Ask any liberal. The last thing we want is to have a theocracy where the church, any church or religion, may enforce its laws on a population that does not worship its deity. We do not want to see the execution of any modern incarnation of Michael Servetus. Nor do we want to see the dictates of a religious group be used to affect law. While we might debate the source for natural law and natural right what it comes down to, in the end, is Reason as the guide for law and conduct.
Ask any Anabaptist. Without religious tolerance people will be persecuted for maintaining theological differences. Nobody wants Felix Manz’ (among many) situation to be revisited. Nobody should be forced into hiding for his/her faith. Nobody should have to flee punishment for differing with any religious system.
Ask any Baptist or Presbyterian or Lutheran. Separation can be a good thing. If the state will keep its hand out of church life then we can be about our business without interference. There need be no 501(c)(3) speech or activity prohibitions, especially when our only goal is to be a social prophet. Our goals are broad but they do not always impact government and government should back off from impacting us. Religious neutrality is one guiding principle of the First Amendment and we would encourage the government to abide by that principle.
It seems that separation might be a good thing. Christians, Jews, Moslems Hindus, and others, along with all of their various sects, should be able to live together in peace. Killing and threats are unnecessary in our free society. Let government protect the freedom of all so that the various faiths might duke it out, so to speak, to see whose position is strongest and truest.
That sounds good, doesn’t it? On the one hand there is the church (and religion in genera) where the ethics and values of a society are formed. On the other hand we have the state which is designed to protect everyone equally and without preference. Seldom shall the two intersect or conflict.
If only things were so simple. “Really?” you ask. “There can still be problems even if things run as they ought?” Yes. All we need is some modern examples and things will become clear. Even thought we take these things for granted some of the most fundamental laws are the result of theological influence.
How, for instance should we treat a thief? Shall we cut off his hands? That is done in the social context of some theological systems. Shall we send the person to an institution to be corrected? That’s the secular modernist view. Shall we simply punish the person for wrongs committed? That has been done frequently through the centuries. Shall we attempt reconciliation by forcing repayment and repentance? Or how about capital punishment for theft?
The options are many because the worldviews are many. What we can say is that our current system uses the modernist approach and places criminals into “correctional” institutions. These have the mandate of fixing this person who is presumed to be of a naturally good character. So we seek to find the thing that caused this person to violate his normal tendencies and redirect his behavior accordingly. Yet we also have some restraining Christian influence here, lest we resort to amputation or capital punishment.
Education is a serious issue these days. Can a teacher who does not hold to a Darwinian worldview be allowed to teach biology? Why or why not? Does theism disqualify a person from understanding cellular behavior? Does knowledge change because of worldview? And should a person already teaching be dismissed on this account? Public education today is driven by naturalism and some would like to remove all theological influences from education. There is supposedly something more virtuous or at least correct about having this litmus test in place when it comes to our children.
A worldview is a simple thing. It is those principles that we each hold which guide our understanding of how and why the world works as it does. All ideas and human events are driven by worldviews. So where did this separation come from?
The first question to answer is “What are these things we are separating?” What is “religion” and what is the “state” that is supposed to govern our lives. We take these concepts for granted. That makes life simple. But “there is nothing close to agreement among scholars on what defines religion,” as William Cavanaugh states.
At first thought this seems to avoid the issue. If we can define “religion” out of existence by making the principle so broad that it is undefinable then there is nothing to talk about. This is obfuscation, or at least it would be if that direction were to be taken. We would understand nothing and get nowhere. That is not a good way to make a point.
A better way is to find how the two became separated. We know that throughout history there were no secular (religion-free) governments before the birth of this Great Experiment. England combined church and state. So did the ancient Romans and Greeks. Islam does the same thing today. The reason is one that they all have in common. They all understand that something outside of ourselves has to provide the standards by which we live. If we alone were to provide those standards then there would be only opinion and no such thing as a fixed standard.
A few hundred years ago some of the modern thinkers of the Renaissance redefined the term. They took the term used by Augustine with reference to the church and inserted the distinction of church from governing body, something which Augustine had not intended. The term’s new use was more akin to “sect” than “worldview.” The table was set.
Once religion was separated from state the state needed a new source for ethics and morality. If religion were not good enough then something else must take its place. “Reason” now inserts itself as the guiding light for truth. By “Reason” we do not mean something as simple as logic. Far from it, for Reason is often capitalized. Reason is the new deity that substitutes itself for religion.
The Current State of Affairs
There has always been a tension in American culture on this issue. Back in the 1960s the state of Iowa almost went to war against, of all people, the Amish. Why? Because the Amish wished to educate their children in their own manner, the state took offense at their not wishing to use the public school system. A parallel to this is the home school movement. Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972) set a precedent in court for the legality of private education at this popular level.
There were many more cases in other states. The reason is that the modern secular state holds itself above theology. The secular worldview practiced its guiding principle and sought to subjugate other worldviews to itself.
This attempt to subjugate is the tension that “separation” sought to avoid. But it could not. The tension shows itself in the pro-life battle. Christians are accused of inserting their “religion” into the lives of others. If the Christian back down it means that the secular nation has done the very thing it presumed to avoid. It inserted its own type of religion into the conversation. It seems there is no escaping the problem. And indeed there is not. The tension will continue because that is how the system is designed.
The issue at stake is to decide which ethic is to inform government. That is, on the basis of what belief system should the government decide ethical issues. It is obvious that no theistic system has dominant control. The worldview currently dominating our society sits in opposition to all theistic influences. Yet there remains opportunities for influence that can be far-reaching and enduring.
It is Protestantism at its best which carried the principle of a democratic republic to the world. We did not create it but missionaries did carry it around the world. The principles of moral responsibility, especially as exercised by John the Baptist, can be reflected in our civic engagement as we call leaders to moral action. At the base of this is the question of liberty and the potential loss of liberty through misguided legislation. The question of the sanctity of life is equally important. But we already know these things.
There is more to a society than politics. The entertainment industry has become a propaganda machine for the anti-theism of today. Given the behavior at the 2014 Grammy Awards one need not inquire as to how the course has been set. Hardly a television show available does not either engage explicitly in sexual alternatives and moral relativism or implicitly in role reversals, both of which are intended to normalize a worldview other than the dominant Christian worldview. In that light, Castle is equally as guilty as Modern Family.
The Cart and the Horse
To put legs on our faith is to engage both political leaders as well as public figures. Challenge with letters. Converse on these questions with neighbors, friends, and coworkers. But remember that social change is not our end. Christianity is about redemption. Societies only change as hearts change. Leading more and more to Christ is the only resolution to a lost society. Redemption is not and has never been a political function and societies are not redeemed. But a society can reflect redemption.
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