They influence each other

Published 10:19 am Monday, May 18, 2009

My reasoning that church and state should remain separate but that church and politics as well as state and religion should not be separated begs for more explanation.

Our nation was founded by churches and state addressing each other, and it was founded for this among other purposes. Even more, religion and politics influenced each other in the founding, and they so continue.

Although the constitutional convention was not convened by a church or a group of churches, almost all its delegates were church members. However, none represented his church, but a political party.

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Nonetheless, each member took his religious beliefs (including a smaller number who rejected religion) with him and acted upon them in creating the political consensus that formed our government.

This is obvious in so many factors of American government, e.g., evangelical language, biblical images and concepts (e.g., “in God we trust”).

Less noticeable but at least as pervasive is how politics influenced religion during the formation of the United States and its government. Arguably, the most profound is the political philosophy James Madison and Alexander Hamilton expressed in The Federalist and, which in turn, informed constitutional thinking. It was the child of the Scottish Enlightenment of such as Francis Hutcheson and Thomas Reid and imported into American thinking by such as John Witherspoon of Princeton.

It was, in fact, a radical departure — even betrayal — of the previously prevailing theology of the Reformation, Puritans and evangelical revivalism of such as Jonathan Edwards and Samuel Johnson. These had preached the disabling consequence of sin and the need for salvation. They believed and reasoned people who have rebelled against their Creator have largely lost the ability to think and act morally. Such was not a dismissal of the irreligious but to offer, through God’s grace in the atoning work of Christ, salvation and redemption to human wholeness.

The new moral philosophy of common sense republicanism championed human innocence and self-sufficiency.

It held that God having created man in his own image, endowed him with the innate ability to know what is right and the will to perform it. People need not salvation from sin but education from ignorance.

The framers of our constitution acted on this new common sense republicanism born of secular enlightenment, but they expressed it in evangelical language, which misled contemporary evangelicals and deceives today’s into claiming American was founded as a specifically Christian nation. It was not.

American politics only appeared to be largely religious, but their substance has always been secular.

It was not necessarily that Madison and Hamilton, with John Jay and James Wilson, were thoroughly convinced this philosophy is inherently valid and superior to the Bible, but it was eminently convenient in crafting politics for all the people—most of many different religions and some of none at all.

The human moral capability of all men claimed by this new political philosophy sounded biblical to most.

It sounded like what the Hebrew scriptures describe as the covenant community under Mosaic law and the New Testament describes as the new spiritual birth led by the Holy Spirit. The former required a covenantal relationship and the latter being born-again. But the political philosophy that informed American politics knows nothing of qualifications.

To my way of thinking, I don’t know how it could have been otherwise.

They needed a scheme that accommodated to a new thing in politics, i.e., democracy.

While it does not specifically enable religion, democracy does not disable it.

What democracy does for religion is to give all citizens the freedom to be religious or not religious and to be religious or not religious each in his own way.

This democratic freedom serves authentic religion very well, because coerced religion is an oxymoron and an established church is counter-productive.

Religion has always influenced American politics, and politics have always influenced American religion—and our nation was founded on this understanding. We must stop this politically correct campaign to separate them, doing so under the deceitful guise of church-state separation.

Yet, whenever religion or politics speaks to the other, we must be careful because we walk on legally thin ice and could drown in oppression.