The state as church 7

Is statism – the control of private life by too-powerful government – proving to be the only alternative to the fading power of organized religions?

It may be happening, but it is not inevitable. We stand against the tyranny of both church and state. There is no contradiction in our political philosophy: Freedom under the Rule of Law, the protection of which is the state’s essential function.  

It is an entirely rational structure of ideas. There is no gaping hole in it needing to be filled by superstition, pointless rituals, appeals to supernatural inventions, moral dictatorship – or welfare entitlements.

It is not ours alone: it was the concept on which the Republic of the United States was founded.

The issue of “either the church or the state” arises because it has happened in Europe that the old would-be totalitarian tyranny of this or that church has been superseded by the new would-be totalitarian tyranny of the socialist state  - a model that the present US administration seems to want to emulate. 

Mark Steyn describes this development in Europe. He is right that it has happened. The state has become the moral dictator that the church once was. But he seems to think it better that the church should still exercise tyrannical power than that the state does it. He seems to think that one or the other – either church or state –  must hold us to its will.

How many millions of others – particularly in America, which, as he says, is still predominantly a religious land – believe that it is an inescapable alternative: overbearing church power OR overbearing state power? “Give up religion and you’ll be at the mercy of a despotic state.” We declare that they are wrong. That is not the only choice. Freedom is perfectly compatible with secularism. In fact, full and true freedom is ONLY compatible with secularism.   

The issue is not a clear cut choice between state tyranny OR church tyranny even in religious minds. As Mark Steyn also points out, the churches, or parts of them, have blithely and perhaps blindly promoted the too-powerful state, only to wake up and realize with a shock that they hadn’t thought out the consequences of their support until the state openly dictated to them what their doctrine ought to be. (As at present the Catholic Church’s doctrine against interference with reproduction processes is being overruled by Obama’s ballooning welfare state.)

Here’s part of what Mark Steyn writes in the National Review:

In America as in Europe, the mainstream churches were cheerleaders for the rise of their usurper: the Church of Big Government. Instead of the Old World’s state church or the New World’s separation of church and state, most of the West now believes in the state as church — an all-powerful deity who provides day-care for your babies and takes your aged parents off your hands. America’s Catholic hierarchy, in particular, colluded in the redefinition of the tiresome individual obligation to Christian charity as the painless universal guarantee of state welfare. Barack Obama himself provided the neatest distillation of this convenient transformation when he declared, in a TV infomercial a few days before his election, that his “fundamental belief” was that “I am my brother’s keeper”.

That’s the pretty way of justifying a policy of moral dictatorship .

Back in Kenya, his brother lived in a shack on $12 a year. If Barack is his brother’s keeper, why can’t he shove a sawbuck and a couple singles in an envelope and double the guy’s income? Ah, well: When the president claims that “I am my brother’s keeper,” what he means is that the government should be his brother’s keeper. And, for the most part, the Catholic Church agreed. They were gung ho for Obamacare. It never seemed to occur to them that, if you agitate for state health care, the state gets to define what health care is.

According to that spurious bon mot of Chesterton’s, when men cease to believe in God, they do not believe in nothing; they believe in anything.

Our bon mot in retort is: If a man can believe in God, he can believe in anything.

But, in practice, the anything most of the West now believes in is government. As Tocqueville saw it, what prevents the “state popular” from declining into a “state despotic” is the strength of the intermediary institutions between the sovereign and the individual. But in the course of the 20th century, the intermediary institutions, the independent pillars of a free society, were gradually chopped away — from church to civic associations to family. Very little now stands between the individual and the sovereign, which is why the latter assumes the right to insert himself into every aspect of daily life …

Seven years ago, George Weigel published a book called The Cube and the Cathedral, whose title contrasts two Parisian landmarks — the Cathedral of Notre Dame and the giant modernist cube of La Grande Arche de la Defense, commissioned by President Mitterrand to mark the bicentenary of the French Revolution. As La Grande Arche boasts, the entire cathedral, including its spires and tower, would fit easily inside the cold geometry of Mitterrand’s cube. In Europe, the cube — the state — has swallowed the cathedral — the church. I’ve had conversations with a handful of senior EU officials in recent years in which all five casually deployed the phrase “post-Christian Europe” or “post-Christian future,” and meant both approvingly. These men hold that religious faith is incompatible with progressive society. Or as Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s control-freak spin doctor, once put it, cutting short the prime minister before he could answer an interviewer’s question about his religious faith: “We don’t do God.”

