Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Classic Separation

My article on Muslim outrage over the Swedish cartoons depicting Muhammad might lead the reader with justice to believe that I am a passionate defender of the separation of church and state. I am this and as long as people's minds remain so intractable and unimaginative that they prefer the comfort of a millennia-old book written by people with no understanding of the natural, it will remain one of the cornerstone guarantors of freedom. As long as people derive their beliefs regarding ethics from books which cannot be said to admit of tolerance and open debate then there really is no other way to limit their ability to reflect the barbaric prescriptions of these books in our laws than to say they can't in our founding documents.

What shouldn't be assumed is that I think the separation of church and state found in Western societies is a especially strong defense against theocracy. But through over two centuries of political discourse it cannot be claimed by any impartial observer that religion has not been used as an explicit qualification for office in the minds of voters or that political beliefs have not been directly derived from those beliefs. Indeed it cannot even be a reasonable expectation that secular and religious beliefs are distinct things. If a person believes they know the mind of the creator of the universe it is impossible that they would not want to petition the government to enact laws as such. Laws of which the creator of the universe would approve.

And alas the Constitution can be changed. There is nothing other than public consensus which keeps our government separate from our churches.. Even in this country that separation is tenuous. The separation of church and state reflects the bourgeois, aristocratic values of the 18th century deists who wrote it. Religious fervor was an ungentlemanly thing indicative of a lack of education, cultivation, intellect, breeding, and an excess of "enthusiasm," a word they never tired of using. Religious participation was a social grace and a sign of conformity. And the matter was walled off as strictly private precisely so few of them believed it and knew politically imprudent to say so and thus they created a convenient prophylactic. Their separation of church and state cannot account for a person who actually believes they know the mind of the creator of the universe and believes it wrote one of our holy books. Such a person cannot by definition allow religious dogma to be separated from the law because the books themselves forbid that t be. They do not believe that religious temperance and tolerance are virtues and indeed are unable to. Any unpacking of the beliefs of a so called religious moderate will reveal that his notion of a god is so vague and so shrouded in metaphysical contortions that it bears no resemblance to anything believed in by those such as those Muslims offended by the Swedish cartoons or the people who advocate teaching pseudo-scientific ignorance in American schools.

The separation of church and state is an impoverished notion, and can contain nothing but tepid bourgeois religious belief. The aforementioned values with which religious fanaticism was incompatible were paramount concerns of 18th century gentlemen and more than that their republicanism (they were not democrats) was aimed at preventing people who didn't share these values from gaining power. If you don't believe this then do some reading on the type of men they envisioned occupying the electoral college, itself a relic of classist republicanism.

But alas such people can take power. And they can alter our constitution and the respect and politeness which have been inculcated in our nation towards them is a result of our belief that our government was, by force of our Constitution and the insistence that religion is private, (a singularly American notion) immune to theocratic ambitions. It is not and that is why religion must be confronted, humiliated, and discredited with the only weapon we have and should have at our disposal; free speech.

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