All Nations Under God?

The phrase “separation of church and state” is carelessly tossed around the public forum as often as a Frisbee on the Great Lawn. But, in my opinion, both church and state appear to be concerned with the same goal: keeping order in society whether through discouraging jail time or threatening eternal damnation. In fact, both religion and politics serve as the lubricant to society: a chasm between the two may not be as gaping as some of us believe. “Religion is the opiate of the masses,” Karl Marx memorably stated (though he may have been smoking opium at the time.) If we examine the goal of religion, we can see that it is not always the organized pursuit of the existential nature of God. Marx surely exaggerated, but organized religion clearly has been employed to political ends. Because nihilism can be baneful to Your Average Ruler, rulers have used religious means for political ends: to calm and even subdue the common people, turning every Terrible Tom, Destructive Dick, and Horrible Harry into, well, Tame Tom, Docile Dick, and Humble Harry. Religion trains people to think about everyone’s goodness along spiritual lines, while politics trains people to think about the greatest good of the community along utilitarian, secular lines. In fact, in a totalitarian regime unsupported by divine rights, repression may be more extreme because the admonitions of religion are unavailable to deter nonconformity and crime. Any decent political leader, even the self-appointed ones living down the hall from me, must satisfy the spiritual cravings of his people or face the terrible specter of insurrection. “Religion is with politics and politics is with religion. They are one.” – Moqtadah al-Sadr. Just as religion organizes people to all unite under one banner of God, politics organizes its followers to unite under the banner of one man, woman, elephant, donkey, turkey, or other creature. Politics and religion both concern themselves with a productive community filled with sated members who actively believe—believe deeply—in their respective organizations. Politics strives towards this end by allotting tangible goods like food, clothing, and shelter to its constituents and religion by nurturing its followers with spiritual goods. Even here, inside the Andover Matrix, our secular leaders, the Administration heads, establish political stability, while our religious leaders deliver spiritual nourishment. Outside, in the American reconstruction of Iraq, three different competing religious factions, Shiite, Sunni, and Kurds, are so adamant in their beliefs that they may not submit themselves to a secular government; indeed, the author of the quote at the beginning of this paragraph is violently resisting that very prospect. “Paris is well worth a mass.” –King Henry IV of France. Some historical figures can help to illustrate my point about the amalgamation of politics and religion. Until the late 16th century, in France, like everywhere else in the world, no distinction whatsoever had been made between church and state. Amidst a bloody religious civil war, the first difference between the two was realized by so-called politiques like Henry IV, a Protestant leader, who tired of fervent religious distinctions, believed political power should triumph over them all. Indeed, Henry himself converted from Protestantism to Catholicism and back; when faced with his religion or death, he gladly forsook his religion. In fact, at the conclusion of the civil war, he converted to Catholicism to appease Catholic leaders, giving rise to the above quote. Yet, Henry and politiques to follow him such as Richelieu still derived their authority from divine rights. It was 100 years later before anyone began to consider rights derived from a secular self-government. Although politics and religion have incontrovertibly drifted further apart since the 16th century, King Henry articulates their natural cohesion. “Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government! Supreme executive power derives a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony. ” –Monty Python and the Holy Grail. When, in the late 17th century, philosophers like Locke and Hobbes finally began to reject the notion of justification by divine right in favor of justification by reason, they both asserted that man must enter into a contract with the state so that government may organize the society. Yet, despite the valid philosophical points of Locke, Hobbes, and Python, “aquatic ceremonies” are still necessary to an ordered society and must still work side by side with political forces. Rituals—political, religious, or a combination—probably will always be important to order. “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.” –Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address. Lincoln would often use references to God in his speeches perhaps to give a more solemn ring to his words and come across as a charitably-Christian patriot. His booming speech bestows upon him more the aura of a preacher than a president. All nations may not be nations under God, but they are, nevertheless, under one unifying, supreme authority, whether temporal or eternal.