Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Separation of Secular Church and State

Sometimes I have to agree with liberals.  The writers of the US Constitution were living in another age. They just could not foresee how things would change and make the constitution obsolete.

Take the First Amendment and the Jefferson corollary.  The whole idea of preventing an "establishment of religion" and enforcing a separation between church and state is just so 18th century, darling.

Because now the problem is the establishment of secular religion.

There's a British chappie who has penned a conventional-wisdom book about the decline of religion.  In God is Dead: secularization in the West, Steve Bruce argues that people are just less interested in religion.  He writes:
I expect the proportion of people who are largely indifferent to religious ideas to increase and the seriously religious to become a small minority.
Of course, if you define religion narrowly as "believing in a transcendent God" Bruce's attitude might be partly right, although the Islamists would disagree.  But if we are talking broadly about ideas and communities and rituals in which people construct a faith about the meaning of life and what to do about it, then Steve Bruce is bound to be completely wrong.

And the proof of it is that as soon as the philosophers and the philologists drove a stake through the heart of God in the early 19th century the world became flooded with secular religions.  There was Fourierism, Saint-Simonism, Comte's Religion of Humanity, Marxism, Socialism.  And that was just in the 19th century.  Now we have feminism, environmentalism, identity studies.

If we take the universal Catholic Church as our model, we can see the replication of its forms and structures in all the secular religions.  They have the sacred founder that is in the process of divinization.  They have their holy scriptures.  They have their orthodoxy, the systematic doctrine of the faithful.  And they have ways of enforcing the orthodoxy.  In our mild modern case we have "political correctness" that shames and marginalizes people with incorrect opinions.  Other secular religions refined the prototypical Spanish Inquisition into the KGB.  Then there is the church of the faithful.  Every left-wing group organizes its little community of the faithful just like the local enthusiastic Christian church.

And then there is ritual.  The preferred ritual of the modern secular religion seems to be the "peaceful protest."  While Christians gather weekly in church or attend evening Bible study the secular religious attend organization meetings and gather in frequent peaceful protests where they wave placards and chant secular-religious slogans.  In the old days, and recently in Wisconsin, they sang hymns like "Solidarity Forever."

The Founding Fathers determined that it was not a good thing for a single Christian sect to get its hands on political power through establishment as a state church and support through taxation.

But tell your liberal friend that her liberalism, as expressed through the liberal teachers at the local government school or at the local government university, amounts to an establishment of secular religion and she will object.  No, no.  We are not talking about religion, but ideas.

Quite so.  But as soon as you organize ideas about the meaning of life into some sort of system you have already a proto-religion.  And if you add to that proto-religion the power of the state then you are all ready to start legislating your morality.  So when liberals start regulating the food laws and regulating sugary soft drinks, when liberals mandate recycling and composting, we are talking about an established church legislating its morality.

Remember?  Rules about diet were big in the Old Testament.

Of course, as a conservative, I'm particularly irritated about liberal secular-religionists imposing their morality on me.  Hey, they are goring my ox.

But I think there's a bigger issue.  The whole idea of proscribing an establishment of religion was precisely to avoid any one sect or world-view from getting too much power.  The Founding Fathers realized that a successful society needed to keep an open conversation in the public square.  Society needed to prevent power mongers from monopolizing the public square with their own brand of religion, whether a God religion or a secular religion.

And that hasn't changed at all.

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