Saturday, June 13, 2009

Christ & Culture Revisited: Church & State, Historical & Theological Reflections, Part 1

This next section, before Carson hits some conclusions deals with some key historical and theological issues surrounding the development of democracy, different ways Christians have balanced church and state issues, and the heritage of other religions, particularly Islam. We’re going to reorganize Carson a little for the purpose of post length. We’ll look at the Wall of Separation in general and then look at Western views of separation and then a little at Islam. The next post will be about the varied American views on the interplay between church and state.

The Wall of Separation
Carson argues that the American and French Revolution, while having some similarities and being close in timing, have a 180 degree view of religion. The American experiment separated church and state to protect the church from government encroachment and establishment on a national level. States were allowed, it seems, to establish churches based upon their preference. The French sought to eradicate the church from public life. It seems we have moved, culturally – at least in some opinions – to a more French approach. A key point in this turning is the “wall of separation” in Everson v. Board of Education (1947).

Internationally, the interplay between church and state is different. England has a state church, but as the culture secularizes, disestablishment of the church is a growing possibility. On the other hand, former communist countries embrace the freedom to bring religion into the public sphere to teach morals in schools (e.g., Hungary).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, observing church/state relationships in America saw the tendency to merge democracy and Christian faith, which he thought a dangerous step. He held to a “two kingdoms” view of church and state. Separate spheres that have their own realms of rule. Frenchman Jacques Maritain loved the American notion of separation (freedom “for” religion) and pleaded that it not be turned into the French freedom “from” religion. Carson fears we have gone the way of the French – or we’re heading there quickly.

Finally, Carson looks to the Muslim world. While some thought religion would wane in the modern world, it has not – and Islam is one of the reasons. Essentially, the Muslim does not value “religious tolerance” in the sense we do. It is “functional atheism.” Carson gives a few basic points that serve as an introduction to his discussion. They will conclude this post on the varied (and obviously broad and overly-simplified) church/state relationships in the world.

…Islam has (a) no heritage of “Give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” (b) a rather different view of the nation-state, which is clearly secondary to the ummah, the people of Islam, (c) nothing quite like a national church, still less a denomination, in some Western categories, makes much sense, (d) a sense of historical grievance stemming form the decline of its own influence during the past century and half or so, and (e) a rising sense of power stemming from the “successes” of its own radical elements, from the fiscal power it exerts because of rising oil revenues, and from its demographic advantages in Europe and elsewhere” (p. 191).
It is hard to tell which direction Muslim religion/state relationships will go, but in many instances, it is hard to distinguish between the two. There is a strong level of Constantinianism built in, but time will tell how things develop.

No comments: