RE: MD Church/state separation

From: David Buchanan (
Date: Mon Feb 24 2003 - 00:39:47 GMT

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    Sam said:
    I suspect my use of theological language is 'raising grim shades' in your
    reactions. So let's see if I can put my point across in a slightly more
    secular way.

    DMB says:
    Its not the language that bothers me, its what you're saying.

    Sam said:
    The Church/State division is not neutral between all competing accounts of
    the world. If we accept something like my division of sense1/sense2
    metaphysics then we can distinguish between an account of the world which is
    intellectually speculative, and an account of the world to which people are
    passionately committed, are prepared to die for. The first sense is an
    account of the world which makes intellectual sense; the second one is an
    account which primarily makes emotional sense (which I take to be more
    fundamental - Hume: reason is the slave of the passions)

    DMB says:
    Not neutral between all competing accounts of the world? I can't help but
    notice that you've phrased it carefully to obscure any distinctions between
    theology and political philosophy. At the same time I don't think the
    distinction between speculative and committed unto death is very helpful
    here because this is a feature of the believer not the belief. Fanatics can
    adhere to any religion, philosophy or ideology. People can remain aloof and
    ironically detatched from any of them too. Anyway, the separtion of Church
    and state does not remain neutral between all competing accounts, only
    between all competeing religions, theologies and matters of faith. Even
    outside of the MOQ, distinction is made between religion on the one hand and
    rights and freedoms on the other. The political philosophers of the
    enlightenment were preceeded by centuries of bloody religious wars and the
    inquisition was well underway. Finding a way to let all religions exist
    together is a solution that could be realized by transcending any
    attachments to one in particular. There really is a difference. I understand
    how it can be seen by some as just two rival "accounts" of the world. We
    hear it from the religious right. They say secular humanism is a religion
    and stuff like that. But I think the inability to see the difference or the
    refusal to admit that it is important only shows the limitations of a mind
    dominated by social values. They just don't see it cause they can't.

    Sam said:
    Clearly the Church/State division is something that falls under 'Sense 2' -
    it is something to which people are passionately committed, it is something
    that was fought for and which people died for, and it is based in an account
    of the world (roughly speaking, a Lockean account of the respective roles of
    reason, religion and government, which is predicated on a divison between
    intellect and religion in particular).

    DMB says:
    Yea, but like I said, people will get fanatical over just about anything.
    People died for slavery too. People have killed and died for freedom. To
    take back the holy land from the infidels. You name it. I really don't think
    this is anyway to measure an idea.

    Sam said:
    As such, the Church/State division is 'non-negotiable', as it is one of the
    foundation pillars of the public sphere within the US. In making this
    element non-negotiable, that element becomes absolute and hence - as I
    understand the term - it becomes philosophically equivalent to a theology,
    and the system which supports it is theocratic in an analogous sense.

    DMB says:
    Um. Excuse me, but for something to properly be called "theocratic" wouldn't
    it have to be about God? Checks are non-negotiable too. Does that make them
    theocratic? I think you're stretching words beyond recognition and otherwise
    bending over backwards to turn political principles into religion, into
    theological absolutes. I'd hate to see you slip a disk. :-)

    Sam says:
    This can only be seen as a criticism if you are 'within' that particular
    intellectual system, so that you don't see it as a particular system but
    rather as 'the Truth' or some other
    essentialist/foundationalist/metaphysical stance. (If you don't see the
    Church/State division as the outcome of embracing one particular painting in
    the gallery).

    Sam says:
    One particular painting? Some essentialist/foundationalist/metaphysical
    statnce? Absolutely not. That's the whole idea of religious freedom. It says
    the state can make no such claims. It says the individual is free to adopt
    one if he likes, but cannot be compelled to do so. The choice is not between
    two "truth". The choice is between theocracy and religious freedom. The
    choice is between mandatory beliefs in absolutes and choice itself. It
    solves the problem of competing beliefs at a whole different level.

    Sam continued:
    It is perfectly possible to defend the Church/State division
    by saying that it is of higher quality than alternatives - which I think I
    would accept. I just think that it is philosophically naive to say
    "theocracy is right up there with monarchy, serfdom and slavery; precisely
    the kind of thing that the advocates of intellectual freedom would like
    least of all. These are the kinds of things intellectually guided societies
    are supposed to cure." Seems to me that freedom of speech, assembly,
    teaching etc etc can be given a fully coherent religious account. Which
    shouldn't be that surprising - the notion of Quality driving these
    Enlightenment developments was religiously conditioned after all (you can't
    have human rights unless you see the human being as important - which is why
    human rights thinking developed in a Christian culture, not anywhere else.
    [Doubtless that'll provoke a few furies <grin>.])

    DMB says:
    Right. That's a much easier way to defend the separation clause. Its better
    than endless religious wars. As to the question of being "philosophically
    naive", I don't know what to say. This is a view from Pirsig and just about
    everything I know of history. You say freedom of speech "can be given a
    fully coherent religious account", but I don't think Copernicus, Galileo,
    Joan of Arc or the victims of the inquisition would agree with you. But yes,
    all our intellectual ideas come from the social level and can't come from
    anywhere else. But this necessary fact ought not be construed to erase the
    distinction between the two.

    Sam said:
    I think this is another instance of the basic distance between our two
    perspectives. I see religion and intellect as wholly compatible - indeed, I
    think the intellect can only function properly in a religious context, hence
    my disagreements with Pirsig. You see the two as wholly distinct, and
    intellect as engaged in a life and death struggle with religion, trying to
    free itself from religious control.

    DMB says:
    Actually I think the social level and the intellectual levels are BOTH
    distinct AND compatable. I see the intellectual level as totally dependent
    on the social level, derived from the social level AND struggling to gain
    control of society. This is why I've been making such a big stink about the
    idea that "all our intellectual descriptions are culturally derived" and
    similar notions. I think our disagreement does come from differing level of
    adherence to religious values. I think your "wholly compatable" and
    "intellect can only function in a religious context" both go way too far.
    This is consistent with your assertions about the separation clause insofar
    as it does not properly reconize the distinction between the two levels. I
    can't help but believe that the values that lead to your choice of vocation,
    a priest, are the same values that prevent you from taking this distinction
    seriously or understanding it properly. I mean, what priest in his right
    mind would subscribe to a philosophy that says intellectual values are more
    moral and more evolved than religion. What theologian would adhere to a
    philosophy that says theology is mostly non-sense and low grade yelping. I
    mean, I have no way to really know how such things make you feel, but I
    wouldn't be surprized if it caused you some anger or sent you into a state
    of denial. The funny thing is, the MOQ as I understand it, says that reality
    is fundamentally a spiritual reality. I think that is the sense in which
    intellect and religion are compatable. It says the same thing that the core
    of all religions say. But not in any particular, theological or sectarian

    Thanks for your time.

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