Saturday, September 04, 2010

Christian Secular Tradition

Much of the Western tradition of secularism traces back to the statement of Jesus that we should render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and render unto the Lord that which is the Lord's.

Throughout western history, Christian communities experimented with varying degrees of separation between the secular and sacred.

The separation is a rarity as most cultures tend to have very strong ties between religious and secular authority. In Rome, Caesar declared himself a God. In the mythology of the ancient world, one would find pagan gods dominating the gods of conquered people.

Christian secularism was not perfect. Political leaders love to use religious sentiment as the base of their power. On the legal front, common law tends to evolve in the context of the beliefs of the common people. As such, the Western world had varying degrees of separation between the secular and sacred.

The Founders of the United States had a Christian background and were interested in the establishment of Constitutional Law. They wrote a decidedly liberal stance on secularism into the Bill of Rights.

It is important to remember that the Founders were not the creators of the idea of secularism. They simply wrote an ancient idea into their Constitution.

It is naïve to assume that all cultures will take to the same division.

Islam, which sprung up after Christianity, was critical of the weak-kneed Christians and established a monotheism with a stronger relation of church and state. Mormonism is interesting in that it appeared in the United States. Both the founding leaders of Mormonism (Joseph Smith and Brighma Young) established themselves as political and economic leaders.

Joseph Smith held political offices in various towns. He had aspirations to the US presidency. He held a military post in the Mormon militia and ran all sorts of businesses.

When Brigham Young left the United States to establish the Empire of Deseret, he set himself up as the titular head of the new government. When Utah became a US territory, Brigham Young set himself up as Governor.

There is a very strong impulse within the hearts of man to combine religious and political authorities.

This impulse affects everyone. Atheists are notorious for demanding that their beliefs be written into law and are driven to distraction whenever a law favors the beliefs of an organized religion.

Communist regimes were decided anti-religion and committed a large number of atrocities in the name of their paradoxical belief system.

I favor the 1st Amendment and believe the Founders did well to write the liberal side of the separation of secular and sacred into the Constitution.

However, I believe it a mistake to assume that all cultures will automatically take to the same separation. This is especially true in a world where bashing America is in vogue. In the international community, we are as likely to be bashed for our secularism as for Bush's Texas accent.

As we tromp around abroad and try to impose our vision of the separation between scared and secular, we need to be aware of the fact that we are taking an idea from the Western Christian tradition. There is a possibility that other cultures won't take to the idea.

They may view our secularism as a form of imperialism.

Likewise, as the West foolishly invites mass migration from countries which reject the secular tradition of Christianity, we might actually be setting ourselves up for failure.

It is the nature of the political mind to grab at any idea that will bring the politician power. Politicians will tell big lies. They will argue the thesis. They will argue the antithesis. They will argue for religion or for anti-religion.

The political mind leads mankind to ruin. The secularism of the Christian tradition and US Constitution helps temper some of this political excess, but it will never completely negate the impulse of politicians to grab at whatever power source they can find for their political aspirations.

Many religions have proven compatible with the multicultural vision of a secural American state. Yet it is foolish to assume our Constitutional separation between church and state is universally accepted. Our own history shows politicians will use any and every means available to achieve their grab for power.

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2 comments:

sunnymartin said...

We have the problem of open borders and a history of supporting the freedoms of incomers of incompatible religions here in the UK. This policy and related ones have led to repeated influxes of groups of people who really don't want to fit in and want their religious laws in place here. TBH...in is getting really scary in some cities with no go areas for people who are not of an ethnic minority group

y-intercept said...

The absolutism of secularists is an amazing thing. I wrote the post in response to an atheist who gets driven to frenzy when policy doesn't reflect his beliefs.

I've notice many on the left see secularism as the creation of the modern world, when it is a fundamentally Christian idea evolved through the Hellenistic world as the division between the secular and sacred.

If secularism evolved within the Western tradition, then there is a possibility that other traditions aren't compatible with secularism. This is especially true of cultures which have evolved in conflict with the West.

Islam is a culture designed to displace the West. There appears to have been varying degrees of secularism in Constantinople, Alexandria, Assyria and other ancient cultures in the Middle East and North Africa. These cultures are now dominated totally by Islam.

The assumption that all cultures are anxious to embrace secularism could prove to be as fatal a conceit as most other forms of absolutism.