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Re: Separation of church and state

Posted by Smokey Stover on December 24, 2006

In Reply to: Separation of church and state posted by Dennis on December 24, 2006

: Can someone help with a phrase that is always been of great discussion? Many say it is from the U.S. constitution but that is not true. The phrase is, "The separation of church and state". I have heard it is actually of communist origin. Can someone help me with the origin? Thank you and God bless you.

You've been talking to the wrong people. Ideologues and conspiracy theorists easily persuade themselves, and sometimes others, of some rather bizarre nonsense.

It's true that there has been a constant state of tension between secular rulers and religious zealots, including many religions claiming universality and absolute truth. In the "Christian world", that is, Western Europe and the Byzantine Empire, the stage was set when the Emperor COnstantine, to please his wife Helen, made Christianity the state religion. Following the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, the Dark Ages ensued, with what we call feudalism, in which the considerably fragmented secular authority could hardly stand against the authority of the Church, reinforced by a huge bureaucracy and the complete control of education.

When strong leaders were able to begin to found strong nation-states, they found it expedient (and congenial to their own beliefs) to be the defenders of religion. When did that change? There was gradual change in that direction coming from many sources, the Enlightenment, scientific discovery, the Philosophes, but the most drastic and visible changes came with the large political upheavals beginning in the late 18th century, with the French Revolution (avowedly anti-clerical) and the American Revolution. Later, the separation of church and state was made manifest in several other revolutions, not least of them the RUssian revolutions (both of them, both in 1917). The British and their colonies and adherents (like Canada), ousted Caesaro-papism incrementally, but eventually completely. The Mexican Revolution resulted in an explicit declaration of the separation of church and state.

Where in the U.S. Constitution is it declared that there shall be a Chinese wall between church and state? A certain variety of conservative agitator likes to point out the lack of any explicit clause declaring in so many words that church and state shall be separate. The closest that we come, and it is truly close enough, is the First Amendment, without which the Founding Fathers would not have signed--as some of them vociferously stated.

Another view is that the absence of any language in the main body of the text acknowledging any role of the government in supporting or recognizing religion is proof enough that the authors and signers of the document wished to keep the two spheres, religion and government, independent of each other.

Obviously you neither want nor need any views of this topic as it affects Islam, say, or specific churches. However, I'd like to point out that in the Second Vatican COuncil (Vatican II), 1962-65, the Church formally accepted religious tolerance and religious plurality (or freedom of religion), and the separation of church and state.

I have scratched the surface. Have I left important considerations unsaid?