Jesus is a very curious person and loves to analyze how we do things, and why we do them.
Like all the best families, we have our share of eccentricities, of impetuous and wayward youngsters and of family disagreements.
— Queen Elizabeth II
A History of Relations Between Church and State
Church and state have not always been separated. In fact, in most parts of the world today, they still aren't. This separation is a relatively new concept, at least in an active way. There have been times in human history in which religion hasn't been a direct force in politics, but it hasn't been on purpose. In the United States Bill of Rights, however, there is mention that no law shall be passed pertaining to a restriction or enforcement of religion. There is a separation of church and state on purpose.
Classical and Medieval Eras
Many of us remember reading about how powerful religion was in the classical age, about how religion dominated Europe and the Near and Middle East. Religion was such a powerful force in medieval times that a European monarch needed the Pope's endorsement. Religion was so important to the foundation and expansion of Arab empires that they emerged as Caliphates and not as secular empires. Church and State were a double-edged sword when it came to politics of the time, as they could make or break a monarch's rule.
Religion was a large part of the colonization of modern-day California, with Presidios being founded by Catholic monks. These institutions were founded by and supported by a Catholic country: Spain. In fact, the majority of Europe up until the schism was dominated by the Catholic clergy. The majority of conquests by powers such as the Spanish and British were shielded under the purpose of spreading Christianity around the world.
Religion and Control
People caught on rather quickly that religion was the way to control the public. If you believe that if you don't pay your taxes you're going to hell, you better believe you're paying those taxes. The reason you put up with that monarch instead of replacing them was that of divine rule.
It wasn't only the people at the top who caught on, however. As politics changed in Europe and around the world, people realized that a quicker way to obedience was immediate fear. Sure, the fear of going to hell might get you, but the fear of being persecuted and being left to starve by the state was a little more pressing. The Soviet Union and China became increasingly anti-religion, as they realized that organized masses were a danger to their power.
An Evolving Relationship
While there were certain instances in history, the relationship between religion and state is ever-evolving in different parts of the world. We cannot define one thing as progress, because everything has its pros and cons.
What Does the Separation of Church and State Do?
The purpose of the separation of church and state is (surprise) to separate church and state. The question is, why? Many people have many different reasons depending on who they are and what they want or need. We need to take a step back and analyze our relationship as a people, as a country, with religion and how it interacts with our government.
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Secular by Omission
Where would you guess religious freedom appears on the Constitution, Bill of Rights, or Declaration of Independence? Explicitly, in none. The United States is in an interesting position in which the government is secular only by omission. It is as if by ignoring the issue it doesn't have to be dealt with. By not stating the state religion, it is by default none, or are they all?
A problem that comes with this establishment, or lack of it through omission, is that there are many interpretations because of the ambiguity. Do we treat it like English? The United States has no official language, but English is the lingua franca and is used by the government. Does this mean that the government is Christian by default? Or does it mean that it's atheist by default? There are many arguments that can be made by both sides.
Why Keep the Government Secular?
When analyzing the way that the government works, we need to look at it through the lens of impartiality. A cold head is needed for government, although people with this attribute tend to not get there. The United States Government has always worked. The question, however, is "for whom?" While the thought of aliens and lizards crosses your mind, the ideal answer (theoretically speaking) is the majority. A healthy majority of the United State's population is Christian in some way, shape, or form.
As when looking at any kind of idea or concept, we need to analyze the consequences of the absence, presence, and enforced presence of the separation of church and state. That is, working out the benefits and downsides of a religiously affiliated government, a state of government and religion as it is now, and an enforced and strictly secular Union.
Examples From the United Kingdom
The first kind of government on the list is a government like the United Kingdom, which has been rapidly leaning to more religious freedom. In the early times of the schism and later of the Anglican church, religious persecution was a harsh reality for most. To this day, a Catholic cannot sit on the throne of the English crown. In fact, a Catholic could only marry the Monarch up until recently when now ex-Prime Minister David Cameron passed a law to allow it.
Diversity in the United States
A government like that in the United States would backfire immediately. Even while not taking into account the immediate reaction of the public and assuming that it would be founded that way, the United States would not be the way that it is now. The United States celebrates and is able to take advantage of the extreme diversity of its people. Taking from the concept that two heads are better than one, there are more sources of ideas and concepts when it comes to having more religions freely practiced.
If it had not been for Islam, geometry and other great concepts would have never been discovered or preserved. If it hadn't been for the Eastern religions and Chinese medicine, we would not have these interesting and fairly revolutionary ideas. Christianity has also brought many things to the table, with different varieties sponsoring the Renaissance in Europe. These religions together have served as preservers, documenters, and sponsors of human culture and ideology, without them the United States would not be the way it is today.
When we enforce one single, state-sponsored religion we decide to reject any and all ideas that do not coincide with it. The same arguments that people make for the installment of their particular brand of religion could be used against them. While religion is a huge encourager of charity in the United States, endorsing one and shutting down the rest would mean that only a certain percentage of these religious people's hearts and wallets would be open to charity and donation.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2019 Jesus Villalba Gastelum