Another Inconsequential Opinion of some Inconsequential Guy

May 12, 2006 § 45 Comments

That the State must be separated from the Church is a thesis absolutely false, a most pernicious error. Based, as it is, on the principle that the State must not recognize any religious cult, it is in the first place guilty of a great injustice to God; for the Creator of man is also the Founder of human societies, and preserves their existence as He preserves our own. We owe Him, therefore, not only a private cult, but a public and social worship to honor Him. Besides, this thesis is an obvious negation of the supernatural order. It limits the action of the State to the pursuit of public prosperity during this life only, which is but the proximate object of political societies; and it occupies itself in no fashion (on the plea that this is foreign to it) with their ultimate object which is man’s eternal happiness after this short life shall have run its course. But as the present order of things is temporary and subordinated to the conquest of man’s supreme and absolute welfare, it follows that the civil power must not only place no obstacle in the way of this conquest, but must aid us in effecting it.

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§ 45 Responses to Another Inconsequential Opinion of some Inconsequential Guy

  • A Philosopher says:

    Well, he’s wrong, isn’t he? The protections of religious freedom encoded in the First Amendment – which include a ban on state recognition and endorsement of a religion – are a form of acknowledgement of the significance of religion. Given a democratic model of governmental authority, in which the state is an organ for the expression of the collective will of the people, limitations on state authority become limitations on the collective actions of the people. That’s why the Bill of Rights limitations on state action all rest on matters of fundamental personal autonomy, in which it is manifestly inappropriate for the people collectively to be acting (perhaps better, on matters of personal autonomy whose absence makes it impossible for citizens to act as members of a rationally willing society). Why can the state mandate that we drive on the right, but not that we join the LDS? Precisely because the question of our religious affiliation is so much more significant than the question of where we drive our cars. Pius X’s stance thus can derive only from either a rejection of the significance of religion or from a fundamentally anti-democratic attitude toward the state. Both are errors.

  • zippy says:

    <>Pius X’s stance thus can derive only from either a rejection of the significance of religion or from a fundamentally anti-democratic attitude toward the state.<>I agree, and I think it is fairly obvious that Pope St. Pius X did not premise his encyclical on the former.<>Both are errors.<>Not the latter.

  • c matt says:

    <>Both are errors.Not the latter.<>As recently confirmed.

  • c matt says:

    <>Given a democratic model of governmental authority, in which the state is an organ for the expression of the collective will of the people, limitations on state authority become limitations on the collective actions of the people.<>Since when has the collective will of the people been unerring? If the collective will of the people can err, opposition to a system in which the state is an organ for the collective expression of this will (which errs) cannot itself be error solely on the basis of its being in opposition.

  • Step2 says:

    It is an inconsequential opinion, since history has voted against it. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, period.“Since when has the collective will of the people been unerring?” This misses the point entirely, since no system of governance can or will be perfect. The better question is, which system of governance is self-correcting and adaptive? The answer is not a theocracy.

  • zippy says:

    History has a way of changing its mind. Also the “absolute power” comment is a caricature of medievalism; and it seems to me to ignore the fact that democracy has produced among the most absolute of dictatorships.

  • Scrooge McDuck says:

    Theocracy is to government as monopoly is to capitalism; each leads to a totalitarian set of circumstances which radically oppose the autonomy of the individual and freedom of expression, be that expression philosophical/ethical, or be it entrepreneurial.

  • A Philosopher says:

    Two points:First, as a rhetorical matter, I’m happy with the situation if arguments against church-state separation depend on anti-democratic premises. I have a prediction about who’s going to win that debate in the court of public opinion.Second, as a substantive matter, democratic theories of state authority are not in error. The people are, collectively, seld-determinative of the course of collective action for the same reason that individual people are self-determinative of the course of their own action (both within certain boundaries). We take an individual to be specially determinative of what is done to, with, and by him and his because he is the owner of his own mental states and because, consequentially, it would be abrogative of his status as a freely willing agent to deny him autonomy of action within that sphere. The same applies to the people collectively. Anti-democratic theories of government thus all in the end run rampant over the free will of the individual and hence also the status of the individual as a person. That’s a point that one can see in political philosophy as early as Aristotle, reacting against Plato’s perfectionist and impersonalist model of the state.

