Tag Archives: Separation of Church and State

Now Comes the “Museum of the Bible”

This story reports on the arrival in Washington, D.C. of a new museum, the “Museum of the Bible,” whose collection will include “pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a Gilgamesh tablet, Elvis Presley’s Bible and about 850 manuscripts, 12 of which are in Hebrew and come from China’s Jewish population. A third of the material may be considered Judaica, related to Judaism and the Old Testament, including torahs that survived the Spanish inquisition and the Nazis.”

Notwithstanding this scattershot miscellany, the story seems determined to find a controversial church-state angle. It reports that the museum is the creature of Hobby Lobby President Steve Green and that its proposed location near the Mall might well overshadow a downtown skyline that is “dominated by monuments to men.” Objections to the museum appear to combine the aesthetic, the religious, and the ideological: e.g., “To many in the scholarly community, the museum seems like an oversize piece of evangelical claptrap”; “The museum will be a living, breathing testament to how American evangelicalism can at once claim it is under siege from secularists, the LGBT rights movement, or feminism — yet also boast of acquiring a prime private perch, strategically located at the nation’s epicenter of law and politics.”

But perhaps all of this is too much fuss over a development that secular critics of

"Creation" Museum

“Creation” Museum

the museum might welcome. Artifacts that get their own museums are probably on their way out culturally. Museums generally involve subjects and events that are in some way closed affairs–affairs to be studied and reflected on retrospectively. Proust recognized as much when he spoke of the movement to turn French cathedrals into museums in the early 20th century, which he pronounced “the death of the Cathedral.”

As for the American religion that needs defending against the assault of the museum, that’s nearly perfectly summarized in the first paragraph of the story (though the final word “instead” seems entirely out of place):

In Washington, separation of church and state isn’t just a principle of governance, it’s an architectural and geographic rule as well. Pierre L’Enfant envisioned a national church on Eighth Street. A patent office was built on the site instead.

Proust, “The Death of Cathedrals”

I am late in posting a notice for this wonderful short piece by Marcel Proust (yes, that one), The Death of Cathedrals, first published in Le Figaro in 1904 and translated for the first time into English (John ChartresPepino). As the introduction explains, the context of Proust’s essay was the strict separationism afoot in France in the early 20th century (culminating in the 1905 “Law of Separation”), and in specific what would happen to France’s cathedrals under the new secular dispensation. Proust was an Agnostic and in some ways that makes his reflections on the subject all the more interesting. But what is truly fascinating is how completely different his views are from the typical American separationist position. Like from another planet (albeit a perfectly inhabitable one). A bit from the beginning:

Suppose for a moment that Catholicism had been dead for centuries, that the traditions of its worship had been lost. Only the unspeaking and forlorn cathedrals remain; they have become unintelligible yet remain admirable.

Then suppose that one day scholars manage, on the basis of documentary evidence, to reconstitute the ceremonies that used to be celebrated in them, for which men had built them, which were their proper meaning and life, and without which they were now no more than a dead letter; and suppose that for one hour artists, beguiled by the dream of briefly giving back life to those great and now silent vessels, wished to restore the mysterious drama that once took place there amid chants and scents—in a word, that they were undertaking to do what the Félibres have done for ancient tragedies in the theatre of Orange.

Is there any government with the slightest concern for France’s artistic past that would not liberally subsidize so magnificent an undertaking? Do you not think that it would do what it did in the case of  Roman ruins for these cathedrals, which are probably the highest, and unquestionably the most original expression of French genius? After all, one may well prefer the literature of other peoples to ours, prefer their music to ours, their painting and sculpture to ours, but it is in France that Gothic architecture created its first and most perfect masterpieces.  All other countries have done is to imitate our religious architecture without ever matching it.

And so, to return to my hypothesis, here come scholars who have been able to rediscover the cathedrals’ lost meaning. Sculptures and stained-glass windows recover their significance, a mysterious odor once again wafts in the temple, a sacred drama is performed, and the cathedral starts to sing once more.  When the government underwrites this resurrection, it is more in the right than when it underwrites the performances in the theaters of Orange, of the Opéra-Comique, and of the Opéra, for Catholic ceremonies have an historical, social, artistic, and musical interest whose beauty alone surpasses all that any artist has ever dreamed, and which Wagner alone was ever able to come close to, in Parsifal—and that by imitation.

