On Church and State and Stuff

September 13, 2009 | By | 2 Replies More
Image by Cometstarmoon at Flickr (creative commons)

Image by Cometstarmoon at Flickr (creative commons)

In the USA today, there is a small but highly vocal (some would even say “strident”) movement dedicated to enshrining certain of their religious values in the laws and Constitution of their nation. Many of this movement proclaim that the Constitution and the laws of the United States are already this way; that the law of the land is based on Judeo-Christian principles and that separation of church and state is an illusion, never happened and even if it did happen was never intended by the founders of the nation and is some kind of liberal invention designed to make the US more vulnerable to suitcase bombs, atheist summer camps and movies about Charles Darwin which don’t paint him as the eugenicist spiritual father of Hitler.

This is, of course, in stark contrast to the reality of the situation: the Constitution makes no mention of God, Jesus or the Bible (except for a nameless “Creator”); the Constitution itself proclaims that “no religious test” shall ever be required for a citizen to hold public office and that Congress shall “make no law” either establishing a religion or restricting the right of a citizen to worship as they please (as atheists hadn’t been invented yet, noone thought to include “the right to not be religious”, but it’s assumed, probably safely, that freedom of religion means, or should mean, freedom from it as well). It is also well-recognised that the Founders were framing the establishment of the new nation to be a shiny, free, glorious example of the humanist, rational values of the Enlightenment, the new Age of Reason which was making its presence felt across Europe in the 18th century. Some scholars speculate (compellingly) that Constitution chief architect Thomas Jefferson and many of his ilk, far from being Christians of any flavour, were even deists – but I must point out that their religious beliefs are irrelevant to their democratic intent and rationalist stance, which I suspect was meant to be the whole point.

Many dominionists in the US have argued against this alleged separation, pointing to the “One Nation under God” line in the Pledge of Obedience Allegiance. Leaving aside the odd ritual of swearing fealty to a flag, that little line used to read “One nation, indivisible,” until religious pressure forced the addition of the “under God” bit. How about “In God We Trust”, which appears on US currency? That was added in the 1950s during McCarthyist hysteria as a counter to alleged “godless” communism (a political hysteria peculiar to the US which persists no less strongly today, as evidenced by the bizarre behaviour of the tea-baggers, birthers, deathers and other assorted pithy signwriters who, in textbook Pavlovian manner, protest anything President Obama does, be it being black or making a harmlessly dull “kids, do your homework” speech on TV and who refuse  to nail down exactly which particular political evil – fascism, socialism, communism, anarcho–syndicalism – Barry O allegedly wishes to impose on them by trying to make sure they can see a doctor without selling a kidney first, the heartless bastard).

Many more of these “God-first, species second” types wish to insert religion and religiously-based reasoning (yes, yes, I know an oxymoron when I see it) into all facets of American public life in violation of the First Amendment, be it a massive stone Ten Commandments in front of a court house; teaching the alleged controversy between evolution and Genesis in science classes at school (the only controversy is that this laughable garbage even manages to gain traction in a first-world country); hiring creationist dentists with agendas onto the boards of highly influential school-boards, curriculum boards, textbook selection boards and the like in order to ease the passage of the Bible into science classes; making (or keeping) gay marriage & abortion illegal; foisting upon uncontrollably horny teenagers the old “just say no and don’t even talk about it” policy in regard to sexual congress with each other’s nubile & newly interesting bodies (which worked a charm for that Palin girl, might I add in a fit of strident pique). In myriad other ways, the Jesus-for-President lobby are doing their darnedest to make sure that Christianity becomes (or stays, according to the fantasies of some) the bedrock of US law, education, society & family that they think it should be (or is), regardless of whether anyone else, Christian or otherwise, wants it that way and regardless of whether it’s actually legal. Or realistic. Or not pointless and silly.

Anyway, here’s the main problem when theocrats achieve their wet dream and meld Church and State: it’s difficult to keep one church in power. The particular church running the state might not stay the same (as can happen, as with Henry VIII’s England, or in a modern democracy – or at least in a republic which holds elections to choose between two parties whose main difference seems to lie in their ability to aim lower than their opponent in terms of discourse or think up the best rhyming nicknames for their opponents).