  • zippy says:

    <> I have a prediction about who’s going to win that debate in the court of public opinion.<>You obviously aren’t as patient as I am.<>Anti-democratic theories of government thus all in the end run rampant over the free will of the individual …<>Democracies have been known to run rampant all over the free will of the individual too. (Not that running rampant over the free will of the individual is <>necessarily<> bad, if the free will of the individual happens to be oriented toward evil). I tend to think that people who idealize democracy are indeed idealizing it: that is, the thing that they idealize is not something that ever exists or has existed in reality, and this ideal-democracy is seen as some moral imperative even though it never exists (or is even approximated in any coherent sense) in reality.I think people tend to idealize democracy because they have been forbidden to aim for anything that is actually substantively good in public life. Therefore a formalism (democracy) has become the only acceptable public moral imperative, layered over the quaint hope that by embracing that formalism the most important substantive goods will naturally arise.That hope-vested-in-a-formalism most recently has manifested itself in the notion that bringing democracy to the Middle East will make a substantive civilizational problem go away. But Democracy in itself is no more likely to produce substantively good result in the Middle East than it did in the Weimar Republic.

  • Step2 says:

    “I think people tend to idealize democracy because they have been forbidden to aim for anything that is actually substantively good in public life.” Perhaps you could explain this sentence further, I cannot make any sense of it.Jesus did make a statement about rendering unto Caesar’s what is Caesar’s, which implies that God’s realm is separate from the state.

  • zippy says:

    <>Perhaps you could explain this sentence further, I cannot make any sense of it.<>Example: someone who thinks sodomy is not a moral wrong and therefore shouldn’t be treated as one politically doesn’t argue on that substantive basis; rather he argues on the basis that official opprobrium against sodomy violates the formalities of democracy and equal rights, as if the formalism were a good in itself.<>Jesus did make a statement about rendering unto Caesar’s what is Caesar’s, which implies that God’s realm is separate from the state.<>It depends on what you mean by “separate”. If what you mean is hermetically sealed off from each other” that is obviously wrong, and unquestionably goes against the tradition and doctrine of the Church. The job of Pope is different from the job of King; the job of Bishop is different from the job of governor; the job of priest is different from the job of mayor; and it can be imprudent (not to mention a violation of subsidiarity) to combine these various roles in one person.

  • Rob says:

    Jesus also said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” And St. Paul taught that we must not conform ourselves to the world. Jesus lived in very political times, yet we are given no indication that He took any part in, or even had any interest in, the politics of His day. The Gospels make it quite clear that He could have led a Jewish insurgency and declined the role. Neither did He offer any unsolicited advice to His followers concerning how to deal with the Romans, or with the Herods. His concerns were entirely religious: how to deal with the Pharisees and the Sadducees; how to deal with your personal relationship to God. The idea that there is a “Christian” way to be politically active seems oxymoronic. To the extent that one is more political, one is less spiritually oriented, more conformed to the world; robbing God either to bribe, or to oppose, Caesar.One’s approach to politics, if any, should occur within that realm where Christianity and Humanism happen to be congruent, if any such place is to be found.

  • zippy says:

    <>The Gospels make it quite clear that He could have led a Jewish insurgency and declined the role.<>I suppose one might take that as evidence that one shouldn’t lead Jewish insurgencies, or perhaps insurgencies in general. Though at most what it makes definite is that Christ didn’t perceive his own personal vocation to be the leading of Jewish insurgencies.There is definitely an element of “don’t let the political become more important than the spiritual” in Christ’s teachings, as well as an element of “the political order is allowed in its present form by God; so quit complaining, obey authority, and live with it”.I don’t see either of those as incompatible with Pope St. Pius X’s point though.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–I see absolutely no evidence of “the political order [i.e. the Empire of the Roman Caesar, plus the local Herodian puppet governments] is allowed by God” in the teachings of Jesus. To the contrary, I see a lot of “the political order is beneath the contempt of persons living for God,” which is the message of both “render unto Caesar…” and “My kingdom is not of this world.” You are confusing the teachings of Jesus with the pragmatic, expedient teachings of St. Paul, and subsequently of the Church, both of whom had vulnerable organizations to nurture, protect and preserve against the power of hostile, and/or contemptuous secularists. Don’t rock the boat. Let sleeping dogs lie, etc.

