Saturday, June 29, 2013

On Separation of Church and State

I recently had a discussion with another blogger (Tony) over at WWWtW on the issue of separation of church and state.  I was arguing for separation and he was arguing against it (both of us from a Christian perspective BTW).  Unfortunately I was away from my computer for several days and when I returned, the thread had been closed so I never got a chance to respond to his last comment.  (You can read the entire thread here.)

Here's where we left off:
Me:  I think it is possible to have a wall of separation between church and state without one entity having to go away. Sure, the two realms will cross paths, but if their boundaries are set in stone, they can coexist without encroaching on each other.

Tony: Yeah, you think it is possible, and I don't. The matter isn't about whether the "boundaries" are set in stone or more fluid, the problem is that any stated "boundary" between them cannot even in principle work for all cases and scenarios. The reason is that both the civil and the spiritual encroach on each other in the human person, who is subject to both.

Christians generally believe that the human person is ordered to a civil order and also to a spiritual order, but that this bi-fold directedness is ITSELF ordered: the one is related to the other as superior to inferior. (If that weren't the case, there would be no guarantee that the two directions are mutually and universally compatible, there would logically be the possibility that one direction results in a fundamentally incompatible requirement compared to the other.) In particular, the spiritual end of man is his permanent, eternal end, whereas the civic end is for this life only, which leads to the eternal end, and so the latter is subservient to the former.

This ordering principle, however, is more integrated into man than merely referring to those actions that are about his final end(s). Man attains his spiritual good even in and amidst attaining his civic end, because ALL of his human acts are spiritual acts. To make a truly human voluntary choice is to act using the spiritual aspect of man, his reason and his free will, and to do so with some recognition (or moral failure thereof) to choose in reference to one's final goal - either comforming [sic] to the final goal of unity with God or in adhering ultimatelhy [sic] to some created which is incompatible with union with God alone. Thus, regulating one's daily civic life is, itself, a spiritual act.

This affects all of civic life, in little ways as well as big. For example: The state sees it as a common good that all citizens be educated. In order to be able to mandate this, the state sees it as necessary to have schools paid by the state. But (in our case) the state considers itself forbidden to actively promote any specific religion, and mandates that its schools refuse to promote any religious perspective at all. The net result, then, is promotion of an ANTI-religious perspective in state schools. It is literally impossible to have a complete educational system from grades k to 12 that fails to promote some perspective about human nature, and if it fails to promote one that says humans are ordered to an end with respect to God it will perforce promote the opposite.

More generally, civic life as a whole and laws in particular have to be molded to be in conformity with the ends that society and the government see as the ends for its human beings. Because humans are integrated, the ends for civic government must be made and maintained as compatible with the spiritual end of man, which requires constant reflection back and forth between the two to keep them working together.  
My response then, is this:
Sure, humans are spiritual creatures with both a spiritual and a civil end, and sure, everything we do has some spiritual component to it...  BUT... that does not mean that we need the government to meddle in areas of spiritual behavior and beliefs in order to have civil order.

This notion that the two are somehow "inseparable" if we want to have civil law and order is demonstrably false.  We know, for instance, that there are people who have no regard whatsoever for God's law, and have no inclination at all towards the "spiritual good", yet prove themselves perfectly capable of adhering to a civil code of conduct every day.   The most die-hard atheist may well live his entire life having never once been arrested, or reprimanded, by civil authorities.  This without spiritual foundation.

We know also that there are governments all over this world that are completely without Christian foundation and yet manage to maintain civil order quite admirably - despite this deficiency.   This too, we see demonstrated every day.

So the notion that you cannot have one without the other is entirely without basis.

In this, we find scripture in agreement as well.  Look at Paul's words from Romans 13:3-5:
For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.  Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority?  Then do what is right and you will be commended.  For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.  
Now what kind of government did Paul have in mind when he made this statement?  Surely his readers would know that he was referring to the Roman government circa 40 AD (or thereabouts).  This was a pagan government, not Christian in any sense.  Yet Paul called them "God’s servants" and commanded that his readers submit to their authority.  Did that mean that Paul thought that Christians should get their spiritual direction from the Roman government or that he recognized the Roman government as authoritative on spiritual matters?  Obviously not!  If so, he was a hypocrite for it is a matter of record that Paul and the early Christians were often jailed for disobedience to the spiritual directives of the various civil authorities in the region.  No, Paul did not hold or teach that civil magistrates were to be submitted to in spiritual matters.  He was specifically talking about civil authority over civil matters and advocating adherence and submission to civil laws.

So we do find a scriptural basis for separation of church and state in Paul's teaching and in the early church's way of life.  We also find that, when church and state combine, as has often happened in the past, a theocratic nightmare often ensues - with civil authorities making declarations of "heresy" and the like, and with punishments doled out for all manner of "incorrect" beliefs.

The fundamental question then is this:  Do you really want the government involved in settling spiritual matters for us?  Do you really want the government teaching our kids (their version of) man's spiritual ends? 

I don't!