Separation of church and state is often triumphed by self-labeled liberals in the US when it comes to keeping religion out of the law.
When it comes to keeping the state out of faith, self-labeled conservatives will themselves fall back on the separation of church and state, the United States Constitution, specifically the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment of the Constitution.
Fortunately for Americans, both the liberal and conservative perspectives are correct, from a constitutional standpoint. The actual wording of the Constitution prohibits both discrimination by the state against religions, and discrimination by the state in favor of religions. It is clear.
But what about countries where it isn’t clear, where there isn’t a Constitution at all?
Other countries, such as the United Kingdom, have a “state religion” at least in certain locations. This is absolutely alien to what exists in the US. Here in the UK, the government genuinely does favor a religion over others (Anglicanism in England at least) and even automatically appoints the “Lords Spiritual” from the Church of England as lawmakers capable of blocking or approving legislation.
However, the UK also privileges certain other denominations, enabling them to also have a privileged place at their own schools for example (Roman Catholicism, Islam). In the United States, there are no state-funded schools favoring a particular religious denomination, and to suggest a school system as we have in the United Kingdom would violate the Constitution in the worst possible way. It would mean the state had taken sides and blessed a specific religion, encouraging it to be taught to children rather than other religions. Free Bibles are still issued to students in the UK by the actual state school authorities – somewhat ironic considering the UK is more atheistic than the US.
The UK’s idea of separation of church and state has a lot more to do with a much older doctrine than the modern separation of church and state in the US. Ours is more related to the medieval “two kingdoms” or “two swords” doctrine. In this view, the authority of spirituality and belief is above the profane authority of kings in the material world. There is some separation, but only due to the theological idea that the sacred and the profane need to be separated. The Church can actively interfere in politics all it likes.
Interestingly, inside the territory of Vatican City, there is not even a “two swords” doctrine. The Pope is literally the head of state in a material sense, complete with bodyguards and the ability to pass and enforce laws, and is also the head of the spiritual realm – which extends far beyond Vatican City into the hearts of millions across the globe.
But what of clashes between the two swords? Which is the stronger?
One of the problems with the US Constitution’s establishment clause of the 1st Amendment is that it is a practical impossibility. The establishment clause can reject laws that blatantly favor a religious denomination. It can and must prevent the establishment of a state religion like in the UK. But can it actually bar faith and faith-based morality from politics?
I would argue US law is thoroughly contaminated with faith already, from the moment the Constitution was drafted.
Even the US founding fathers. Although they were not theocrats and they rejected any role for religion in the state, they and all other western republican thinkers in their time did hold religious moral views and even prejudices against other religions. The view of Islam among European and colonial intellectuals at that time was offensively prejudiced and based on very narrow, occluded versions of history written from a dogmatic Christian perspective and will not be addressed in this post. The point is that even the west’s biggest pioneers of church-state separation felt that some religions were more decent than others, and they still enshrined what were then predominantly Christian views as law. All this, while saying church and state are separate.
In a literal sense, church and state are separate in both the US Constitution and in the United Kingdom, which merely favors a religion and doesn’t actually integrate the functions of church and state into a single organized authority. However, even states with full church-state separation are still theocracies of the heart. Humans are inherently spiritual and religious. Even when they try to bar religious morality from lawmaking, it still finds ways to express itself for as long as the decisions are being made by people of an inherently religious moral persuasion.
We can lament about how Muslims can’t separate their religion from their politics, but in a way their view is more healthy. It is more true to the way people are. They are no different really than any Christian who so happens to also make laws of the state. The only difference is that they dare mention their religion when making law, whereas in the west one is castigated for admitting that the source of their morals is their religion. “Unconstitutional!” “theocracy!” people will cry.
This post doesn’t address any specific issue, such as abortion. However, the next time someone shouts out that allowing one’s beliefs and morals to influence their ideas about the law is horrible, theocratic and unconstitutional, remind them that all people hold beliefs. I do not see that anything except banning humans from government could fully bar religion from power and from passing laws to its liking.
What example is there of a Christian belief influencing the US Constitution, you may ask?
Well, the establishment clause of the First Amendment, for a start. It complies absolutely with Christian notions of decency, of right and wrong.
Ironically, the origin of the “two swords” doctrine of separation that came before the First Amendment is Christian. Jesus states, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s”. The very notion of keeping state and church separated is therefore descended from Christian notions, not the product of reason or the Enlightenment. It does not exist in the philosophy of any other religion and is of no interest to them. Only Christians ever decided church and state, the spiritual and the temporal, should be separated. Secularism now is consistent with someone of European Christian descent and typical only of them.
The spiritual sword will always be stronger than the temporal one, because it is so elusive, embedded even in the Constitution itself without the authors being aware. Its reach into your heart is much, much longer than you can possible realize. Religious affections and sensibilities do ultimately still influence everyone, even the architects of atheistic and secular law, and it is perhaps more healthy to try to understand it than deny it.
According to various news reports, President Obama won’t apologize for America’s actions in dropping one of the world’s first atomic bombs on Hiroshima in 1945.
This is while most Japanese people consider the bomb to have been unnecessary and cruel, and most Americans believe it was justified. Many Americans still hold the wartime view that Japan would not have surrendered after merely knowing about the atomic bomb, so mass killing of civilians was needed to show the Japanese leadership the might of the new Allied weapon and convince them the war was lost.
Hiroshima apology would be rejected by moral thugs
The idea that Hiroshima was justified is very dangerous and the people who assert the idea should take care. There is a particular word for the view that civilians are legitimate targets to convince political leaders to negotiate. I don’t think I need to use it.
