recognizes itself in all religions.
A God that insists upon freedom of religion. A God that eschews a position as
Head of State. It is a God that clearly favors a separation between Church and
State. This is the God that the American Government must put its trust in.’

The controversy regarding the issue of Church and State is, on an individual
basis, a conflict between our faculties for Faith and Reason. How do we, as
individuals, manage Faith and Reason within ourselves? Do we consult our Reason
with respect to our Faith? Do we allow our Faith to be a tyrant over our Reason?
Do we employ our Reason to support unreasonable beliefs? Do we maintain separate
compartments in our minds for Faith and Reason in order to avoid any unpleasant
conflicts between the two? The answer to the last question seems too often to
be, “yes”. We do have a tendency to protect our beliefs from the
challenges presented to them by our Reason. Now, while it is wise to keep Church
and State separate this does not mean there should be an absence of
communication between them. We should also keep the lines of communication open
between our faculties for Faith and Reason.’

The importance of a belief in the divine, of faith in something other,
something eternal, still looms large within us. This prompts us to ignore a
connection between our Faith and anything that might jeopardize it. Whatever is
supported by our Reason and contradicts our beliefs is kept from infiltrating
our Faith. Being disingenuous with ourselves in this way can lead us astray to
the point where we come to accept the fuzzy concepts of a Gary Bauer as clear
thinking. The tendency to protect our Faith from the challenges posed by Reason
has been the norm at least since Galileo demonstrated that the sun was the
center of our solar system. At that time such a view was contrary to the
teaching of the Church/State of Rome. According to Church doctrine the Earth was
the center of the universe and to believe otherwise was heresy. This is clearly
an example of the abuse of power that can occur when Church and State are one.
But it was an abuse of power that was mirrored by individuals of the time who
allowed their Faith to run roughshod over their Reason. They wanted to continue
to believe in a geocentric universe in spite of what they were able to see
through Galileo’s telescope.’

In a society where the Church is the ruling entity we might expect the
populace to manifest a tendency to fall in line with its official policy. But in
a society that values freedom of religion and the separation of Church and State
individuals have a responsibility to be ever diligent in supervising the
relationship of Faith and Reason in themselves so that the issues of Church and
State can be clearly judged. Lacking this kind of supervision can prevent us
from examining particular statements that claim to be matters of Faith when in
fact they are not. For instance, the Gary Bauer’s of the world will not only
misrepresent the constitution in an attempt to have their way but they will go
so far as to manipulate and lie about Christian doctrine to suit their agendas.
Proponents of the so-called right-to-life movement, for example, want us to
believe that Christianity has always taught that the fetus is a human being.
They tell us that at the moment of conception the zygote has a soul and becomes
at that very instant one of God’s children. However, this is a total departure
from traditional Christian teaching and amounts to an outright falsehood.’

Generally, it has always been the belief of Christian Churches that as a
newborn you did not as yet have an immortal soul. Prior to Roe vs. Wade
one acquired a soul and became a child of God only at the time of one’s baptism.
A new born infant that died before being baptized could not even enter the
Kingdom of Heaven because it had not yet achieved the status of a human being.
In Catholic teachings the deceased infant would enter into a state of limbo
until its soul could be properly judged. In some Christian sects the unbaptized
newborn was considered an evil thing, no more than an animal. But after Roe v
Wade the zygote was suddenly promoted to a full fledged, soul bearing, card
carrying Christian and the Catholic state of limbo miraculously vanished. The
new status of the embryo has nothing to do with traditional teachings of the
Church. It was conveniently invented as a political ploy for the right wing to
counter the left. Thus, the fetus was officially, perversely, transformed into a
political football and our elected officials began wielding the power of the
Church in matters of State.

Misrepresenting the traditional teachings of the Church in order to attempt
to create a moral high ground for one’s political advantage is in itself an
immoral act. I suppose, we really can’t expect politicians to know any better.
But what about Church officials who go along with the politicians? One would
think they would adhere to a higher standard.’

It is plain to see that not all politicians can be trusted to correctly
interpret matters of Church and State. And some can even be counted on to
exploit religious authority for their own questionable ends. A citizenry
vigilant in managing their own faculties for Faith and Reason is one of our best
safeguards against abuses of power in that regard.

[T. J. Mclaughlin is a free lance
writer and author of
The Biosphere and the Body Politic. Excerpts of this
book can be viewed at
Mr. Mclaughlin was born in New York City on July 4, 1944. After graduating from
high school he worked as an actor for twenty-five years while studying
philosophy, mathematics, science, history and religion. He is now living in
Massachusetts and working on a new book about the nature of life and its
relationship with the universe