It doesn’t even have to come down to a Christian vs non-Christian clash: there are that many divisions between various flavours of Christianity (more than Baskin & Robbins and Ben & Jerry’s combined at last count) that the other religions would be lucky to even get Nader-like numbers. If the Evangelicals get their wish and people with the mental acuity and religious fervour of Sarah “The Alaskan Quitbull” Palin (oops, there’s one of those nicknames) end up running the show in 2020 according to their own religious mores (I wonder who she would appoint as “Witchcraft Czar”?) but then are de-elected, compulsory rifle-ownership and all, by Bill Donohue’s Yes We’re Incredibly Paranoid But Only Because Everyone’s Persecuting Us Catholic League, there may be some problems. If Bill’s Vatican-do’ers start pushing for compulsory Congressional confessionals to be televised in the name of governmental transparency or, more likely, make communion wafer desecration a capital offence and paedophilia a misdemeanour with a maximum one-off penalty of $50, payable as a donation to the Catholic League (subsequent offences to carry a number of Hail Marys equal to the age of the “victim”), there could literally be blood in the streets if the WASPs arm up against the Whore of Rome. But what if the Westboro Baptists’ Kill Fags Now! Coalition comes to power and exterminates the WASPs? Anybody caught not publicly hating homosexuals or displaying hideous fluorescent signs on their lawns might end up being forced to protest solo in San Fran’s Castro district on Harvey Milk Day (It must be said I’d love the irony of protesting homosexuality using a gaily-coloured rainbow sign).

Or – good lord – what if one of those other religions managed to get into power and kicked the Christians out entirely? Would the Incredibly Orthodox? Do I Look Like I’m Kidding? Jewish Party enforce Torah rules – forbidding people from travelling except by foot over the Sabbath and banning electricity between those times? What of NASCAR? Illegal drag races for teens? World of Warcraft raids? Internet filth? TiVo? You can bet your size 94 track pants some people would have a problem with sitting in the dark, knowing people in stinkin’ Old Europe were playing XBbox Live and taunting each other without some Americans around to scream at them to speak freakin’ English. And don’t even mention the possibility of The Hell Yes We’re Muslims And Hell Yes You’re Screwed, Infidel Party gaining some traction, then it’d be prayers five times a day, no booze, halal food only and the entire porn/modeling/beauty pageant industry would have to assimilate the burqa (and thus become pointless) or go underground! And – dear god, no – both of those parties would ban pork in a laboured heartbeat! Mark my words, without the right to barbecue baby back ribs there would be a revolution orders of magnitude bloodier than the one currently being masturbated over by the revolution-fetishist Nobamas, until half the participants collapsed, gasping, red-faced, clutching at their chests and glad they didn’t vote against a commie healthcare system (better dead at 40 years and 40 stone than Red!), firing one last shot into the air in a thin hope that it’ll hit an imam when it comes back down.

Well, there is a solution to this theo-democratic dilemma and I can sum it up thus: you can’t please all the people all the time so imprison, beat, subjugate and otherwise crush the shit out of anyone who’s against you – even before they realize they’re against you, if you can (that takes some imagination and serious paranoia but it’s doable – Iran and the Saudis rock at it). In a nutshell, you must follow the example of theocracies both current and former. The little pretend country known as “The Country Formerly Known As The Roman Empire Until We Discovered Lying About Jesus Was Cheaper Than War” basically ran the combined nations of Europe as a theocracy for a thousand years – launching or supporting Crusades, Inquisitions & witchhunts, threatening, bribing, torturing, controlling monarchies, confiscating property, roasting feet, charging loads of cash for particular prayers and many other cheap but highly lucrative tricks, all to maintain strict obedience to dogma. When the time for red-hot poker-insertion & non-guitar-related iron maidens was over, they switched to missionary work, evangelism, exorcisms and controlling the education systems of entire countries to ensure unfettered access to the young & easily manipulated (yes, access to their minds was also high on the list). What the Vatican achieved, in terms of obscene wealth and sheer number of guilt-ridden & miserable followers in its thousand-year Christ-Reich would be (and probably was) the envy of those who would follow later and attempt similar things for similar reasons. It must be said that certain of them replaced the worship of gods with worship of themselves and their own equally warped dogma (the worst fiends of the 20th century, for example, realised that it’s easier to control adherence to a dogma if you just make up a new one, rather than relying on an old and much-debated one), complete with brand new shiny commandments and brand new (or markedly revamped & re-invigorated) hatreds, which were still on a suitably Biblical scale.

