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  • 01: The Renewed Question of Church and State
  • 01: The Renewed Question of Church and State

    The following headline caught my attention the other day: “Parent complains when son returns home from school with Bible.” “I was out of town,” says Bonnie Matthews, mother of the boy. “I came home, and it was sitting there in my house…I questioned my son, and he said a man just handed it to him at school.” The Bible came from the Gideons International organization, but Matthews, who says she doesn’t believe in organized religion but is very spiritual and follows her own spiritual path, objects to the infringement of the hallowed principle of church/state separation.

    If you want to silence the Christian voice on the high–school campus or in the political arena, even if you are a minority of one, all you need do is invoke the principle of church/state separation. The ACLU will be at your side, and the forces of religious bigotry and narrow–minded traditionalism will be quickly escorted to the lunatic fringes of society. Indeed, during much of the Twentieth century, when Christianity dominated a nation like it has in few others in history, the vastly out–numbered forces of secular opposition largely succeeded in eliminating the social and political influence of the Church in the public square with a simple, strategic invocation of this republican, humanist principle. Faith, it was preached, belongs to the personal domain. Civil society is non–religious.

    I was reminded of this in seeing the website of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. This group is morally outraged that religious morals and traditional values could intrude into the daily functioning of a democratic nation. For this group the world is eminently simple: religion is a private affair; public affairs are thus non–religious. This view dominates the modern secular West in general. In a UN debate on abortion, the French government insisted that moral and religious considerations have no place in UN debates. The French delegate said, “Again, yet again, my delegation believes that we should reach a decision solely on the basis of public health, and not on the basis of moral or religious criteria.” This of course obfuscates the fact that “public health” has already been “morally defined” according to the secular belief that a woman’s choice is of greater value than the life of the unborn child. The fact is, human “public affairs” need morals, and morals derive from deeply religious sources, whether the Christian religion or other religions, or even the religion of secularism. So the problem is not that simple after all.

    Americans United, in its spirited defense of secular America, has little difficulty finding purple passages in the books and speeches of contemporary Christian leaders which tend to suggest that America belongs to Christians, and other religions or philosophies had better shape up or ship out. They cite Christian reconstructionists who propose stoning for delinquent children, believers who “want to impose ‘biblical law’ (or, more accurately, their interpretation of biblical law) on the United States, [so that] democracy should be scrapped and replaced with a theocratic state based on a literal reading of the Old Testament’s legal code, …government dramatically scaled back, …most government institutions, including public schools and various welfare/social service programs, abolished and replaced with church–run efforts, [and] political leaders would look to the Bible, not the Constitution, as the nation’s governing document.” This is spiritual politics with a vengeance.

    Another example, according to Joe Conn, writing for Americans United, is the Christian Coalition. Conn writes: “…after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks last year, Christian Coalition President Roberta Combs was in a quandary about her organization’s direction. ‘There was something missing,’ Combs said. ‘I was praying and asking God where we should go as an organization, and it was like God was speaking to me: bring the spiritual with the political.’ In her opening address, Combs took a militant stance. ‘We need to bring the spiritual and the political and the legislature together,’ she insisted. ‘We need to take back our country. When kids can’t pray in school, that should tell you something. We need to get prayer back in school, and that’s just the beginning of many, many things that need to be changed.’ Combs was followed by Meyer, a 59–year–old evangelist known for her flashy attire and no–nonsense speaking style. The TV preacher urged them to become active in politics as well as religious life…claiming America as a ‘Christian nation…,’ [she] appealed for ‘godly people’ to ‘make some noise..”

    Other “godly” people–actually they see themselves as “divine” — are making a noise, and the eventual din could bring the house down. Other people have been praying, or rather, meditating, and they come to very similar conclusions. The “new spirituality,” which, according to a new book from IVP, has already “eclipsed” the Judeo–Christian culture, also has its eye on America —and not just America. The global plans of this modern spiritual alternative take in the entire planet. That is why, as a case in point, a very powerful group of neo–pagans spirituals, including Marianne Williamson, Barbara Marx Hubbard, and Neal Donald Walsch, all best–selling authors, have formed Global Renaissance Alliance. The title says it all. There must be a “rebirth” and it will be “global.” The planet will be spiritual but pagan. And here is the point. This will happen because spiritual people will have begun to get serious about politics. “Cosmology and the New Political Activism” constitutes the vision and marching orders of this alliance. The invitation from GRA is to “‘cultural creatives,’ [estimated to be] a significant subculture of some 50 million adult Americans who reportedly share a number of strongly progressive values–including high levels of concern for global environmental problems and a desire that something be done to address the problems–but who have yet to fully discover their political voice.”

