Separation of church and state is as a necessary element for a free society is a fundamental block in the foundational grounding assumptions on which our country is based. Americans assume that this is necessary and that it leads to a much better and happier society. But … is it even true?

Supporters of this claim point to Eastern European post Reformation wars which were nominally religiously based, i.e., the Protestant/Protestant and Protestant/Catholic struggles. There certainly was a strong religious element to element to many of these conflicts although in many cases religious differences lay parallel to other important political, cultural, and economic fault lines and therefore religion was not the sole cause of many if not all of these struggles. However, the Eastern Roman history lies as a counter-example. Over one thousand years of unbroken church/state intermingling to which one cannot attest clearly that the lack of church state separation was harmful, in fact it may have been the reverse.

An important factor however distinguishes those governments in which church/state mingling “worked” and those in which it didn’t. In the ones which “work” the religion practiced in the state was almost completely uniform, that is one single religious tradition was unquestionably dominant to the point in which it did not need to suppress or put pressure on the others. This an important distinction.

So, consider the case in which one religious tradition exists within a state. In this case when that religion is not separated but can work closely with each other this can be beneficial for both. Religious traditions can stabilize the state and build trust in its institutional organs. On the other side, the state can recognize and validate in the state arena religious sacramental activity. One might suggest that if “pursuit of happiness” were the goal that indeed people would naturally be happiest in a state which is supported and supporting of their religious tradition.

Yet, we dwell in Babylon. There is not one religious tradition in American or perhaps in any country of the world. So the question might be posed, is there any way to reap the benefits of non-separation and at the same time the protections that we hold dear that are derived from separation? Here is one suggestion. By allowing the smallest parts of government, the village, the precinct or the rural whistle-stop to incorporate and use religion and soften the church/state boundary, we retain the global protections of separation but may at the personal level reap some of the advantages of non-separation.

The logic of this is as follows.

  • People in aggregate are happier when church and state are not separated.
  • However, this only holds when church in question is of a tradition which is the same or very similar to a great majority of the population.
  • This is not possible at a national level in any modern state.
  • However, it is possible at a much finer level.
  • So … perhaps it should be allowed in places which do present a uniform church tradition within a community.

Objections? Comments?

Filed under: GovernmentMark O.Religion

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