Some analysts, such as the author of a report I recall reading at Stratfor, assert that total war was simply unavoidable in the 20th Century as military targets had been consistently shifting towards cities and factories ever since aerial warfare began to be refined between the two world wars. Thus a number of arguments basically say the “times” justified these horrific actions – that it was an era of total war, therefore – no matter how prejudiced, stupid and evil those warriors might have actually been in their time – we need to revere them as heroes and thank them for our “freedoms”.
The reality is that, aside from being more racist, more bigoted, more poorly educated, and armed with cruder weapons, the troops who won World War Two were not much different than people now. In fact they were intellectually and morally stunted, compared with people now. Reverence for World War Two leaders and soldiers as perfect examples of moral men just because they battled Hitler needs to end, and it will. Many of them held racist views that are actually indistinguishable from Hitler and they battled Hitler for no reasons at all to do with anti-racism.
I think one of the reasons we see no Hiroshima apology from Obama is because he can’t offend all the knuckleheads in the US who worship the military and see pilots and marines as heroes and saints, in particular if they fought during World War 2. After all, many of those veterans are still alive. It’s hard to shame the veterans from World War 2, the way you might shame someone like George Armstrong Custer now, because some of those troops – and certainly their relatives who lived during their lives and acts – are still alive.
Hiroshima apology inevitable from a later administration
It can be argued, though, that Obama should apologize for the use of nuclear weapons, because he as a politician has declared how terrible nuclear weapons are and said the world should be free of them. He has failed to deliver on that promise as he nears the end of his administration, so it is perhaps wisest for his political career if – rather than a Hiroshima apology – he says nothing. If he apologizes, he might only be accused of hypocrisy on the left (for failing to deliver on nuclear disarmament while making such proclamations) and weakness on the right (for apologizing to the “enemy”).
Although I won’t use this post to say there should be a Hiroshima apology from the United States, I can guarantee that there will be. There will eventually be a point in history when Americans look at World War Two more skeptically and realize that their own forces were in many cases just as brutal and stupid as the enemies they were fighting against. In time, World War Two will gradually be seen less as a battle between good and evil, and more as just another savage historical period filled with bloodthirsty factions all at each other’s throats. No one in particular thinks the War of the Roses or the Thirty Years’ War had good guys and bad guys.
As a war becomes faded with time, all we see is a hell filled with crusaders and barbarians bludgeoning each other for stupid reasons, and we don’t especially think or care that anyone was the good side or more justified in its violence than the other. You may think the Germans or Japanese deserved to be blown to bits – civilians and all – but future generations will look at that view and just think you were a violent primitive, brainwashed by loyalty to your flag and anthem. To them, you’ll just be another nationalist loon who helped start wars in the first place.
A project to resurrect the dead using science has gained quite a bit of publicity recently and deserves at least one mention at Beliefnet.
What is most intriguing is that this project isn’t just about resuscitating people who are clinically brain-dead, but about regenerating actual dead tissue, effectively turning a corpse into a living person. That is the impression one gets from looking into this story, and the reason it has achieved so much attention.
Many people assume the project is far more dramatic than it really is. The company responsible for ReAnima, Bioquark, has done very little to quell the idea that it is doing something on par with Doctor Frankenstein.
Although Christians would have more than an instinct to condemn such a project (since their religion necessarily holds that only Christ can truly resurrect the dead) there are also secular reasons to think it might be a bad idea. Who is to say if these (certainly praiseworthy) medical professionals succeed in restarting a deceased human brain as they intend, they are able to keep it alive?
And if they can’t keep a reanimated person alive, or the body reacts in ways they did not expect and they have to abort the treatment, could they be guilty of killing a person – who was already dead? Just the prospect of bringing someone back from the dead for a few seconds creates many, many questions that might at best have been a thought experiment in the past, but soon the experiment could be a real one.
Does a resurrected person have the same rights as anyone else? If they are killed after being reanimated, have they been murdered, or has their dead body only been damaged? If they are killed, and then resurrected a second time, were they then murdered? What if someone regrets being brought back to life? What if they held very sensitive religious beliefs against being brought back to life by material means?
Perhaps most troubling of all for people of faith, what does it mean for belief in an afterlife, if people begin returning from death with no stories to tell other than darkness and oblivion – without dimension or time?
With my fairly radical view of technology, I don’t oppose any medical project to reanimate the dead, but it could have far greater repercussions for humanity than the people hoping to accomplish it yet realize. Transhumanists ought to be delighted with it. Unless the reports are hyped, which in all probability they are.
But even if the story is exaggerated now, it is likely that one day it won’t be. And, in that moment, medical science will find its own ideas about resurrection that don’t necessarily coincide with religious ones.
I’m continuing to work at my audio version of Catalyst: A Techno-Liberation Thesis (2013). Everything will progress and it should be completed soon.
I’ve also got a copy of Center for a Stateless Society’s (C4SS) Kevin Carson’s book The Homebrew Industrial Revolution. Although I am not under any illusions that my very basic and amateurish booklet (inspired by the transhumanists, futurists and others I have dealt with) could compete with a text of such high value as Carson’s, I hope that at least some of my own radical ideas about equality and technology find a bit of validation in Carson’s work. Both books discuss quite similar themes and have similar influences, and it would be interesting to look at this.
In the meantime, for apparent technical reasons and my own exhaustion, I must refrain from writing this post to any great length. Hopefully, my next post will be more rewarding.