    A “new,” pagan cosmology, to the replace the old “dysfunctional” origin story, found in the Bible, is now on offer, coming from many different and often very sophisticated sources. This “story” is based on the belief that the cosmos is a self–generating, evolving being–which belief modern science is now “proving.” Cosmic and personal evolution not only make possible spiritual awakening, in deep, occultic union with Nature, but invite such spiritually awakened citizens to political action. The proponents speak of “a new model of political activism…a grassroots spiritual/political organization…[which] attempt[s] to integrate spiritual practices and principles with political activism.” “It is vital,” says David Nicoll, “to awaken the political voice of the ‘cultural creatives'[because] all human activities, including the world economy, are embedded in and dependent upon the integrity of the greater Earth community,…[thus] the highest priority of our times ought to be how to steer our culture skillfully away from its present collision course with environmental disaster…to an ecologically–sustainable culture.”

    This eco–political concern is already at work in the production of UN documents, like the Earth Charter and Agenda 21 where such “spiritual” thinkers have already had a major hand in their creation. Such documents will determine the way we live on the planet in the years to come.

    This spiritual view of politics grows out of a new, all–embracing cosmology, developed in particular by Thomas Berry, one of the intellectual and spiritual leaders of the movement. Berry vision will ride a modern tank over the quaint separation of church [religion] and state. For instance, in emphasizing the importance of taking over the university, he states: “In a special manner the universities have the contact with the younger generation [which is] needed to reorient the human community…” Here is the programmatic statement:

    …we need to think of the universe as the supreme norm of reality and value…the universe [is] the primary university,…the primary lawgiver, primary economic corporation, primary scientist, primary, primary healer, primary revealer of the divine, primary artist, primary teacher, and indeed the primary source, model and ultimate destiny in all earthly affairs.”

    In this future society, Berry maintains, “education at all levels would be understood as knowing the universe story…[both its] psychic–spiritual as well as physical–material aspect[s]… [of] this…”sacred story.” The obvious implication of this all–inclusive program is the end of church/state separation. The detailed application and explication of this new “sacred story,” this spiritual/scientific “epic of evolution,” which includes the “psychic–spiritual as well as physical–material” to all domains of existence in tomorrow’s utopic society, will not be slowed by any church/state scruples.

    Another implication is the inevitable clash with the Judeo–Christian explanation of origins and ends. Berry does not hesitate in naming the enemy of this new orientation: the belief in “a monotheistic personal deity perceived as transcendent to all phenomenal modes of being, [will be in direct opposition to] the Great Spirit perceived as imminent in all natural phenomena.”

    Clash there will be, and Barry Lynn and Americans United will not save us, though one day we may look back on his activities with a certain touch of nostalgia.

    Christians should now decide if the clash we desire should be essentially political, an ugly, even violent struggle for earthly power, or ultimately and clearly religious and spiritual. To be sure, Christians may not give up on a deep commitment to the culture, but our Lord’s injunction to be salt and light is a different injunction than to be political sword and shield. Indeed, he warned quite specifically that “all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” The only sword we wield for the coming kingdom is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.

    Why will biblical Christianity and revived pagan spirituality meet in this deep politico–religious conflict? The answer is found in the fact that both these religious views are thoroughgoing worldviews. Worldviews include everything, and tend to translate directly into policy. But there is an important difference. In paganism, since all is one, there is one kingdom. In biblical Christianity, since all is two, there are two kingdoms. Because, for paganism, God and the world are one, the world is the only domain of divine/human activity. Without a true sense of transcendence, paganism must have as its ultimate goal a this–world, political utopia. In Christianity, God and the cosmos are two. This world is not God’s final word. One day He will do a new thing. Christians, as redeemed creatures, stand in both worlds, but in faith await God’s final glorious utopia that is still to come, believing that he will establish this new heavens and earth by his own power.