Caravans of swells make their way to the holy city (whether it is Amiens, Chartres, Bourges, Laon, Rheims, Rouen, Paris, or whatever town you please, we have so many sublime cathedrals!), and once a year they experience the feeling they once sought in Bayreuth and in Orange: enjoying a work of art in the very setting that had been built for it. Alas, here as in Orange, they can only ever be curious dilettantes; try as they might, the soul of times past does not dwell within them. The artists who have come to perform the chants, the actors who play the role of priests may be learned, they may have imbued themselves with the spirit of the texts, and the Secretary of Education will lavish medals and compliments upon them. Yet, in spite of it all, one cannot help but think “Alas! How much more beautiful these feasts must have been when priests celebrated the liturgy not in order to give some idea of these ceremonies to an educated audience, but because they set the same faith in their efficacy as did the artists who sculpted the Last Judgment in the west porch tympanum or who painted the stained-glass lives of the saints in the apse. How much more deeply and truly expressive the entire work must have been when a whole people responded to the priest’s voice and fell to its knees as the bell rang at the elevation, not as cold and stylized extras in historical reconstructions, but because they too, like the priest, like the sculptor, believed. But alas, such things are as far from us as the pious enthusiasm of the Greeks at their theater performances, and our ‘reconstitutions’ cannot give a faithful idea of them.”

That is what one would say if the Catholic religion no longer existed and if scholars had been able to rediscover its rites, if artists had tried to bring them back for us. But the point is that it still does exist and has not changed, as it were, since the great century when the cathedrals were built. For us to imagine what a living and sublimely functioning thirteenth-century cathedral was like, we need not do with it as we do with the theater of Orange and turn it into a venue for exact yet frozen reconstitutions and retrospectives. All we need to do is to go into it at any hour of the day when a liturgical office is being celebrated. Here mimicry, psalmody, and chant are not entrusted to artists without “conviction.” It is the ministers of worship themselves who celebrate, not with an aesthetic outlook, but by faith—and thus all the more aesthetically. One could not hope for livelier and more sincere extras, since it is the faithful  that take the trouble of unwittingly  playing their role for us. One may say that thanks to the persistence of the same rites in the Catholic Church and also of Catholic belief in French hearts, cathedrals are not only the most beautiful monuments of our art, but also the only ones that still live their life fully and have remained true to the purpose for which they were built.


Today there is not one socialist endowed with taste who doesn’t deplore the mutilations the Revolution visited upon our cathedrals: so many shattered statues and stained-glass windows! Well: better to ransack a church than to decommission it. As mutilated as a church may be, so long as the Mass is celebrated there, it retains at least some life. Once a church is decommissioned it dies, and though as an historical monument it may be protected from scandalous uses, it is no more than a museum. One may say to churches what Jesus said to His disciples: “Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you” (Jn 6:54). These somewhat mysterious yet profound words become, with this new usage, an aesthetic and architectural axiom. When the sacrifice of Christ’s flesh and blood, the sacrifice of the Mass, is no longer celebrated in our churches, they will have no life left in them. Catholic liturgy and the architecture and sculpture of our cathedrals form a whole, for they stem from the same symbolism. It is a matter of common knowledge that in the cathedrals there is no sculpture, however secondary it may seem, that does not have its own symbolic value. If the statue of Christ at the Western entrance of the cathedral of Amiens rests on a pedestal of roses, lilies, and vines, it is because Christ said: “I am the rose of Saron”;  “I am the lily of the valley”;  “I am the true vine.”

The Connection of Separationism and Limited Government

In rereading a wonderful piece by Professor Michael McConnell about Edmund Burke’s view of the relationship between an established religion and a regime of toleration of religion, I came across this deeply insightful discussion of the close connection of a separationist idea of religion and government (as envisioned by Thomas Jefferson, for example) and the idea that government itself had very limited functions in the first place:

There is a close, but generally unrecognized, connection between the idea of the “Wall of Separation” and the idea of a radically limited government. Once government shakes off its limited role and concerns itself with the general welfare of the people, including their cultural and intellectual lives, it has leapt the “Wall” and entered the traditional sphere of religion. In contrast to many of our Founders, Burke had a more modern conception of the jurisdiction of the state, which did not permit him the easy answer of a “Wall of Separation.” If the government is “a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue and in all perfection,” then it necessarily will be conveying a collective teaching on science, art, virtue, and perfection (whether we label the teaching a “religion” or not). It follows not that an establishment is desirable, but that it is inescapable. Some sort of opinions will necessarily guide the state in its “superintending control over…the publicly propagated doctrines of men.” If the Jeffersonian-Madisonian ideal of the limited state is abandoned as naive or outmoded, then the serious questions become how to protect against arbitrary or tyrannical use of this power and how to respect the legitimate rights of those who disagree with the official orthodoxy.

