Church and State
A fine video by Professor John Eastman for Praeger University demonstrating how Church State relations today in the United States bears almost no relationship to that envisioned by the Founding Fathers. The vehicle of this misapprehension has been Thomas Jefferson’ s letter to a congregation of Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut. Here is the text of that letter:
To messers. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.
The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.
I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.
Th Jefferson Jan. 1. 1802.
It would have astounded Jefferson if he could have foreseen that the Supreme Court would make his letter the cornerstone of erecting a wall of separation between Church and State. Jefferson did not intend to have the letter be a centerpiece of Constitutional theory, but rather it was a partisan attempt by his to refute Federalist arguments that he was an infidel. In a brilliant essay, which may be read here, James Hutson, Chief of the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress, explains the historical background of the letter: Continue reading
My second favorite living historian, Michael Burleigh, who has written stunningly original works on subjects as diverse as Nazi Germany, religion and politics in the last two centuries, terrorism, and morality and World War II, has taken up the cudgels against the despicable attitude of many Brits of the chattering classes regarding the visit of the Pope to the Island next to Ireland.
Under normal circumstances, one might say “welcome” rather than “receive”. But the multiple sexual scandals that have afflicted parts of the Catholic Church have created a window of opportunity for sundry chasers of limelight – including human rights militants, crusading gays, Islamist fanatics, and celebrity God-botherers – to band together to “arrest” the Pope under laws so obscure that few knew they existed. Because child abuse is involved, rather than the more widespread phenomenon of homosexual predation on young men, these manifestations will receive much media attention, especially from the BBC, to the guaranteed perplexity of a less involved general public in a nominally Protestant country. It will require some effort of mind to tune out this noise to hear what the Pope will be saying.
I am currently reading through one of the most fascinating and relevant books of our time, America Alone, by Mark Steyn. One of Steyn’s most provocative and convincing arguments is that demographics will decide the future of Western civilization and the entire world.
Steyn argues that while the entire planet is or will be entering a phase of birth rate decline, some areas decline faster than others. America’s birth rate is falling, but Europe’s is falling faster, and Russia’s faster still. Meanwhile countries throughout the non-Western world are falling from much higher birth rates and will take decades to match our levels. Falling birth rates are bad news for everyone, but especially bad news for those who fall further and faster.
An analogous situation can be seen in the decline of the Church, and Christianity in general, at least with respect to the Western world. The number of Americans identifying as Christian or Catholic has decreased in recent years, but it will take some time for that number to reach abysmally low European levels. Here however I think it is important to move beyond a pure numbers game and look at some of the more qualitative aspects of Christian/Catholic decline as well.
Left-wing Catholic dissident James Carroll wrote a scathing attack on the USCCB for the Daily Beast blog, accusing the bishops of a “new know-nothing fundamentalism” and drastic shift to the political right for adhering to basic Catholic principles on abortion, the deliberate destruction of an innocent human life, which is an intrinsic evil. I don’t know what disturbs me more: the article itself, or the outpouring of vicious, no-holds-barred anti-Catholic hatred that follows in the com-boxes.
Carroll whines as if the entire moral platform of the USCCB is literally dictated by officials from the Republican Party, which anyone who is actually familiar with their positions on a number of issues from immigration to health-care reform (which they strongly support, minus abortion funding, to the chagrin of many conservatives) knows is somewhere between hysterical and brain-damaged. Carroll longs for the days when the Catholic Church in America was, at least in his one-sided view, completely subordinated not to the Republican political agenda but the Democratic one. Supposedly that would not be an unwelcome intrusion of the Church into political affairs, but an example of a good little boy who does as he’s told by the powers that be.
Of course Carroll’s nostalgia for the “good old Church” neglects the fact that in the days of FDR, abortion was not the political issue it is today, and no one but communists and anarchists believed that the right to murder one’s own offspring was a necessary condition for social justice. The very notion, in its brutality and hypocrisy, would have horrified as many Catholic leaders and laypeople then as it does today.
I’ve noticed some of the com-boxers talking about morality and obligation recently, and I think it deserves a closer look.
There are many atheists, agnostics, deists, pantheists, etc. who reject the idea of a God that creates moral standards, and then judges us according to those standards because to them the idea is simply reprehensible, incompatible with the moral wisdom humanity has supposedly attained since the Enlightenment.
