Friday, November 18, 2005

Why Church and State Must Remain Separate

From the middle east comes this very disturbing story about what happens when government becomes entrenched in religious matters.

I regret that this story happens to be about a government that has embraced Islam. G-d knows, there's already more than enough anti-Islamic sentiment to go around, and I don't want to contribute to it. The Muslims I know well (and there are a few) are loving, gentle people with deep, abiding faith. So I thought long and hard before putting up this post.

But alas, every religion has its scary element -- a point that the Christian Radical Right doesn't seem to get (I guess because they are the scary element).

So I offer this story not to illustrate the evils of Islam, but as a cautionary tale: The folks who most want to mix religion and politics are rarely the moderate types. They're class-A, certifiable lunatics who see nothing wrong with imposing their G-d -- and what they see as G-d's punishments -- on others.


  1. Right on.

    It is not religion that is scary. I admire people who have deep religious beliefs. It's when they impose those beliefs on everyone else that things get scary.

    And when religious beliefs become law, all kinds of abuses begin to happen.

  2. In this country, I think the separation of church and state stems from two historical precedents. The closest to the framers being the Church of England and the English Crown. The other being the Roman Catholic Church and the French Crown.

    Since law in Europe and America comes originally from canon law, I cannot, in good faith, say that church and state are completely separate. However, there are good reasons for keeping them separate on a macro level.

    The primary fear is, I think, that we don't want the church deciding policy or the government manuipulating religion. If I had to guess, I would say that the latter is of more concern because religion is something that most people absorb unfiltered into their lives. However, if the government were to cede power to the church, then we might end up with two oppressive institutions governing our lives. Close call.

    Either way, church and state are separate for a reason - to prevent the corruption of government or the church (however you look at it). This is what the religious right doesn't seem to get. It is not that the government is bad. It is not that religion is bad. But that the two together are bad.

    One of the people that I frequently see who especially doesn't get this distinction is Bill O'Reilly. It's a crying shame that his audience is so big. And for someone who claims to have been educated at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, you'd think that he might have picked up an education in government while he was there.

  3. I like your blog. Thanks.

    I recently read Sam Harris's THE END OF FAITH. He explores the inherent problems in most religions - problems that lead to discrimination, persecution, inhumanity, etc. It led me towards two conclusions:
    - no religion is really all that useful for helping us move towards human rights for all (even the more benign religions)
    - some religions have fundamental beliefs that are very problematic (and Christianity and Islam have some strong examples of this).

    I don't think it's unfair to look at these things. I've lived in Israel and Sudan and also have loving, fine Muslim friends (Jews, Christians, Buddhists too). I've also seen people lose their hands to theft (Khartoum) and be thrown from their homes by their parents (Christian).