For the moment, American politicians still do God, and indeed not being seen to do him remains something of a disadvantage on the national stage. But in private many Democrats agree with those “post-Christian” Europeans, and in public they legislate that way. …

This is a very Euro-secularist view of religion: It’s tolerated as a private members’ club for consenting adults. But don’t confuse “freedom to worship” for an hour or so on Sunday morning with any kind of license to carry on the rest of the week. You can be a practicing Godomite just so long as you don’t …  do it in the street and frighten the horses. The American bishops are not the most impressive body of men even if one discounts the explicitly Obamaphile rubes among them, and they have unwittingly endorsed this attenuated view of religious “liberty.”

We like the coinage “Godomite”! Does it hint that Steyn is not very keen on religion after all? Well, we are among his admirers and will allow him his ambiguities, though we may argue with his conclusions.

Once government starts (in Commissar Sebelius‘s phrase) “striking a balance,” it never stops. What’s next? How about a religious test for public office? In the old days, England’s Test Acts required holders of office to forswear Catholic teaching on matters such as transubstantiation and the invocation of saints. Today in the European Union holders of office are required to forswear Catholic teaching on more pressing matters such as abortion and homosexuality. The Church of Government punishes apostasy ever more zealously.

The state no longer criminalizes a belief in transubstantiation, mainly because most people have no idea what that is. But they know what sex is … The developed world’s massive expansion of sexual liberty has provided a useful cover for the shriveling of almost every other kind. Free speech, property rights, economic liberty, and the right to self-defense are under continuous assault by Big Government. In New York and California and many other places, sexual license is about the only thing you don’t need a license for.

In the cause of delegitimizing two millennia of moral teaching the state is willing to intrude on core rights — rights to property, rights of association, even rights to private conversation. … If you let private citizens run around engaging in free exercise of religion in private conversation, there’s no telling where it might end.

And so the peoples of the West are enlightened enough to have cast off the stultifying oppressiveness of religion for a world in which the state regulates every aspect of life. In 1944, at a terrible moment of the most terrible century, Henri de Lubac wrote a reflection on Europe’s civilizational crisis, Le drame de l’humanisme athee. By “atheistic humanism,” he meant the organized rejection of God — not the freelance atheism of individual skeptics but atheism as an ideology and political project in its own right. As M. de Lubac wrote, “It is not true, as is sometimes said, that man cannot organize the world without God. What is true is that, without God, he can only organize it against man.” “Atheistic humanism” became inhumanism in the hands of the Nazis and Communists …

It did not. Henri de Lubac wrote sheer nonsense. Nazism did not have atheism as any part of its ideology. Hitler was a self-declared Catholic throughout his life. And Communism never was or pretended to be “humanist”; its purpose was universal collectivism, to which atheism was incidental, if compulsory. Lenin did indeed see the all-powerful state as successor to the (would-be) all-powerful church, but his totalitarian aims went far beyond intolerance of religion.

“Organize the world”? There should be absolute resistance to the organizing of the world, or the nation, or a “community” whatever that is. Establishment of accountable and limited government is not the same as organizing the people. Whether politicians try to do it in the name of God or in the name of “equality” or anything else, the very attempt is an attack on freedom.

At the end of his article Steyn heaves a sigh of nostalgia for religion, quoting Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach:

What’s left [of religion] are hymns and stained glass, and then, in the emptiness, the mere echo:

“The Sea of Faith

Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore

Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d.

But now I only hear

Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar . . .”

May it evaporate, we say.

Let us have no more orthodoxies, no religious or political “correctness”.

Let the state attend to guarding our liberty, and otherwise leave us alone.

