Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Seperation of Church and State

In the BBC documentary, “The Power of Nightmares,” and the Kevin Bales novel, Disposable People, the role of religion in each serves both as a justification and a means to rule the people of an area through fear. Sigmund Freud was well known for his view of religion, saying that it was just a means of governing children and people until they had developed to understand their morality themselves. Religion on the individual scale provides hope and comfort, but when it becomes a fad or a movement, religion becomes a tool, allowing justification of the most (to me) immoral convictions. In "The Power of Nightmares," Islam was seperated from the individual and brought into society. There were murders in the streets of children and political leaders, and every death was for their God and a cleaner "public" religion. This is an example when religion escapes into government (not the official government, but the governing of the people). In the United States of America, Christianity is the overarching moral construct of its society. A poll created by the Institution of Social Research said that 44% of Americans go to church or synagogue at least weekly, showing how huge this population is, not even including those who go every once in a while or those who study the Bible on their own. But for this population, the Bible is their symbol of fear in their everyday lives. Many people who follow religion and believe its laws, constantly strive to implement such laws into government. Whether it is by electing a Christian president or Senate members, Christianity dominates many peoples decisions. God is constantly watching, constantly judging, and constantly ordering them to do their duties for the communities which is nice, but in the context of Bilal from Mauritania in Disposable People and “old slavery” in America, religion is a craze that is inadequate and detrimental to the rule of the people in society, providing my conviction for the separation of church and state.

The true power of religion is both its ability to make claims about the existence after death and apply unquestionable moral statements about the interactions between people under constant judgment. The idea of an omniscient being judging every move a person makes allows no room for disobeying his laws, but what about Bilal in Mauritania? For every delivery of water, Bilal received 1 ouguiya (200 ouguiya = 1$). His fear of lying in the presence of Allah prevented him from taking the money he rightfully deserved, keeping him in his place, enslaved and downtrodden. With barely enough food to eat or money to buy it, Bilal will never be able to buy himself out of slavery, and if, through some miracle, Bilal is freed, the possibility of him dying of starvation is disturbingly high. People, when discussing Disposable People, were all morally outraged by the ongoing cycle of slavery in these countries, yet every country had moral justification from their god. No, this religion was not Christianity, but in America, the exact same cycle existed in African and Native American slavery. In the Bible, the Ten Commandments represent the main laws of Christianity or any follower of YHWH, but people seem to ignore the near 390 more commandments immediately following them in Exodus 21 and pick and choose among them. In this chapter, God tells Moses the rules concerning everything, including slavery. “When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property” (Exodus 21: 20-21). In my opinion, I do not see anything about this statement that belongs in a moral standard in governing people's interactions. Whether or not my logic is able to grasp God’s purpose in this statement or the quote was somehow misinterpreted by the writer, this book is the sole foundation of the religion; therefore, it, in my opinion, must be taken at its intended value. . But the Bible is not amendable so where is the room for development? So from this, when communities allow religion to rule them, their moral structure becomes stagnant because of their inability to judge such ethical dilemmas objectively. I think the primary reason that gay marriage is not legalized today is because of this mix of government and religion. Objectively, I really can't think of one thing wrong with it that would label it unjust or unethical besides the Bible's conviction against it.

While religion does provide hope, answers, comfort, and “love,” they all come with this essence of fear, whether of hell or death. Although it is the perfect system for ruling people (implementing rules which are punishable for eternity and the inability to question such rules because of God's sovereignty), it stunts the development of society, creating injustice in society and disrupting our reasoning when faced with this injustice because of mankind's inability to question such things.

9 comments:

Cal said...

I really enjoy the post, but I am skeptical of your mention of Sigmund Freud. Yes, he does theorize in The Future of an Illusion that "God" is the displacement of the need for a father figure as one transition from a child to an adult. He feels that it must be abandoned in order for civilization to prosper. The problem I have is that Freud is inconsistent; he also wants us to accept that there are subliminal forces that govern our actions as well. In brief, Freud asserts that we are under control from a subconscious force that is not even aware of itself. There is a weak chain of responsibility in Freud's arguments, because the accountability falls on an unknown, which some might argue is analogous as Christianity. What is the difference of an outside force ruling you versus an internal one?

Ryan Carroll said...

I am not extremely familiar with Freud, but in my religion class last year, we had a few excerpts from his writing. I understood it to be that he thought religion was a way to keep children in line until they develop the capacity to make individual judgment. But to answer your question, I think it is the fact that our internal understanding and values can be changed and questioned (not sure his opinion), while outside forces that exist in modern times usually do not change and are prided in their universal, unquestionable truth.

Cal said...

