Tearing Down the Wall Between Church and State
Posted by PintofStout on May 8, 2007
I first came across the writing of Christopher Hitchens in the forward of Choice: The Best of Reason. I recall him coming across as not particularly libertarian, though enough to qualify as a celebrity in libertarian circles at the time perhaps. It would be hard for me to gauge since I was rather new to the libertarian philosophy. What really grabbed my attention about Mr. Hitchens was his atheism. Since atheism was my channel into philosophy before I cared to engage in any thought about politics, this aspect of his writing stuck out.
Upon further reading of Mr. Hitchens I found him to be moderately libertarian and definitely passionate and outspoken. Then came 9/11 and Iraq and, like so many strong advocates for limited (or no) government, he was scared out of his wits and jumped on the war wagon. This hawkish shift was further emphasized by the fanatic religious nature of the “War on Terror.” Hitchens beat the anti-Muslim drum into battle sounding like a pro-government tyrant in the process.
So when I saw on Slate.com that he had a new book out, not about the wars but about religion in general, I was hopeful that he’d put down his drumsticks for a while. Based on the excerpts on Slate, there is some justification for that hope as he peels away the cake and icing of Islam and Mormonism to reveal the rancid creamy middle. For some reason I read those first and so didn’t notice the general essay on the evil of religion until after taking in a few specifics. Overall I can concur and agree with him on the vast majority of his points. In fact, I would only disagree on a matter of exclusion; an oversight maybe. Take this excerpt, for example,
There is no need for us to gather every day, or every seven days, or on any high and auspicious day, to proclaim our rectitude or to grovel and wallow in our unworthiness. We atheists do not require any priests, or any hierarchy above them, to police our doctrine. Sacrifices and ceremonies are abhorrent to us, as are relics and the worship of any images or objects (even including objects in the form of one of man’s most useful innovations: the bound book). To us no spot on earth is or could be “holier” than another: to the ostentatious absurdity of the pilgrimage, or the plain horror of killing civilians in the name of some sacred wall or cave or shrine or rock…
Every point in the quoted passage may be true of atheists in a spiritual sense of belief – I know it holds true for me, but every point also directs you to a different belief, maybe even a faith: that of the state. No need to gather at regular intervals for auspicious days to grovel and declare ourselves unworthy? Try every two years on Election Day. Can’t run your own life? Well, just shoot on down to the polls and elect someone to do it for you! No priests or hierarchy above us to police us? What is the purpose of the police then, or the entire leviathan hierarchy of government above us? Sacrifice abhorrent to an ardent war-hawk?!! Say it ain’t so! The entire functioning of our government from Election Day to a day of debate in Congress and right on through to every single press conference to denounce this or that is a ceremony of epic proportions. Some of these very same atheists probably hold dear the US flag, the founding documents or the presidents of the past and present in a worshipful attitude. And the entire last sentence flies in the face of any nationalist – Pagan or Christian or Jew. Is Hitchens advocating human sacrifice to protect his sacred atheism or his precious nation(s) (not sure if he is British or American. Does it make a difference?) which host his superior western culture?
All these assumptions he makes regarding the nature of atheists are like Humpty Dumpty sitting on top of the imaginary wall built between church and state, dangling his feet over one side and completely ignoring what lies behind him. This is the wall that needs torn asunder, not because a theocracy is preferable, but because we already have a theocracy that rests belief in itself rather than a deity. We separate one belief system from the rest in order to elevate the chosen belief above the criticism of faith. Does it make a difference that we can see the government and prove it exists, where gods don’t enjoy that luxury? Not one bit; that would be conflating the church with the belief. Somehow the wall prevents scrutiny of the core beliefs that the church of state rest upon, and therefore needs taken down to see what foolish belief this particular church rests upon. Besides, walls can be dangerous; just ask Humpty.
At one point in time, the two were together as they should be. Kings were granted authority by God. When the paths diverged something was lost – or hidden in plain site: the origin of authority. When civil government shook god loose, it was able to put in its place other bogeymen which didn’t seem nearly as ethereal, but turn out to be just as groundless. It would be similar to saying that some particular holy book gave the authority to rule without ever acknowledging the contents or origins of the book. When the separation of church and state in the minds of the believers is eliminated, the nature of government will be exposed to the same criticism and crumbling non-foundation that spiritual religion is, rendering it only an old foolish belief subject to incredulous ridicule in many extreme cases. So I say, “Mr. Hitchens, tear down that wall!”