Author Topic: On the Difficulty in Separating Church and State  (Read 276 times)

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Offline flapdoodle64

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On the Difficulty in Separating Church and State
« on: April 19, 2013, 03:07:12 PM »
First off, I want to be clear that I personally am 100% in favor of separation of church and state. 

But, in view of history, I am dubious to what extent such a thing might ever be accomplished, at least so far as the USA is concerned. 

This is because historically, religion and the state have usually been the same entity.  The ancient kings and queens either were considered to be gods themselves, or the offspring of gods, or otherwise appointed specifically by the god(s).  Now, this is not 100% universally true of all ancient societies...but even with a society such as ancient Rome, which had a pretty advanced form of political organization, the politicians had to appease numerous religious factions, and Julius Cesar himself promoted a legendary biography in which his birth story has certain trappings of mythology. 

The mythology of medieval Europe included a concept called 'The Great Chain of Being'...according to the Great Chain of Being, all creatures were organized by god into a hierarchy, with humans being above beasts, and with kings/queens being above other mortals but still of course below god and his angels.  European kings had legitimacy because their lineage had been made royal by the actions of god.

Ancient Judaism is a mythology most likely constructed so as to give unity to an amalgam of various ethnic groups and to give legitimacy to that group's kings and generals. 

If the Jewish prophet Jesus actually lived and was actually executed by the Romans, it was most likely because they considered him a political threat.  The term messiah had a political meaning in the 1st century AD more than it did a religious meaning. 

The creation of the USA's government by via a written, legalistic Constitution in 1787 is frequently considered to be a milestone in political evolution, a step away from the church/state hybrid.  And yet, by 1848, when construction of the Washington Monument began, you can see that historical figures such as an insurgent general had been named as 'Founding Fathers' and were taking on mythological characteristics.  The Washington Monument itself is based in part on the Egyptian pyramid, a religious structure. 

When Abe Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, there were immediate comparisons between Mr. Lincoln and the murdered demigod Jesus. 

By the early 20th century, the legal concept of Sedition had been expanded so as to make certain political speech equivalent to heresy, and punishable to the extreme.  The biggest heresy was Communism/Socialism, and well into the 21st century, to be openly Socialist is be effectively ghettoized regarding ones access to governmental affairs and public speech.

US history, as taught to primary school students, is essentially mythology, a story of virtuous peoples fleeing religious persecution, just as the legendary Hebrews allegedly fled the Egyptians. 

The US Constitution, considered by most of its writers as a pragmatic piece of political experimentation, has achieved a status of quasi-religious reverence.  It is even kept enclosed in glass, just as religious relics are.  Arguments regarding interpretation or amendment of the Constitution frequently hinge upon a notion of 'original intent,' which implies that the writers of the Constitution were specially decreed or empowered with political wisdom inaccessible to modern humans. 

In particular, a form of extreme fetishism surrounds the 2nd Amendment, wherein a meaning ascribed to it by modern readers takes precedent above every other article and amendment of the whole document, including the preamble. 

(An episode of the original Star Trek TV  series, 'The Omega Glory,' satirizes a group of  neo-barbarians who treat the Constitution as a Holy Relic.)

I think some of the shift of the USA toward a nation based on mythology is probably the result of intentional manipulation, but I think some of it is also unconscious, unintended...the result of primitive mental programs which seek strong and bellicose tribal identity. 

I know I took a long way to get here, but the point is that the political and religious regions of our brains are intertwined. 

Those of us who may think they are above the primitivism of religion, may themselves fall victim to the primitivism of nationalism or jingoism.   Even those who think they have moved their minds outside the reach of the old gods, may yet be intoxicated by the violent ecstasies of patriotic mythology.
« Last Edit: April 19, 2013, 03:30:06 PM by flapdoodle64 »

Offline Jag

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Re: On the Difficulty in Separating Church and State
« Reply #1 on: April 19, 2013, 03:32:56 PM »
I read this recently in response to an article on same-sex marriage:
The Supreme Court is also not bound to the definition of marriage as set forth in the Bible, because the US is not a church. There is no establishment of Christianity as the rule of law. Follow it in your own time if you wish, but no one else is required to be bound to your faith. The debate within the church body about how a marriage should be lived out remains there. It is not the function of government to solve your theological squabbles.

AS it is, you are speaking from a point of Christian Privilege, which is a big problem here in the US. Read this article carefully, and understand the viewpoint of someone that is a minority, the 22% of the country that doesn’t identify as Christian.


Wouldn't the US be a much better place if everyone would remember the FACT I bolded?

I want to give some serious thought to your post, you raise some good questions. We have an ideal we could be striving for as a country, but reality is what we have to address and the reality is that we are not doing so.
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Offline flapdoodle64

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Re: On the Difficulty in Separating Church and State
« Reply #2 on: April 19, 2013, 04:37:44 PM »
Some of the original colonies, such as Massachusetts, were originally envisioned by their first European settlers as theocracies...but the evidence is that the framers of the Constitution were more cosmopolitan in their views. 


Offline Jag

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Re: On the Difficulty in Separating Church and State
« Reply #3 on: April 19, 2013, 05:03:26 PM »
Lol, my Catholic poli-sci instructor has been trying to pound that very thing into my classmates heads all semester. It's difficult to have a discussion about politics without including religion, and it's been fascinating for me to watch him tread with great caution every time he has to mention it.

I've kept my mouth shut to the class as a whole, but the two people who sit on either side of me know I'm an atheist. I suspect the left side one leans that direction, and the right side one is more of a deist than anything. It's made for some interesting side discussions among the three of us.
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Offline Graybeard

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Re: On the Difficulty in Separating Church and State
« Reply #4 on: April 19, 2013, 05:36:49 PM »
the point is that the political and religious regions of our brains are intertwined. 

Religion and politics are about power and who holds it and why they hold it. Monarchs, in the past, allowed the church power in certain areas as this proved to be a good way of getting their messages across to the people. This continued as the interests of Church and State were usually intertwined.

The US is rare in that there is no state religion. Older countries have this. The oldest democracy, Iceland, has lutheranism as the state religion; you are born into it. It does have some influence on daily life, but not much. The UK has an established church. The only effect of this is that 6 bishops sit in the House of Lords (approx = the Senate) and occasionally get up to make some point or other - no one takes them seriously, although everyone is usually polite to them.

The mistake the US made was made by Ronald Reagan who mobilised the religious right. See how this is the opposite of what happened in most other older countries where the religious right were discouraged by those in power.

It must also not be forgotten that Europe ridded itself of most of its religious nutters when America opened up to immigrants: for which we are thankful but, if you believe in memes or genetics as far as belief is concerned, it does explain a lot.
RELIGION, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable. Ambrose Bierce