Monday, December 06, 2004

More on separation of church and state.

'Preesh, yall. But I still want more for my little nippers:

France is an example of a strict separation of church and state. It's so strict that religious kids can't wear turbans, headscarves, or yarmulkes in school. Is it possible that this kind of -strict- separation might actually reduce freedom of religion?

Question two. My country is 96% practitioners of Otisianism. That overwhelming majority wants their Otisian beliefs reflected in their government, and elect representatives (or, in a direct democracy, they themselves) to make it happen. But my country has a constitution that separates church and state. Could you argue that this undoes democracy and what it stands for?

Mass Bay Colony. Check. But is it a democracy? I still want an example of a country that is a democracy and is closely tied to a religion. Israel, and...who?

Thanks, smart friends and strangers...


Anonymous said...


You might want to check out Slovenia. I read an article on the rise of immigrant muslim populations in Europe and the reactions of various states. Slovenia, a predominantly catholic country (the northern tip of what used to be Yugoslavia), recently forbade construction of a mosque.

I haven't had the chance to ask my in-laws about this issue. But I suspect that one cousin would be appalled at this while the rest of the family (including the Supreme Court Judge/Women's Snowboarding Champion) might not think it that big of a deal. I find this disappointing because Slovenia is a very lovely place full of very lovely people. But it just goes to show how religion can poison even a most tranquil place.


lemming said...

Mass Bay Colony not a democracy by our standards today since women and persons of color couldn't vote. On the other hand, all adult men over the age of 21 could vote, provided that they were members of the community. Technically you were also supposed to be a full member of the church, but that rule was applied less strictly as time went along. The insistace that all (male etc.) members of the community should take their turn at serving as night watchman, jury duty, fence inspector, etc. has merit for today.

Do you read the New Yorker? They had a great article about the rise of head scarves in France - as men have less and less control over their lives, they seek some element of security in controlling their families.

Rachel said...

In response to your state with 96% practitioners of Otisianism: There's a missing level of analysis. In practically no religion larger than a standard cult-on-a-compound does there exist a workable consensus among practicioners as to the definition of a beleif structure. There's occasionally broad consensus (i.e. Christians tend to think Jesus is an important figure), but usually vast differences in interpretation, even on the supposedly basic tenets (there has been vast debate within Chrisitan communities as to Jesus' status as divine and/or human - the Arian debate, for example).

Therefore, a saying a country is "96% Otisian" is not enough information. Are they hard-liner, traditionalist Otisians? Are they a break-away sect, led by a former Otisian priest who has had personal revelations and possesses a charismatic personality? Are they reformist Otisians, who want to return to the glorious Otisian days, when the Prophet Otis first revealed his holy writings to his chosen people? All of these inner sects will affect how a group of people will view leaders, their decision-making processes, and their governmental chioces.

Religion is not monolithic, and, like any social construct, is full of power structures, power plays, and factions. And the goals of a religious faction are often very different than the goals of a governmental faction. Not always, but often enough to make it a dicey proposition.

On a side note - I have to comment on the whole morality thing (a concept often connected to religion). A "moral" is simply an idea of "right conduct." It is almost impossible for a human being to act completely with out morals (as defined in a objective manner) because human beings tend not to act in a random manner. A person's actions are usually dictated by a sense of "morality," however that person decides and defines it. And people tend to act for their own good, their own "right" - again, however they define that. Usually, when somebody calls another person's behaviour "immoral" he or she just means that that action doesn't fit the speaker's personal (or acquired) moral code. These codes have been codified and packaged -- usually as organized religion. Societally speaking, this is generally a good thing; it often keeps us from behaving in a completely self-invested and self-centered way. But we've seen recently how "moral values" can be used as weapons, and I think it's important to remember that morals exist in the human being, and are, at their core, rather neutral things.

Sorry about the long, rambling comment.

Joe said...

Question 1: I would argue that La France has, since 1789, been trying to establish atheism as an official State viewpoint on matters theological. I will also argue that this is not a matter of "separation" of church and state, but an active attempt by the State to regulate religious behavior among the general populace.

The French case is not without provocation, considering the corrupt relationship between the Church and the French royalty, and the years of religiously motivated slaughter which preceded the Revolution. I cannot say whether it violates French legal principles, but I do believe it would violate the U.S. Constitution. See also, atheistic communism.

I need to think more about Question 2, but I think Rachel has done a good point of saying why it would be wise for the citizens of Spodeland to not allow the government to settle their theological disputes.

TeacherRefPoet said...


Check. I'll hit the books for Mass Bay info.


Awesome. Your point about religion not being monolithic is right on the money, and will be very, very useful.


I can see your point, but I'm not sure banning religious garb from public places is the same as publicly promoting the idea that there's no God.

You guys are all awesome.

Joe said...


I was going to write a response, but Jacques Chirac has been kind enough to do it for me.

"Secularity is one of the republic's great achievements," said Chirac. "It plays a crucial role in social harmony and national cohesion. We must not allow it to be weakened."

(CNN, 12/17/2003,

And I do believe that atheism and secularity (in this case) are essentially the same. They are trying to legislate that the public practice of religion is, at best, irrelevant and, at worst, wrong. I do not believe that this can be equated with agnosticism.

Here's an interesting point, though: what do we mean by a "multicultural" society? Chirac seems to advocate the "melting pot" approach, while many Americans seem to advocate the "mosaic" belief. Compare and contrast.

TeacherRefPoet said...


I disagree with Chirac and France's policies, but I also disagree with you that they're the same as atheism. We have a fairly recent example of government-sanctioned and even government-required atheism in the Communist Bloc...where you couldn't do any religion anywhere whatsoever. That's atheism. And while I find France's headscarf decisions to be unfortunate, nobody's trying to get anyone to deny there's a God. To not-acknowledge-there's-a-God-while-in-a-public-building, sure. And I can see why that's distasteful. But it's not atheism.

Joe said...

This horse ain't dead yet, but it's getting close. I see how you can reject that it's atheism, but I reject that it has anything to do with separation.

Religion is, inherently, social. Even solitary practice, even a hermit, makes a social statement. So to stop people from publicly displaying their religious symbols on their own bodies is to say that these religions, inherently, are wrong. That something about them is so dangerous that it must be suppressed, and that the State refuses to acknowledge you as long as you choose to practice your religion publicly. (Remember that all religious symbols, voluntary or dogmatic, are disallowed.)

The difference between this and the home churches of China is one of degree.

What shall we call this Religion of the State if not atheism? Is there a linguistic mishmash we can make like crato-theism?

Hugh said...

For more on Otisianism, see