Overall, I agree with the post, that religion can hinder the questioning process of atrocities like pre- Amercian Civil War slavery. I just find that usually mentioning Freud as a credible source opens the floodgates for criticism. When I said internal force, I meant the unconscious ones that Freud mentions (like the id,ego, and superego---which make up the sub-conscious as a sort of checks and balances system between primal and "moral" desires). I just feel like someone would argue, using Freud's theories, that our responsibility for our actions is weakened, because we are not control of our emotions due to the subconscious.

Paul Bendor-Samuel said...

The title of the post is “the separation of church and state”. However, religion is separate from the state is it not? There are no enforced religions in the U.S. or government institutions supporting a particular religion. To my knowledge there are not any of these things in the countries mentioned in Disposable people. Secondly you must keep in mind that in the eyes of Christians many of the rules found in the Old Testament no longer apply because they were part of the old covenant which the new covenant superseded. I would also caution you to make sure you are keeping the religion and the people that use it to manipulate others separate. There are people that use all kinds of different ideologies as tools to control and manipulate, whether it is religion, law, or tradition. I think that if you look you will find that usually countries where Judeo-Christian values are practiced have greatly benefited from them. You also claim that religion stunts the development of a society as well as creates injustice. I strongly disagree. I have no doubt that you can find an example of some extremist doing something unjust, but on the whole religion keeps injustice at bay. If your title is a play on words, and you wish to divorce religion from society as a whole, I would warn you that you would be in fact forcing society to follow one religion, the religion of no religion.

Ryan Carroll said...

No, I would say that the church is not seperate from the state. Candidates are constantly judged on their moral value by their decided religion. There was outrage and accusations of Obama being a terrorist because of rumors of him following Islam. So, no, religion still very much plays a huge role in government. With this post, I am saying that religion needs to be completely secluded from government because I think it interferes with logic, giving the example of slavery. Bilal is actually named for Muhammad's slave in the Koran. The slaveowners rely on this justification for its continuation, and the slaves are too afraid of questioning their god; therefore, in their inability to overcome the religious tradition etched into society, it will remain unchanged. And, also, the commandments given in that covenant were not overridden. The ten commandments are still the upheld laws of today's followers of YHWH. I am not implying that religion is bad to the individual because most often I think it allows many hope and peach when approaching death, but when religion rules society (religion on the large scale), I feel like until that country steps away from such convictions to objectivity, many injustices will never be fixed as in Mauritania and India.

kip geddes said...

I would have to agree with Ryan and say that church and state are definitely not separate. As Ryan said, politicians and candidates are constantly being judged based on their moral character and ethics, which is usually attributed to their religion. Although we have in our founding documents and laws a separation of church and state, we also value the equality of all viewpoints. Sure, it makes me angry that there are people who believe certain things only because that's what their religious figures have told them to believe and they aren't actually making judgments for themselves, however I cannot discard their views and wants based on why or where they get their beliefs. People are free to believe whatever they want, it is our job as the unbiased and fair youth of this nation to convince them otherwise. We cannot overrule others and change things because we feel or even know they are unjust, we have to reason with them and let them come to our side by choice.

Alex C said...

I have to agree that church and state are not seperate and this is evident with the elections as well as schools. I also agree that religion has been used as an excuse to enslave people, even dating back to the Egyptions. This is probably predictable but I cant help but think of the number of times the Jews have been the scapegoats merely because of religion, and in the case of ancient Egypt enslaved. The Egyptians used religion as a tool to enslave the Israelites so I cant disagree with Ryan's point that religion is used to control people, I do disagree that it stunts society's growth. In fact I feel like religion gives people a common ground and basis for a community in fact helping society to flourish.

matt jacobs said...

I agree that religion can justify some pretty awful things. Like that priest in the movie Kingdom of Heaven says, “I have seen too much religion in the eyes of too many murderers.” Justification can be dangerous, especially involving slavery and religion as you say.

As far as political leaders and religion, I think it is an interesting thought that it mixes things that shouldn’t be mixed. For example, I always thought of abortion as a moral or ethical issue, never a political issue. I remember in high school, though, I showed up to a pro-life club meeting and one of my friends who was there said, “Matt, I didn’t know you’re a republican.” I remember thinking that I wasn’t there to support Bush, I was there to make a statement that abortion is wrong.

Also, there are bible passages that specifically command against any sort of same-sex attraction, and then in the very next verse clearly state that having too many chickens will send you to hell. Should be taken at face value??

Ryan Carroll said...

Should they be taken at face value? I personally believe that if someone is going to believe in a religion, they should stick to every word. So ideally yes, if someone is a Christian, they should be sure not to have too many chickens because the book which their religion is based on says so.