  • Step2 says:

    Zippy,I think sodomy arguments fall into the gray category of personal taste, where the state has no significant interest. So if you want to claim sodomy is a moral wrong, it requires that you demonstrate the harm to society or to the individuals. If you can make a convincing argument, then equal rights do not apply.There may be an objective ideal diet that everyone should adhere to in order to reach maximal health. There may be an objective ideal architectural style that all buildings should replicate in order to achieve maximal aesthetics. How realistic are those ideals, though? Furthermore, how can we know with absolute certainty that those ideals are eternally correct for every person and every building?

  • zippy says:

    <>So if you want to claim sodomy is a moral wrong, it requires that you demonstrate the harm to society or to the individuals.<>No, it doesn’t require that, because I am not a positivist.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–Wouldn’t a “political essentialist” pretty much have to insist upon the reinstatement of divine right monarchy?

  • zippy says:

    <>Wouldn’t a “political essentialist” pretty much have to insist upon the reinstatement of divine right monarchy?<>Not at all. In fact the divine right monarchy is an anti-Catholic invention of the early Protestants (though there were seeds of it even before then in Gallicanism): an attempt to make the Church a department of the state in order to serve the interests of the state. This led, as we know, to unprecedented levels of slaughter over ostensibly religious reasons. (I say ostensibly because it was mainly about placing state power over religion rather than about religion per se).I would say that the right relationship between Church and state is one where each has a degree of autonomy, but similarly to the way in which each spouse of a married couple has autonomy. There certainly is no “wall of separation”. Popes ought not be directly commanding armies (other than within a legitimate autonomous Papal state, which I think it is prudent to have in order to keep the Church from becoming a department of some particular state). On the other hand states ought not be free to autonomously judge right and wrong solely for themselves, but ought to make their particular laws in conformity to universal moral laws, over which the Church is the final earthly authority.

  • Rob says:

    “…divine right monarchy is an… invention of the early Protestants…”Oh? David wasn’t a divine right monarch? And Saul before him? I fully agree that the kind of “divine right” you speak of was exactly what you say it was–a political ploy.But, on the other hand, if you say that our leaders must be obeyed because it is by God’s will that they lead, it renders elections absurd; so long as one person votes, God’s will is done.I would say that *essentially* all Christians live in a “shadow” theocracy. We must do God’s will at all times and the will of our rulers only when it coincidentally conforms to God’s will.

  • c matt says:

    <>The better question is, which system of governance is self-correcting and adaptive?<>Neither is a democracy self correcting. Nor is it necessarily adapting. It is completely dependent upon the self-correctability/adaptability of its elected aristocracy, the availability of perfect information, the availability of true equal access to positions of leadership, etc. none of which exist in any current “democracy”.

  • decker2003 says:

    I encourage everyone to read this article about the proper interpretation of St. Pius X’s teaching that that it is error to hold that the church must be separated from the state. http://www.catholic.net/rcc/Periodicals/Dossier/00MarApr/continuity.htmlFr. Harrison argues that “state” is really a mistranslation — a better word would be “nation.” So, the state could be neutral as regards religion, but the nation could still be Catholic in its collective expressions (although these would not be enshrined in law) and this would be consistent with the teaching of the encyclical. (Think of Mexico where the state is hostile to the Church, yet Our Lady of Guadalupe is as much a national symbol as the Mexican flag.) So, secular democracy is not condemned per se, rather it becomes a prudential question whether the nation should use the machinery of the state to give due worship to God. In certain historical circumstances, such an effort might be ineffective and bring about other evils (e.g. religious wars) and so it might be prudent to choose a secular democracy over a Christian authoritarianism.

  • Rob says:

    It seems arguable that the United States is not properly defined as a “nation” in the sense that a more ethnically and culturally homogenous entity such as Japan, the Scandinavian countries, etc., are “nations”, as distinct from “states.”The United States is homogenous only on the basis of its secular constitution.Much of the bloodshed in the contemporary world is the result of forcing different “nations” within the borders of a secularly-defined state, as we saw in Yugoslavia. The Kurds, for instance, have no state, but would qualify as a nation.

  • zippy says:

    <>So, secular democracy is not condemned per se, …<>I agree completely up to this point. The issue is not the formalism of democracy per se, but the treatment of the formalism as if it were itself a substantive good. One helpful way to distinguish between when democracy is being treated in its proper way, as a decision-making formalism versus a substantive good, is when it is widely thought that democracy in itself is something worth fighting and dying for. People don’t sacrifice their sons to implement value-neutral formalisms in places where they are not sovereign, for example.<>…rather it becomes a prudential question whether the nation should use the machinery of the state to give due worship to God.<>I think it is difficult to take Pope St. Pius X seriously while watering down what he is saying quite this much. To wit:<>…the civil power must not only place no obstacle in the way of this conquest, <>but must aid us in effecting it<>.<>It is all well and good to say that this inconsequential Saint was <>wrong<> when he exercised his formal teaching authority to say to the universal Church that the state has an obligation to support the true Church; but to claim that he is on the side of those who argue that the state has no such moral obligation is, I think, manifestly in error.

