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 http://www.biopolis.org. 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.]