The Modern State Will Become Very Religious

Human beings will always worship, and that impulse to worship will always find expression at the political level. Either, then, the government will endorse and safeguard conceptions of religiosity that are chaotic and idolatrous, and thus corrosive and immoral, or it will endorse a religiosity that results in the genuine moral unity of the State’s members. The only reason why we assume that the political arena can be secular or religiously neutral is because in the West we were until comparatively recently a Christian people.

The case below presupposes several assumptions, with which one may or may not agree, but it is necessary to declare them from the outset for the sake of clarity.

I take it as a given that human nature exists. We are not self-creating beings, and nor can we change our nature. We can warp our nature, mutilate it, and depart from its laws in innumerable ways that as a civilisation we are currently exploring with great dedication—but that is to do violence to our nature, not to change it. Such a view entails that there is indeed a law of human nature, with which we can seek to align our lives in our pursuit of flourishing—or indeed by our own volition we can depart from that law. The ways by which we may align ourselves with that law are diverse and dynamic, but such dynamism presupposes the acknowledgement of such a law. I further take it as a given that political life—by which I mean the moral or practical ordering of our lives in community, and its regulation through leadership and positive law-making—is proper to human nature. As individual persons, we emerge out of, and naturally maintain, corporate persons. 

Such communally reliant flourishing is not accidental to the kind of things we are, but rather it is proper to our nature. Humans are not found to be solitary, non-political animals anywhere on earth, nor have they ever been such. All philosophies that begin from the assumption that human beings are by nature solitary, and merely opt into synthetic communities with accidental forms for some prior, rationally apprehended reason, are flawed in their first principle.

Finally, I take it as a given that we are by nature question-asking and meaning-seeking beings, and hence, we are religious by nature. We ask questions about our origin, our purpose, and our ultimate destiny, and we come up with workable answers to those questions. More importantly, we develop art, mythology, and ritual by which we both seek to embody our quest for meaning and seek some personal encounter with the God or the gods who form the object of our devotions. Religion is baked into our nature.

Thus, because human beings are both political and religious by nature, there has never been such a thing as a secular society. Societies have always been religious. The moment society was declared secular in the 18th century by the French philosophes and their political activists, that society immediately erupted in a religious frenzy of sacrifice, paraliturgical activity, and the deification of the State as a new providential deity, with all the ritualistic expressions proper to religion subordinated to such anti-religious religiosity.

Given that religion is natural to mankind, and political government is the highest natural authority that exists over mankind—that is, mankind instantiated in his communities, nations, and empires, etc.—the proper authority over the religious life of any given natural community is its government. This fact has always been recognised. The Roman Emperor was arbiter over which were the public gods and which were the hearth gods, and eventually he even placed himself among the former. The Athenian statesmen were the protectors of religious life in their polis, and they lawfully executed Socrates for corrupting such religiosity among the young. The barbarian warlords of the north appointed their sacrificial priests and druids just as they appointed their lesser chieftains.

Why, then, is it so alien to us to think of political leaders as the apposite authorities over the religious beliefs and practices of the citizenry? The answer is simple: we are all stumbling about in the shadow of Christendom, and simultaneously we are attempting to run on its fumes.

Political leaders, as the highest authorities in any natural society, are the proper authorities over the religion of their people, which is always some manifestation of natural religion. But our civilisation has historically held that this is the age of Jesus Christ, and consequently supernatural religion has entered the world. Christians claim that their religion does not have its origin in the natural religious impulse of human nature, but has come into the world from without, and in doing so has assumed into itself that natural religious impulse, has transformed it, and superseded it. 

In short, Christians claim that their religion is not a natural religion, but a supernatural one. Thus, they claim it requires an institution of purely supernatural origin to be both its interpreter and promulgator, namely the Christian priestly hierarchy. Political leaders, whose role is rooted in the requirements of human nature, are simply not competent to be the highest authorities over this supernatural religion. Thus, in a Christendom model, we have two authoritative institutions on earth, one of natural origin, customarily called the State, and one of supernatural origin, customarily called the Church.

The terminology of Church and State, however, is deeply misleading. States, once they are Christian political communities, are no longer deemed by Christians to be merely natural communities. They are supernaturalised natural communities by virtue of the baptism of their members and the recognition of Christianity by their existent political and legal organs. Thus, in a Christendom model, what we customarily call ‘Church and State’ are more accurately called the spiritual and temporal divisions of the one supernatural community of Christians called the Church. The monarch or prime minister or president of a Christian nation, then, is as much a leader in the Church as any bishop, except as a layman he is ordinarily competent in the temporal matters of that supernatural community, and only extra-ordinarily competent in spiritual and doctrinal matters—whereas this is the reverse for a bishop.

If the Church’s kerygmatic enterprise withdraws from the public arena, or it is excluded from that arena by a political movement of apostasy, this has several harmful effects from a Christian perspective. First, the Church atrophies, as it cannot fulfil its own mission, and it increasingly attempts to justify its own existence by presenting itself as a club committed only to temporal concerns, within the jurisdiction of an increasingly anti-religious State. Second, this situation leads to a kind of moral schizophrenia among the baptised—especially baptised statesmen—who are expected to be Christians at home and secularists at work. Third, such an arrangement does not lead to what is widely claimed—namely a religiously neutral public arena. 

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