The state as church 225

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arises because it has happened in Europe that the old would-be totalitarian tyranny of this or that church has been superseded by the new would-be totalitarian tyranny of the socialist state  – a model that the present US administration seems to want to emulate.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