Michael W. McConnell, Establishment and Toleration in Edmund Burke’s ‘Constitution of Freedom,’ 1995 Supreme Court Review 393, 444-45 (with citations to Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France and his Speech on the Petition of the Unitarians).

Was Madison Right? Shiffrin on DeGirolami on Roy

The eminent First Amendment scholar (and my friend) Steve Shiffrin has a smart post disagreeing with my own criticisms of Olivier Roy’s column a few days ago concerning the European political right and its nominal association, but substantive dissociation, with the major Christian churches of Europe. Actually there is not much to disagree with in Steve’s post: insofar as my post suggests that the problems that attend church state associations simply have no application in Europe, surely Steve is right to object. Here are just a few additional ruminations in response:

First, I take Steve’s post to be in some measure a friendly amendment to my own. The  principal point I wanted to make about Professor Roy’s column is that to the extent that church-state association or connection is a problem in Europe, that is nothing new and has little to do with today’s particular political trade winds. So that while the contemporary political right makes for a fat target, Professor Roy’s real objection is to the larger model of church-state relations that has predominated in Europe (for good and, as Madison had it, for ill) for the hundreds of years that preceded the last handful. Steve’s post is, I think, consistent with this criticism.

Second, Steve’s post is also a reminder to me that the strength or vigor of a religious tradition is itself a contested concept. A highly Protestant or Evangelical view of religion’s core or essence will see weakness in associational or public institutional characteristics and strength in individual commitment and the purity of interior zeal (I note that Steve cites Stanley Hauerwas!). Here’s some of what I wrote a few months ago (in response to George Will) about the claim that separationism must always and necessarily strengthen religion, much of which seems applicable here too:

The claim is that religion is so vibrant in America only because (or uniquely because) it is so pure, so separate from public institutions. It’s an argument that Madison made famous in his “Memorial and Remonstrance” and that Justice Souter has made in his religion clause jurisprudence (see his dissent in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris)…. It reflects a distinctively evangelical ethic that one sees in full blossom in the writing of Roger Williams (as well as, before him, John Milton), for whom religion could never quite be pure enough–an ethic that hyper-emphasizes the unvarnished, utterly and uncomplicatedly sincere credos of what William James much later would call the gloomily intense “twice-born.”

Notice also the individualistic current on which the claim [of religious strength’s source in separationism] rides. It isn’t just that the state is “likely to get it wrong”; that is an argument for disestablishment…. The deeper undercurrent of the separationist claim is that individuals, not entities, are the ones “likely to get it right”–that true-blue, healthfully zesty religiosity depends on a kind of inward exercise of discernment borne from fervent conviction that is always in peril of depurification by associational adulteration. It is a claim made primarily by those whose experience of “bad” religion was group religion– and traditional group religion at that. And the claim retains at least part of its power because of its still vital anti-clerical, anti-institutional foundations….

But is the claim true? In part, perhaps, but only with substantial qualifications of a kind that make it problematic. There is nothing inevitable….about religious strength that follows ineluctably from its complete separation from government. There is no iron law that says: the more we separate religion from government, the stronger religion must become. Such a claim would run headlong into many counterexamples, contemporary and ancient. The ancient examples make the claim appear patently absurd. One wants to ask: “Do you actually mean to tell me that no society which has not observed strict separation between church and state has had a flourishing religious life? So there was no flourishing religious life in any of countless pre-modern societies that existed before Milton or Locke or Roger Williams or whoever got busy?” And to take only one modern case, religion and the state have been strictly separated for some time in laic France and in other extremely secular European countries, and the strength of religious life in those countries is by all accounts much weaker than it was in prior historical periods when there was greater proximity and interpenetration of church and state.

I suppose one might argue that religious weakness in a country like France is the result of the long, noxious association of church and state that preceded separation, and that we just need some more time before a newly flourishing religiosity emerges. That seems highly dubious. Church and state have been separated in France for over a century (since 1905). How much longer is it supposed to take for this delicate flower to bloom in the desert? In fact, it seems much more likely that strict separation of church and state has either contributed to the weakening of religious life in a country like France or (even more plausibly) that it has occurred at a time when religiosity was weakening for reasons of its own–reasons unrelated to, or at least independent of, strict separationism.

