Friday, June 16, 2006

Church and State: Separation or Tension?

In my post of yesterday, I concluded with the idea that

...the ‘separation’ of Church and State is really more of a tension—sort of like the tension one sees in keeping a magnet apart from metal.

I will now adumbrate a meditation on this idea:

1) The word ‘Church’ in this context means more than simply the Catholic Church, or Christian churches in the institutional sense; it means religion in general.

2) This broader sense of ‘Church’ is not merely a semantic convenience on my part; it reflects the concrete historical evolution of Christianity in the modern West (which some would term a ‘devolution’), insofar as the institutional fabric and socio-cultural texture of Christianity has, over the past three centuries, become unravelled and taken on new shapes and functions.

3) My ‘magnet’ metaphor implies that there is a kind of symbiosis between religion and the secular sphere. In the modern West, this symbiosis is not simplistically a relationship between two unrelated spheres; it is rather the expression of their intimate kinship: Church and State are siblings, where the ‘younger brother’, as it were—viz., secularism—has turned the tables and changed the family dynamic such that he is now the head of the family.

4) As ‘head of the family’, Secularism has, in the modern West, not demonstrated a tyrannical nature. Secularism in the modern West has, by and large, provided a ‘home’ for his sibling, Religion, where that sibling’s needs and freedoms are respected. The major limitation imposed by the younger brother upon his elder—ever since their ‘father’—viz., the medieval Church—left the home (or was deposed, or died) has been the marginalization of his politico-legal power.

5) The marginalization of the politico-legal power of Religion in the modern West reflects the fact that the Judaeo-Christian theocracy underwent a long process of centrifugal dissolution, and, in effect, Christianitas became a field of multiple Christianities. These multiple Christianities, furthermore, demonstrated, repeatedly and ad nauseam, their inability to unify harmoniously without sociopolitically convulsive strife. Under that condition alone, politico-legal powers had to be taken away from Religion, since such powers were, seemingly unavoidably, manifesting themselves in internecine violence.

6) When I write in #5 above that “politico-legal powers had to be taken away from Religion”, this should not be understood in the simple-minded terms that thinks there already existed an entity able to “take away” those powers at the time they were taken away; and that this “taking away” was a quick and simple act rather than a protracted process; and, finally, that there was some kind of a “place”, or domain, to where these powers could be readily relocated. No, these simple-minded terms ignore the concrete historical complexities. For now, we will not embroil ourselves in them, only to put them in a temporary nutshell for brevity’s sake and for the sake of highlighting the paradox at their heart:

The very taking away of socio-political powers from Religion was itself the same process as the creation of the secular domain by which those powers were taken away and to which they were taken.

In later posts, we shall further explore the complex paradox at the heart of the Church-State tension. This paradox has been itself the ongoing process of the reconfiguration of the West into the ‘modern West’—which in turn is the same thing as ‘Modernity’.

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