Let’s not forget the USA’s very own best buddies, long-time theocrats and partners in grime (yes, that’s a clever fossil fuel reference, thank you for noticing), Saudi Arabia. Instead of elections and political debates, they have the Royal Family and shut the f–k up. Instead of police to investigate crime and courts of law to prosecute criminals, they have Decency Police to arrest rape victims and sharia courts to sentence the rape victim to some more rape. Or maybe she’ll just get a light beating if she promises never to have it done to her again, the little minx, and how dare she just leave the house like that anyway, she was bloody asking for it. Everyone knows men can’t be trusted not to just penetrate anything that’s warmer than room temperature so, basically, they shouldn’t have to be beholden to such foolish Western notions as a woman’s right to not be raped and not raping people. Saudi Arabia is a textbook example of what can be done, –  nay, what needs to be done to keep your particular dogma stapled onto your nation’s constitution and laws, should you be successful in establishing your favourite god as head-of-state in all but actual physical presence (lack of physical presence certainly hadn’t stopped North Korea from still following its Dear Departed Leader, Kim Il-Sung).

Using those two examples (they’re all I had time for, otherwise I would have to dedicate myself to a book and I don’t think I have the attention span for that – that’s usually why I just write songs that don’t exceed five minutes, or Facebook status updates), it would appear that the key to keeping your theocracy, once you have attained it, is using the fear of lots of violence (including the fear of Hell) and of course, actually using lots and lots of violence, to keep your subjects in line. This is necessary because, even amongst people who share your religion, there will be disagreements on the interpretations of certain bits of infallible scripture (not least of which the question of which bits are in fact infallible, which are open for interpretation and which bits can be used to justify killing an opponent and their entire heathen family). So, unless you wish to be bogged down in quiet, respectful theological discussions which will outlast the lifespans of those involved in the discussion and make functional government all but impossible (a useful tactic in itself, it must be noted, and it happens in secular politics every day), you more or less have to go full Saudi on those infidel bastards, stick the boot in and form your Decency Police quicksmart, before anyone gets a head big enough to dare to challenge your version of the select words of your god, which are now law and carry penalties a lot scarier than anything threatened in scripture. Also, it should be noted that threatening and using lots of violence seems to have a greater effect on large groups of people than merely promising paradise in exchange for being nice (see the section on The Vatican).

So there you have it. Wannabe US theocrats might certainly have their cake if they care to put in any effort beyond petulantly sabotaging children’s education or making clever puns on “Barack Obama” for protest signs (Barack Osama! Hey, I just thought of one! That was my Teabagger deed for the day – and now back to the TiVo) but they’ll be so busy protecting it they’ll never get a second to even lick the icing, let alone eat the damn thing. You can’t have your theocracy and enjoy it too, so make damn sure no one else enjoys it either.

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Category: American Culture, Politics, Religion

About the Author ()

Hank was born of bird-watching bushwalking music-loving parents from whom he gained his love of nature, the universe & bicycles. Today he's a musician, non-profit aid worker, beagle keeper and fair & balanced internet commentator - but that just means he has a chip on each shoulder.

Comments (2)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Hank: I'm out of breath after reading your entertaining/serious piece.

    Yeah, if we have a exact duplicate world to spare, how about keeping Planet A the same way it is. For planet B, turn the whole thing over to whatever religions are the most vocal about needing to take over the government with religion. Just tell them that they can erect a crucifix on the Capitol or whatever else they'd like. Then we could come back in 50 years and see how things are going.

    I really wish we could run this experiment. I know that they would come after gays and atheists first. But when they're done with those two groups, they would turn on each other, just like they do now, but with a lot more blood flowing. It would probably be the Unitarians who got it next, and then any other religion that preached tolerance and kindness to members of both the in-group and the out-group.

    That is what I assume.

  2. Hank says:

    It'd be a great experiment to run wouldn't it? Perhaps the makers of "The Sims" will bless us with a planet/galaxy simulator one of these days so we can compare. Until then we'll have to be content with what we've got. In fact, I hear the Indonesian province of Aceh is currently trying to have stoning approved as the official punishment for adultery. God forbid you should let adults ruin their own lives in private eh?

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