Wednesday 20 June 2018

Christianity and politics versus The Church and the State

The message of Jesus Christ is permanent and universal - but 'the State' is an entity very labile and variously defined, and also non-universal.

The earliest known human societies had no 'state' nor anything analogous - and several such 'hunter gatherer' societies these survived into the early twentieth century. It would be an etiolated belief in Jesus that tied-itself to the survival of any specific form of political organisation, such as The State.

Yet, the fact that Christianity arose in the context of the Roman Empire, and existed for most of its history in 'medieval'-type agrarian societies - in which the ruling class was divided into priesthood and warriors - has distorted and confused the matter of 'Christianity and politics' by defining it in terms of 'Church and State'.

So, to make sense of Christianity and politics requires taking a step back from Church and State - in recognising that Christianity is not The Church and Politics is not The State.

Once that conceptualisation has been achieved, then there is no longer anything difficult in  understanding the proper relation between Christianity and politics; because it is clear which is the most important, which should to frame the other, and to what end society ought to be orientated.


Chiu ChunLing said...

In other words, Christianity is the proper objective of both the church and of the state. But it exists prior and superior to either.

The Social Pathologist said...

Well it really depends on how you define the Church. As I see it, the Church is a body of believers which once it surpasses a certain size is going to need some form of administrative body. I think a lot of the problems with conceptualisations of the church comes form conflating the clergy with the church, leaving out the laity.

The State, as I see it, needs to exist because in any community of persons there are going to believers and unbelievers, and for the fact that there are many common good issues which do not need religious involvement. i.e. rail gauges, town planning issues, etc.

Therefore there must be some separation of the two, though the barrier is going to be a bit porous.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SP - "Well it really depends on how you define the Church." - Or, perhaps more fundamentally, whether you consider Christianity (and salvation) to be separable from the church - whether, that is, you regard your-self or the-church as primary.

As a recent convert (ten years) this was something I struggled to decide for about five or more years; because I could not find a church connection which was tolerable, to which I could with honesty pledge myself in obedience. Christianity (among real christians) is 'set up' on the basis of the value primacy of the church - and this applies in many Protestant churches and the CJCLDS. The implication, one way or another, is that the primary virtue is obedience.

I find this literally-impossible to believe. At first I considered this to be my modern corruption, but on deeper consideration I found I did not even want to be obedient to any actual or conceivable church as the primary aim in life. And, looking around at people, I thik this is just a solid fact - there has been a development of human consciousness (beginning about 250 years ago) which means that we cannot with genuine honesty regard the church as superior to our own deepest convictions.

I am not talking about what people say in public, or what is observable from specific evidence, or what I can persuade anybody about - I am talking about a kind of ultimate direct and personal knowledge.

I am saying that I personally Do Not Believe that obedience to *any* church can or should be the bottom line for a Western Christian; and for the past several years my ideas are based on That conviction. It is just not an option. It will-not happen (but I don't much regret this because it should-not happen).

I think we are being given a very harsh lesson in theosis, because we did not learn from the milder lessons.

Any-way... the practical details of how church and state function and relate are subordinate to much larger, and unresolves, assumptions regarding the nature of being-a-Christian. So, I don't think much of genuine interest can be said about them.

However, even within traditionalist Christian understandings, most of the discussion on this topic leaves out the Big Fact of the Eastern Roman Empire, Byzantium, which lasted 1000 years under 'Orthodoxy' with an integration of church and state under an Apostle-Emperor. This was, overall, a more politically-successful model than the Western separation of church and state (national monarchs anointed by an international church; many secular kings under a single global spiritual emperor, in effect). Medieval Western Europe was a place of near continual strife, civil war and national wars - and unstable states coming and going (except for England).

In sum, I think the general thrust and core of the 'beneficial separation of church and state' argument always was nonsense!

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - Very well put!

Chiu ChunLing said...

Obedience cannot be a primary virtue because it is an absolute certainty that all men will ultimately obey something. There are many "whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things."

The virtue is only obedience to God.

And it is true that there is no human organization (call it a Church or a State or whatever) which can ever serve as an adequate proxy to obey in lieu of God. Even the claim to be such is immediately disqualifying.

What any proper Christian preacher must say is, "Listen to the Spirit of God, which testifies of truth." At the same time, a preacher must not fail themselves to heed the divine command to preach repentance and faith on Jesus Christ. Therefore they should preach, and also say, "pray God reveal the truth of this unto you."

I commend your exploration of the significance of this position, which is too often reduced to the platitude, even in churches where they still nominally hold that men should seek inspiration rather than blindly following corrupt humans. At the same time, I don't feel it is all that complicated. The platitudes are sufficient if we really mean them.

But to really mean anything means to think about what it really means.

Bruce Charlton said...

Another aspect of this question is that - over the long term, and in face of inevitable problems - any group of people must have some-thing to cohere-around, a unifying concept/ principle which is assumed, and to which everything is, ultimately, related. Some religions have done this, in some places and at some times - and when it is present (as in Byzantium, or Ancient Egypt) it can give a society tremendous resilience. The question is whether anything other than religion can do this over more than a generation or two - so far, nothing has.

Chiu ChunLing said...

By "any group of people" and "over more than a generation or two" I presume you mean groups larger than the natural human social group, which can readily run on instinctive principles for as long as the group doesn't grow past the natural human socialization size limit.

Certainly, larger groups need to appeal to either common beliefs in God (or significant gods) or a common civilization. And civilizations have an inevitable problem, the alleviation of natural selective pressure only appears a compelling justification to the generation who experienced it and their children, once the living memory of being subject to natural selective pressure or being a child of a parent subject to natural selective pressure is gone, the general consciousness of the significance of full natural selective pressure cannot be maintained. This does not mean immediate decadence, but it does mean that the general population of the civilization will not have the ability to understand what it means that they "maintain civilization to avoid being subject to natural selective pressure". For them the latter concept is an abstraction, if not merely a formulation.

Ironically, the minority who, despite having a going civilization, renew this knowledge of what it really means to be subject to natural selective pressure are generally those who have low commitment to the project of civilization as an answer to it.