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.
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.
Heat death is the point at which all energy in the universe is “used” and nothing can happen. Everything goes dark again – forever?
The Lifeboat Foundation includes the heat death of the universe on its list of top existential threats to humanity. This creeping darkness may be certain, or it may never happen. Should our civilization prepare for this? Should “we” expect to exist at that time? Should you be worried?
The theory of the heat death of the universe refers to entropy. In a closed system, we reach “thermodynamic equilibrium”, a consequence of the second law of thermodynamics. Simply put, over a great enough time all things will collapse into rubble, and eventually everything will go cold and stop doing doing anything. It will all have just run out of energy.
One scientific source cited over Wikipedia puts the heat death of the universe at 10100 years from now. That’s a number almost beyond comprehension, we are talking of one googol, or “ten thousand sexdecillion”. Yes, those are actually real numbers.
The Earth will have ceased to exist, destroyed a long time ago, by then. We have about 7-8 billion years left before the sun goes nova, barely a blink in time compared with how long the universe has left. But what if there are still people or their descendants fighting to survive such events? How will they eventually deal with the heat death of the universe?
Well, it is unlikely they would be “human”, at least not in the sense we understand at this point in history. Having fully comprehended and later stripped down their bodies and minds into pure data that can be uploaded to machines, they would be post-humans in the perfect sense. This means preserved human intelligences, maintained by machines, as predicted by experts on the technological Singularity like Ray Kurzweil. They would already have done much to escape the “heat death” already at this stage, just by existing. They would be far more resilient than us, with augmented creative brainpower beyond even the greatest scientists the world has known.
Such post-human beings, living beyond the Earth and capable of “uploading” themselves away from any dangers through vast interplanetary communication networks, would be virtually immortal. Their ancient minds, regulated and kept active since the very era when they once had human eyes, would possess lifespans with no limit. Even a billion years would seem trivial to them, so they might choose to sleep through many millions or billions of years in order to cross and explore interstellar space.
Humanity’s “uploaded” descendants would still require energy for nourishment, just like us. Their first place of interest would be our own sun, but when it explodes 7-8 billion years from now, they would have fled long before the danger emerged. As stars went cold and the power requirements of humanity’s super space children increased, it is likely they would migrate towards the galactic core over time, where the greatest amount of energy can be found but the gravitational forces are also strongest.
A supermassive black hole is believed to be at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. As it would be without reward for any being to cross the unfathomable gap between galaxies at any point during the lifespan of the universe, I would hypothesize it is towards the center of our own galaxy that intelligent life would migrate, and eventually make its last stand against the heat death of the universe.
Supposing their scientific knowledge was great enough, these super-beings might invest the energy of the galactic core to learn a way to escape and transcend even the heat death of the universe. As even the particle collider experiments of our times have shed much light on the origins of our universe, it would be child’s play for those ultimate beings to learn how the universe was created. And, with that knowledge, and the remaining power of the galactic core at their disposal, those beings might set in motion a plan to either migrate to another universe or even create another universe.
As strange as my last paragraph may seem, French philosopher Clément Vidal has argued exactly that in his book The Beginning and the End. You can also read some of the reactions of transhumanists (people who believe future technology holds the key to ultimately transcending all suffering and death) to the heat-death of the universe at an interesting Singularity Reddit post here from a couple of years ago.
And, to blow your mind even more, let’s ask: if humanity’s destiny is to create another universe by “artificial cosmogeny”, might this be something another creator already did, a long time ago?