If some notion of separation did in fact at one time contribute to a stronger collective religious life in the United States, the reason had little to do with any necessary connection in this respect, and more to do with the unique historical and cultural circumstances of the United States–circumstances in which the Puritan evangelicalism represented by Roger Williams’s particular style of fire-and-brimstone, garden-and-the-wilderness religiosity was much more powerful in the United States than it is today. Church-state separation may be a strategy that makes religion seem stronger, provided that one is beginning from the evangelical paradigm of the twice-born soul. But it is a different matter if religion is commonly perceived in wildly different terms and expected to perform entirely different functions.

I take all of these points to be consistent with Steve’s final paragraph, in which he writes: “The factors leading to religiosity or its decline are complicated and controversial, and the decline in European religiosity is palpable. I would not contend that the close ties between religion and the state are the only explanation. After all, those ties persisted for a long time without a decline as DeGirolami observes. I would add that those ties can be helpful.” Quite so.

Finally, a friend wrote to me indicating that he was dubious that “separationist” was a proper description of Professor Roy’s own views. That’s an interesting observation as well. I made the association because separationism has a long and rich history in this country. It is a view that proceeds in part from the position that the mingling of church and state is a corrupting force for both and it maintains that the cultural and identitarian features of religion which can permeate the political sphere are not a positive thing for either religion or government. I found this latter theme to be very much emphasized in Professor Roy’s piece; indeed, I found it to be crucial to the claims he makes. But separationism is an American phenomenon. And it may be difficult to transplant the flora of particular, culturally contingent church state arrangements to exotic soils and expect them to blossom in quite the same ways.

Olivier Roy on “The Closing of the Right’s Mind”

The distinguished sociologist of religion, Olivier Roy (author of a very fine book called Holy Ignorance), has an interesting op-ed in the New York Times today entitled, “The Closing of the Right’s Mind” (no citation to Alan Bloom?). The large point in the piece has to do with the secularization of certain political parties in Europe that were formerly linked to the Christian churches of Europe, principally the Catholic Church. Here’s the opening:

The longstanding link between the political right and various Christian churches is breaking down across Europe. This is largely because the right, like much of European society, has become more secular. Yet this hardly indicates progress: Animated by an anti-Islamic sentiment, the right’s position is endangering freedom of religion, as well as secularism and basic democratic traditions.

Up to the 1950s, the cultural values endorsed by the right throughout much of Europe were not so different from the traditional religious values of Catholics and Protestants. Homosexuality was criminalized in many countries. Children born out of wedlock had fewer rights than “legitimate” children. The law in most countries protected family values, censored some forms of pornography and condemned what the French call mauvaises moeurs (roughly, loose morals).

The changes brought on by the decades that followed–in which rights and values of sexual autonomy came to dominate the scene–were initially the purview of the political left but eventually, Professor Roy notes, came to be adopted by the political right as well. And that has resulted in the fracturing of connections between the political right and the traditional European churches, which largely do not subscribe to those values.

The “twist,” however, is that the political right has assumed the mantle of Christianity without claiming any of its values. It has dissociated itself from Christianity; it has secularized. But it has simultaneously maintained that Western Europe is Christian. It has done this not because it is truly Christian–“spiritually” Christian–but for political reasons, principally for the purpose of resisting a growing Islam in Europe.

The piece is very interesting, as I say, but what principally interested me is how American it sounds. The claim that religion’s true value is its “spiritual” essence, rather than any number of other values, can be found in American separationist writings dating to Roger Williams. It has deep roots in a kind of Protestantism and Evangelicalism typical of the American experience. I would not have thought that the European experience, in which the political importance of religion was always far more prominent, was the same. And the notion that the association of politics and religion exerts a corrupting influence on religion may be traced in a direct line from James Madison all the way to David Souter’s church-state dissents. But, again, I take it that has not been the European historical experience. Indeed, Professor Roy himself notes in the fragment quoted above a period in which the political right and the European churches were plausibly connected. But if the separationist corruption argument is right, then this period of association was no less corrupt than the current condition of dissociation.

Indeed, in the view of the separationist, the previous period was just as corrupting for politics and religion as the present. This may be the reason that Professor Roy raises the Lautsi case, concerning the display of crucifixes in Italian public school classrooms, a practice which preceded by many years the current difficulties faced by European political parties. The European Court of Human Rights upheld the practice based in part on the religious culture and heritage of Italy. Professor Roy criticizes the ruling on the ground that “to defend a distinct cultural Christian identity is to secularize Christianity itself.”