  • zippy says:

    <>Oh? David wasn’t a divine right monarch? And Saul before him?<>No. Not in the Protestant sense. They were central rulers granted reluctantly to a cluster of tribes ruled by judges and overseen morally by prophets and priests, kingships granted because those tribes wanted the advantages of being able to take collective political action on a larger scale. David and Saul were never considered the final earthly authority on both secular and religious affairs, as the Protestant Divine Right kings were considered. The Protestant Divine Right King was one step down from the Caesars because he was not considered a God himself. But as a practical matter he was treated – insofar as the scope of his authority was concerned – as if he were God on earth.Modern Church-State separation is history running screaming from the political manifestation of the Protestant error.

  • zippy says:

    <>(Think of Mexico where the state is hostile to the Church, yet Our Lady of Guadalupe is as much a national symbol as the Mexican flag.)<>It seems an odd choice of example. Is the notion that Pope St. Pius X would approve of the situation in Mexico as morally good, with a secular government hostile to the Church?

  • Rob says:

    “…not in the Protestant sense…”Right. But the “Protestant sense” is not an essentialist sense, and was not the sense in which I was using the term–although I should have made that clear: my bad.My point was that an essentialist should perceive a need to be ruled by a divinely appointed and duly anointed monarch, because surely that is the essence of human government; all else is arbitrary tinkering with the original design.

  • zippy says:

    <>My point was that an essentialist should perceive a need to be ruled by a divinely appointed and duly anointed monarch,…<>I have no idea why you think this has anything to do with essentialism, but it is true that as a moral matter we owe obedience to the secular authority, whatever form it happens to take on – up to and until we are directly commanded to do something evil, at which point that obligation ceases.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–It is an essentialist position because it is the way in which God appointed rulers over men before man strayed too far from the truth to obey–or at least that’s how it seems to me. Why else would it be essential that Jesus be a descendant of David? And why did He speak in terms of “kingdom?”If an elected leader leads by God’s will, I ask, why need we pay any attention to whom is chosen to lead, or how he is chosen to lead? All we need worry about is how to personally strive to do good and avoid evil; what the government does *otherwise* is the business of secularists and/or evildoers.

  • zippy says:

    <>It is an essentialist position because it is the way in …<>You are not using the word “essentialist” the way I use it. I use it to mean that things have essences which are independent of the labels we attach to them.<>…what the government does *otherwise* is the business of secularists and/or evildoers.<>So David and Solomon were secularists and/or evildoers in your peculiar theory?

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–Certainly David and Solomon were both evildoers on those occasions when they transgressed. That they were God’s anointed rulers, however, is why they survived their transgression.I think that I *am* using “essential” in the way that you mean it–the essence of a ruler is a man chosen by God–not by other men–to rule, and duly anointed by God’s earthly representative–prophet or priest–to rule. This is in keeping with God having given Adam dominion over nature.

  • zippy says:

    <>I think that I *am* using “essential” in the way that you mean it–<>No, you aren’t. You are making a claim about the essence of a particular thing.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–I am saying that the essence of the category “ruler”, that which makes any individual in that category fit the category, is that the ruler (king), like all other legitimate rulers is appointed directly by God, which appointment is then ceremonially recognized by God’s earthly representatives.Is that nominalism?

  • decker2003 says:

    Zippy,I am sympathetic to much of what you say about the relationship of church to state, but how do YOU reconcile the teaching of the quoted encyclical with the teaching of Dignitatis Humanae that the state must not interfere in practice of religion, whenther private or public?

  • zippy says:

    <>Is that nominalism?<>Pretty close. You seem to be saying that “ruler” means just what you choose it to mean, nothing more, nothing less.

