Separating State and Church

by | Jun 19, 2009 | POLITICS

Every human being needs a moral code in order to live. There is no choice about that. Morality is a requirement of man’s life. There is a choice of which moral code you accept. You might accept the moral code identified by a philosopher. Or you might accept the moral code of theologians. You might […]

Every human being needs a moral code in order to live. There is no choice about that. Morality is a requirement of man’s life. There is a choice of which moral code you accept. You might accept the moral code identified by a philosopher. Or you might accept the moral code of theologians. You might figure out a moral code of your own. But whatever the case, a moral code is essential to your life. And your actions will be guided by it whether you’re aware of it or not.

A moral code is more important to human beings than food and drink. Because depending on which moral code an individual chooses, it is his moral code that shapes his decision to earn food and drink, or to sacrifice for it, or to kill for it. On some level, to some extent, most Americans understand this.

But some do not. They believe that by blurring together church and state a happier and more loving culture will result, providing them with the subsistence they need. A brief glance at history proves this false.
In every culture on earth there have always been men who wanted only to produce the materials they needed in order to live, and to live peaceably in trade with their fellow men, free of coercion.

And there have always been men who wanted to rule those producers. Such men declared themselves rulers. Some sought to rule men’s actions. Eventually, these became known as the state. Some sought to rule men’s moral conscientiousness. These became known as the church.
Millenniums passed. Despite the presence of such rulers, before monotheism the vast majority of men enjoyed religious freedom. Some cultures were freer than others. People worshipped or not, as they chose.

Then in 313 AD the Emperor of Byzantine issued the Edict of Milan, making Christianity the state religion. It was a period when church and state were indistinguishable from one another. Yet, the ruler of the church squabbled with the ruler of the state. Who was more powerful? Who controlled what? Whose say-so was most important? The church wanted state power. The state wanted church power. Discord arose. Strife grew. Prosperity declined. Men began to fear for their lives.

Always mutually suspicious of one another, state and church sought ways to expand their powers. The most obvious way was to form an alliance with one another. The soldiers ordered into service by the state were commanded to kill with the religious fervor of the church. The Crusades was one result—orgies of murder, rape and mayhem that soaked the earth with human blood.

For one thousand years state and church formed and discarded alliances. Alliances to seize land or goods, to stamp out perceived threats, to slaughter heretics and infidels. They formed alliances to “rid society of witches, warlocks and gypsies,” to crush the non-believer, the errant-believer and the other-believer. The Inquisition is an example. It arrested innocent individuals, interrogated and tortured them, tore them apart on the rack, imprisoned, starved and burned them at the stake.

This period is known as the Medieval Ages. It was a time of unimaginable suffering: poverty, disease, slaughter, pillage and hatred. Individual moral conscientiousness was forbidden. Men were told what they must believe. They were terrified, their spirits crushed by lurid tales of damnation if they did not believe. A rage of malice and viciousness swept men’s minds and actions. Violence grew daily among individuals and groups, seemingly without end.

Between 1267-73, the theologian Thomas Aquinas argued for a different approach. He tried to clarify the realms of faith and the realms of reason. Some seventy-five years following the completion of his masterwork, the Italian Renaissance was born. Much of the misery of the Medieval Ages was wiped away.

During the Italian Renaissance, men had a better grasp of how things could be understood and great strides were made. But they were still not free to worship as they chose. The individual continued to suffer restrictions on his own moral conscientiousness. He was crushed between his longing to know greatness on earth and his confusion over church dictates. He remained the helpless victim of church and state.

This state of affairs continued until 1690 when John Locke published his famous Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Two Treatise on Government. These works indicated a solution to the dominance of church and state over men. The British Enlightenment spilled into the New World. About a century later came the explicit statement in the U.S. Constitution. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .”

This statement legally separated the powers of church and state. Congress was not the church. The church was not Congress. Signed in September 1787 and ratified in June 1788, men were freed at last from the specter of state and church allied against them. They were freed from demands to believe as the church dictated. They were free to worship as they chose, or not.

This highly truncated glance back in time shows why it is essential to keep church and state separate. It demonstrates why without the separation of church and state we are all in peril, no matter what our belief or absence of same. It shows why the separation of church and state is vitally important to us all. Unless we want to return to Medieval times, we must uphold the freedom of everyone to worship as they choose, or not. Which means we must keep separate church and state.

Sylvia Bokor is an artist and writer. You can read more of her writings on her blog.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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