Saturday, December 04, 2004

Damn, it's early

Since my readers are, on the whole, quite smart and exceedingly well-informed, and I want opinions on this, I ask:

What do you see as the primary advantages of separating church and state in a democracy? What are the advantages to government? To religion?

What do you see as the primary advantages of a close relationship between church and state in a democracy? What is an example of such a democracy?


Rachel said...

Caveat: I'm still working on this idea in its larger forms and implications.

In the long run, I think, a democracy that separates church and state is inherently more stable than a society that unites the two. The forces that create a long-lasting democratic society (consensus building, long processes of change, a system of accretive law) tend to be resistant to revolutionary or other forms of anarchic reaction. Theocracies, on the other hand, (Note: I realize that you're not necessarily saying theocracy as in priest-ruled; I'm using the word in the sense that religious values are intertwined with state decisions, and that society's leaders identify themselves positively with a certain religious tradition.) tend to be destabilized by the forces they encourage: a system of moral law closed to interpretation, senses of elite and secondary (the faithful and the others), and often an overreliance on the charismatic influcence of a leader, whose abilities may become affected by the power accorded to him/her, and whose death often creates a power struggle. These forces, I beleive, are much more open to revolutionary change -- a process that tends to be messy, bloody, and wasteful of resources, both human and enviornmental.

I don't know if this addresses your question or not - but this is what I've come up with after a few years of studying medieval politics, especially medieval theocracies.

Anonymous said...

I was going to say, a country cannot be democratic and not separate church and state. But that's not true, because it is the system in Israel. I love Israel, and I think in many ways the parliamentary system is better, but in this country, where they dominant religion is Christianity, I think that the only safe, proper form of government is one that keeps church and state separate. Maybe that's selfish - I only want the two combined when I'm a part of the majority, right? But then again, the only reason the state of Israel exists is because of European guilt over the near-extinction of my people.

Religion should be separate from state because the state has an obligation to protect the rights and freedoms of all people, and not all religions respect that. Many churches (Christian, Muslim, Hindu) teach that certain people are "heathen" or "second class." This is their right, and it should be protected, but the state should not enforce it. The state, in a democracy, has an obligation to ensure that all citizens - Christian, Muslim, Hindu, gay, Haitan, Spokane Indian, female, etc - have the right to vote, fuck, go to school, work, and do whatever the hell else the want whenever and wherever they want, as long as they don't hurt anyone.

What are the advantages to government? I'm not sure. I think you have a richer, more interesting society, when you have a multitude of voices. I think you think of thinks you might not otherwise.

What are the examples of such a democracy? Well, truthfully, I don't think there is one. The problem is that money corrupts everything, in a democratic system with unregulated capitalism. So you have the groups with the most money and the most access to resources who are "more equal than others", to quote Animal Farm.

Anonymous said...

Not a comment on your original post, TRP, but on this statement from Anonymous: "Many churches (Christian, Muslim, Hindu) teach that certain people are "heathen" or "second class." This is their right, and it should be protected, but the state should not enforce it."

This is one of the many reasons why I choose not to get involved with any religion whatsoever. I get very uncomfortable with this notion, that many religions seem to embrace (yes, even xian ones). Nobody, IMHO, has the meaning of life tucked into their back pocket, and I hold suspect anyone who says that they do. Even if they have the best of intentions. To put it another way, as I said to a very catholic coworker of mine, when Jesus said "I am the way, the truth, and the light," my gut reaction is "Oh really?"

I don't believe that a democratic society can or should tolerate any kind of organization (religious or non-) teaching that certain people are second class. We've all seen what that kind of thinking can yield.

Now, I don't want the State smashing down church doors and setting synagogues afire either. I just want the freedom FROM religion to be as honored as the freedom OF religion. Does it bother me that many religious groups enjoy tax-exempt status while they preach hate and exclusion from their pulpits every week? Yeah, it does. But I don't know that there is a solution to this dilemma. I think this one of those conundrums that the Framers put in there on purpose.

So, I choose not to participate in any organized religious activity. I suspect that I will do the same for my future children. (Although I do believe in some spiritual exposure is good for kids. I just haven't figured out how to accomplish this.) If they want to join a religious group later in their life, they are free to do so.


Joe said...

Well, taking the American system, what we literally have is an agreement that the Federal government will not establish a religion. I think pretty much any survey of world history should agree that this is good. When governments and religions become codependant (i.e. the divine right of kings), both institutions tend to become corrupted. Religion should not be the servant of the state, nor should the state's actions be dictated by an NGO hierarchy.

And of course, a government which grants preferred status to one sect has disenfranchised all others, which only leads to strife.

I have to turn your second question on its head a bit to answer it: I think that it is immensely positive to allow religious people to practice their religion in public and political life. I believe that the "wall" between church and state has ultimately impoverished our social dialogue about a number of political issues. Especially in a pluralistic society, I think it's worthwhile to expose and examine our first principles, in order to craft policy which is ultimately moral.

This is, obviously, not an easy thing to do. I am asking people to both expose their most deeply held beliefs, and then be understanding that not everyone will agree with them. I wish any of the easier plans worked.

Anonymous said...

Something germane to the discussion:


Hugh said...

Is it germane to the discussion to point out that we are not a democracy, but a republic? That this country won its independence from a theocracy (head of state was and is also head of the church)?

I paraphrase the words of Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart, "I don't know what the perfect American society is, but I know it when I see it."

lemming said...

A tricky question, as it's easier to answer with a series of negatives and nots than with positives.

Theoretically, I suppose, the advantage would be a more moral society, in which everyone lived by codes (the 10 C, let's say) and peace and happiness was the result.

An example of a group that tried to have this blend of democracy and religion? Massachusetts Bay during the 17th century. Did it work? Sometimes. I'm not one to sneer at 90% literacy and the encouragement of community cooperation. Did the system lead to all sorts of religious inequalities because professions of faith became essential to particpation in the democracy? Yes.

It was an ambitious attempt at setting up a city on a hill, and one worthy of attempt, but it never even came close to the ideal.