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  • http://www.dupageattorneys.com/services/dui-dwi-law/ Chicago DUI lawyer

    The separation of Church and State does not imply subordination of Church to State. Quite the contrary, the State and the Church are coordinate powers each with its proper sphere.

    • George

                   Just for information purposes , no  one on here has implied that the church  must “subordinate” itself to that of the state.    Our position is that the church  must not be engaged in  an intermingling mixture where the government and the church are “in bed “with each other.  Even those of us who are secular believe that any person has a right to express and/or practive their religious creed but they should not use the powers of government to impose, threaten, or merge theology with that of the state. I believe in freedom of religion and as a secular freedom I also have a right of [ freeedom from religion ]   :  —- the right to be free from  having anyone;s indoctrinated theological dogma imposed on me. There has been an overwhelming amount of misinterpretation in our nation regarding this issue.   I just want to “clear the air” on where we secular freethinkers stand on this matter.

  • George

    This is what we’re stuck with folks.   If Obama wins again   , we’ll have  enchroaching sharia flourishing in America and if ANY of the current Republican conservative religious zealot candidates wins ———   secular freethough may even be banned in America. It’s a horrible delemma either way

  • Liz

    I love Steyn but I think this article does reveal a bias toward religion.  Like most Christians, he confuses religion with morality, and doesn’t seem to get what separation of church and state is all about (he seems to think it is there so the state can dictate our morality instead of the church). 
    Why is it that intelligent, rational people, who are so good at championing every other form of freedom, cannot manage to see that religion, even at its least authoritarian, is the enemy of mental freedom and rational thinking?
    Limbaugh is the same way – he obviously favors Santorum, because he equates religiosity with morality.  He thinks Santorum will champion religious freedom, which proves he doesn’t understand religious freedom as intended by the founders when they established the principle of separation of church and state.  Santorum apparently read a speech by Kennedy that upheld that separation, and said he wanted to “throw up”.  He also has been in favor of banning the teaching of evolution in school – in other words, lets return to the middle ages and stamp out science by the authority of the Pope!

  • http://themoonshinesbrighter.wordpress.com/ Andrew M

    One flavor of nasty, oppressive socialism called Church is giving way to another nasty, oppressive socialism called State? Color me shocked!

    Both of these risible institutions fail the basic litmus test of liberty established by Ayn Rand:

    The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities.

    Neither of these institutions have any business besides the limitation of individual freedoms at every corner imaginable, all in the name of a superhuman institution called God or Society. Our republic once respected and upheld these values (without the need of the Church, thank you very much), but by now it’s accumulated too much detritus for simple reform to fix in a single generation.

    Does anyone else smell revolution?

  • http://www.respvblica.com/ CONSVLTVS

    Beautiful goal, the freeing of the human mind from both political and religious superstition.  I wonder, though, how realistic it is.  Lately, I’ve been cogitating whether human beings simply must believe in something.  Only the very, very few seem cut out to be rational, free, and responsible.

  • George

                             Religious fundamentalist zealots will NEVER leave us alone.   They actually believe that they have a compulsion and duty to impose THEIR beliefs upon everyone. In their eyes , they are saving souls and their religion dictates that they attempt to convert as many as possible as their reward for their intrusive proselytizing. 
                       What is even more mind-boggling is that religious fundamentalist zealots are always claiming that they want less and less government in their lives and yet they cannot get enough of mixing government with their religion.  They use the power and force of government to make it a mandate that everyone adhere to their religious tennants and accept only their organized indoctrinated theological creed or dogma.
                            The same religious zealots  ( especially the fundamentalist Christians in the  USA  ) actually believe that atheists worship the government or want big government in their lives. They get this false impression from the radical liberal left who have virtually “hijacked” secular freethought in the USA.  Look at how at the Tea Party rally assemblies across the nation , the fundamentalist Christians are waving their flags and proclaiming to be pro-American and representing  less and less government while at the same time chanting  ” God bless America ! and trying their darndest to merge Christianity with government.  They can’t get enough of government when it comes with mixing  Christianity with the national STATE  government in order to  turn our great nation into a Christian theocracy.   How charming ( NOT ! ).