Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman

The Pope on Separation of Church & State and the Secular Threat

Since Pope Benedict XI has long decried the grave threat of secularism, I always wondered whether he understood the subtle way that the Founders hoped secularism and religion would interplay. In his speech to the Bishops Wednesday, he showed that he understands the interplay better than many American religious conservatives.

“It strikes me as significant that here in America, unlike many places in Europe, the secular mentality has not been intrinsically opposed to religion. Within the context of the separation of Church and State, American society has always been marked by a fundamental respect for religion and its public role, and, if polls are to be believed, the American people are deeply religious. But it is not enough to count on this traditional religiosity and go about business as usual, even as its foundations are being slowly undermined. A serious commitment to evangelization cannot prescind from a profound diagnosis of the real challenges the Gospel encounters in contemporary American culture.”


In other words, the Founding Fathers wanted separation of church and state as a precondition for religious freedom, but had no intention of dampening the human quest for faith, or even the need to evangelize that faith. As John Adams wrote, “men ought (after they have examined with unbiased judgments every system of religion, and chosen one system, on their own authority, for themselves), to avow their opinions and defend them with boldness.”

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Charles Cosimano

posted April 17, 2008 at 11:04 am

Of course he does not understand it. No Pope, no European for that matter, ever has.

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Karen Brown

posted April 17, 2008 at 11:11 am

It seems they don’t (as many Americans who seem to want to change this) understand that it is the secular nature of the Government that allows for this free inquiry, and therefore, free enthusiasm for religion.
In that sort of society, you are practicing your religion (or not practicing one) not because you will be civilly punished to do so, or it is the socially acceptable thing to do, or to advance your material goals because you can’t get the good jobs, or get elected, if you do not.. You do so because it reflects your actual beliefs.
Most of those ‘challenges’ he notes are not about roots of religion being undermined, but that people, including religious ones, don’t always agree on what is and is not allowable, and in a free society, we don’t enforce religious laws.
A person has to choose, of their own ‘Free Will’ (remember that one?) whether or not something is sinful, and has to allow his neighbor the same courtesy. And the neighbor may make a different decision than you.

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posted April 17, 2008 at 11:30 pm

“…after they have examined with unbiased judgments every system of religion…”
Totally impossible as religion is a cultural phenomena.

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posted April 18, 2008 at 8:42 am

“But it is not enough to count on this traditional religiosity and go about business as usual, even as its foundations are being slowly undermined.”
Christians must “contend for the faith” against leftist/liberal/progressive humanism that is the religion of the state, promoted without challenge in the education system, indoctrinating our children from pre-school to PhD. Secularists are dishonest in their tactics. It is time to counter that with the truth of the Gospel. I love this Pope.

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