Christopher Hitchens and others have compared God to Stalin and Hitler, a mad and petty dictator who demands complete and unconditional obedience and worship on pain of eternal suffering. Such a monstrous tyranny is incompatible with any sensible notion of good. Even if God did exist, one gets the idea that these folks would consider it the highest moral duty to follow in Satan’s footsteps and declare, “I shall not serve”.
Archbishop Chaput has made a remarkable series of speeches recently and they can be found here. All deserve to be read by all Catholics in this country who are concerned about our Faith and the US. His speech of February 24, 2009 in Toronto has been subject to analysis here at American Catholic in this post.
Lawlor and McDonald, the two anti-Catholic bigots behind a bill to tell the Catholic Church how to operate in Connecticut, have tucked their tails between their legs, cancelled the hearing on their bill, and their hate note to the Catholic Church, disguised as a bill, is dead for this legislative session. Massive publicitity worked the trick, and endless outraged calls, e-mails and faxes to the legislators. Kudos to State Senator John McKinney (Republican, Fairfield) who called 24 hours ago for the hearing on this bill to be cancelled and announced that every Republican in the state senate was against this bill, and that the bill was blatantly unconstitutional. I am sure the bigots will be back, but so will those of us who oppose them. A good day in Connecticut.
Update: Hmmm. The bigots were apparently in alliance with members of Voice of the Faithless. Surprise!
Salvete AC readers!
Here are today’s Top Picks in the Catholic world:
1. There seems to be a growing counter-movement in U.S. politics aligning itself against the Catholic Church. We see it happening in Connecticut where state legislatures want to control Church property. We also see it in the higher echelons of government where President Obama are using Catholic pawns such as Douglas Kmiec and Kathleen Sebelius. It isn’t being orchestrated by anyone, but the common theme seems to be to neutralize the effectiveness of the Church. Dave Hartline of the Catholic Report wrote an excellent column tieing all these loose ends together and explaining the consequences of this growing counter-movement.
For Dave Hartline’s columnn click on counter-movement above or here.
2. Speaking of Connecticut, Archbishop Charles Chaput has this to say concerning SB 1098 that would remove the bishops authority over each parish:
“legislative coercion directed against the Catholic community in one state has implications for Catholics in every other state. If bigots in one state succeed in coercive laws like SB 1098, bigots in other states will try the same.”
The bigots Archbishop Chaput is referring to are Senator Andrew McDonald and Representative Mike Lawlor, who are both homosexual activists that opposed the local Church’s efforts to defend marriage between a man and a woman.
For the article click on SB 1098 above or here.
Anti-Catholic bigots are busily at work in the Connecticut state legislature. Raised Bill 1098 would effectively place any corporation connected with the Roman Catholic Church in Connecticut under lay control. The sponsors of the bill, Representative Mike Lawlor, ironically a law professor, and State Senator Andrew J. McDonald, a lawyer, generously allow the local bishop or archbishop to serve on such a board of directors but without a vote.
And now, we have a perfectly liberal Pope, my very dear brothers. As he goes to this country [the United States] which is founded upon Masonic principles, that is, of a revolution, of a rebellion against God. And, well, he expressed his admiration, his fascination before this country which has decided to grant liberty to all religions. He goes so far as to condemn the confessional State. And he is called traditional! And this is true, this is true: he is perfectly liberal, perfectly contradictory. He has some good sides, the sides which we hail, for which we rejoice, such as what he has done for the Traditional liturgy.
What a mystery, my very dear brothers, what a mystery!
As Fr. John Zuhlsdorf (What Does The Prayer Really Say?) noted at the time, Fellay’s remarks are indicative of a point he has maintained time and again: the greater dispute between the SSPX and Rome is not so much over questions involving liturgical reform (and the ‘reform of the reform’) — on which there is a great deal of room for agreement — or even the matter of the excommunications; rather, the chief problem hinges on the Society’s objections to Vatican II’s articulation of the principle of “religious liberty” and the relationship of civil and religious authority.
The question of the role of religion and faith in politics should not be as controversial as it is today, and yet it comes up time and again. Will a Catholic president bow to the Pope? Will a Mormon president bow to the Prophet in Utah? Will a candidate be willing to honor the “separation of church and state”, not allowing his faith to interfere with his politics? Will an evangelical vote to remove science from the classroom, since “science conflicts with religion”? Some of these concerns are legitimate; others are formed by prejudices, propaganda, and general misunderstanding, and thus easily dealt with.