  • zippy says:

    <>…but how do YOU reconcile the teaching of the quoted encyclical with the teaching of Dignitatis Humanae that the state must not interfere in practice of religion, whenther private or public?<>I am not particularly fond of the language in which it is written. (I am not particularly fond of framing morality and political relations in terms of “rights” in general, in fact, because I think the term is rarely used unequivocally – so even when it is used in a document with precise intent the interpretation of that document is as likely to be erroneous as it is to be correct). In particular DH hedges in places where the rubber meets the road, if you will. To wit:<>“This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, <>within due limits<>.”<><>“Injury therefore is done to the human person and to the very order established by God for human life, if the free exercise of religion is denied in society, <>provided just public order is observed<>.”<>(emphasis mine in both instances).But in essence all I interpret DH to be saying is the same thing that Popes have always said when they have affirmed that it is immoral to convert by the sword.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–I am saying that “ruler,” as I have been speaking of ruler, is as God has defined it, and nothing less, the ur-King being Adam, and the archetype being David. How is that my opinion?

  • zippy says:

    <>How is that my opinion?<>It is your opinion that God has defined it as Rob has defined it.

  • Rob says:

    No. It is my opinion that the Bible has defined it as I under it at the instigation of the Holy Spirit. It is my opinion that through grace and prayer I can understand the Bible. It is also my opinion that allowing men to discern essences is the project of the Holy Spirit in causing the Holy Scriptures to be written by men.

  • zippy says:

    <>It is my opinion that …<>So apparently we now agree that it is your opinion.

  • Rob says:

    There is a difference, I believe, between an interpretive understanding and an opinion, subtle though it may be.

  • A Philosopher says:

    Of course governments of the general type “democracy” can fail to act according to the will of the people. When they do so, they are to that extent not acting democratically. But how does this amount to an objection to democracy? If one’s political theory is crudely consequentialist, one could of course argue that an attempt to set up democratic foundations for state authority lead to a worse state of affairs than, say, an attempt to set up an aristocratic foundation. But I’m not consequentialist in this way – I think that non-democratic foundations are a substantive evil, and hence to be avoided even if they have desirable consequences.As it happens, I think that democracy is a substantive good – the good of allowing full agency for people. That’s a good that persists even when people use their agency for ill, which is why, ceteris parabis and within certain circumscribed domains, it is wrong to infringe on people’s freedom even when they are using that freedom poorly. Again, I reject the Platonic perfectionist model of the state, since that model has no place for genuine persons (Bernard Williams’ criticisms of utilitarianism are relevant here).But I also don’t see any reason why other substantive conceptions of the good can’t be pursued in conjunction with a democratic picture of state authority. I think the state should protect freedom of speech because that’s a rational precondition of the formulation of a public will. Hence that state action follows from the imperative for democratic state action. But I think the state should heavily fund the liberal arts in higher education because I think the liberal arts are a substantive good which we ought to pursue, even though the pursuit of that good is independent of the establishment of democratic state authority.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–I should have place “it is my opinion that” in quotes above, indicating that it is your opinion that my knowledge is opinion, but that I know it not to be such. My bad.

  • zippy says:

    <>As it happens, I think that democracy is a substantive good…<>I think your view is the prevalent view. I also think it is wrong.

  • c matt says:

    <>The people are, collectively, seld-determinative of the course of collective action for the same reason that individual people are self-determinative of the course of their own action <>(both within certain boundaries)<>.<>But even here, as you admit by your hedging, democracy would be a “good”, but cannot be too good because it must be exercised only within certain boundaries. Kind of an odd good that must be circumscribed.Again, democracy is a process, not a substantive good or evil. It is a means, not an end in itself, and therefore is not a “substantive” good. Stating a democracy is a substantive good simply for democracy’s sake is nonsensical – what is substantively “good” or “evil” is what democracy leads to (in most cases, unsuppressed appettite/passion). Its like saying “change is good” without referring to into what something was changed (the essence of the “pro-choice” position).

  • A Philosopher says:

    C Matt,Sex is a good, too, but not if we do it in the road. There’s nothing mysterious about something which is good within certain boundaries but not good outside those boundaries. Democracy is a substantive good because it is a realization of the free deliberative status of the people collectively, which is a good in the same way that the free deliberative status of an individual person is a good. In both cases, there is a proper domain to that deliberation. (I also think, by the way, that Plato’s authority notwithstanding, the historical record does not support the contention that the people’s democratic choices tend toward pure gratification of the appetitive soul.)Zippy,I undestand that you think that democracy is not a substantive good. But you haven’t engaged with my reasons for thinking that it is one.

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