Again, historically that has not been true in Europe; Christendom coexisted comfortably with Christianity for centuries, well before “secularization” in its contemporary form ever came on the scene. And even if the statement were true, its truth would have little to do with the current conditions of the political right in Europe. That statement reflects a larger vision of the nature of the relationship between church and state–a distinctively American conception of that relationship principally (though not exclusively) embraced today by the political left in this country–strict separationism. Its influence in American law, however, has been steadily declining–there are no more church-state separationists on the Supreme Court. It is striking that separationism of this sort should have such contemporary purchase for the very different historical conditions of Western Europe.

Dane on Legislative Prayer

Former CLR Forum guest Perry Dane has a typically thoughtful post about the legislative prayer decision. The post offers a distinctively Brennan-esque, separationist perspective, with two moving parts: legislative prayer should be unconstitutional for separationist reasons; but if it is to be constitutional, legislative prayer should not be policed by the Court for ecumenical sufficiency. A bit from the second half of the argument:

To forcefully strip legislative prayer of its rootedness in particular faith traditions or to demand a compulsive even-handedness in rotations of chaplains would only further trivialize and politicize the act.

That’s not to say that public prayers should be “sectarian.”  Quite the contrary.  Religious (and even sympathetic non-religious) folk can find ways to pray together. And the wisest religious traditions demand sensitivity to other faiths (and persons of no faith) in the public arena. But if the Constitution is to allow official public prayer (which, as I’ve said, it shouldn’t), then it has no business demanding such wisdom as the price of admission to the halls of government.

Richard Hooker and the “Wall of Separation”

Richard Hooker was a learned Anglican churchman and apologist writing in theRichard Hooker sixteenth century. His monumental work, “Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity,” is a wonderfully interesting but grossly neglected treatment of the relationship of church and state in England. Its subtle defense of both the distinctiveness and the non-separateness of church and state represents an early and elegant version of many of the arguments about the nature and scope of disestablishment that continue to circulate today.

In the following passage (from Book VIII), he defends the idea of the distinctiveness, but non-separateness, of the civil and religious spheres against the complaints of English dissenters. He resists what he calls the idea of “personal” separation. Note the particular phrase he uses!

We hold, that seeing there is not any man of the Church of England but the same man is also a member of the commonwealth; nor any man a member of the commonwealth, which is not also of the Church of England; therefore as in a figure triangular the base doth differ from the sides thereof, and yet one and the selfsame line is both a base and also a side; a side simply, a base if it chance to be the bottom and underlie the rest: so, albeit properties and actions of one kind do cause the name of a commonwealth, qualities and functions of another sort the name of a Church to be given unto a multitude, yet one and the selfsame multitude may in such sort be both, and is so with us, that no person appertaining to the one can be denied to be also of the other. Contrariwise, unless they against us should hold, that the Church and the commonwealth are two, both distinct and separate societies, of which two, the one comprehendeth always persons not belonging to the other; that which they do they could not conclude out of the difference between the Church and the commonwealth; namely, that bishops may not meddle with the affairs of the commonwealth, because they are governors of another corporation, which is the Church; nor kings with making laws for the Church, because they have government not of this corporation, but of another divided from it, the commonwealth; and the walls of separation between these two must for ever be upheld. They hold the necessity of personal separation, which clean excludeth the power of one man’s dealing in both; we of natural, which doth not hinder but that one and the same person may in both bear a principal sway.

Those with an interest in Hooker should check out this new review at the University Bookman by W. Bradford Littlejohn of a new edition of Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (in 3 volumes!), edited by Arthur Stephen McGrade. From Littlejohn’s review:

Here Hooker undertakes a systematic defense of the established polity of the English church against its puritan-presbyterian critics, laying broad and deep foundations in philosophy, theology, and political theory before meeting head-on the leading principles of the puritan platform and then refuting, point-by-point, their objections against each aspect of the English church’s worship and organization.

The Preface, in addition to expressing the purpose for the work, provides a keen analysis of the social circumstances that called it forth. Book I provides a theological and philosophical account of the different forms of law that govern human affairs. Book II critically examines the biblicist foundation of puritan epistemology, Book III the puritan assumption of a divine-law constitution for the church, and Book IV their first principle of liturgics: to depart as far as possible from Roman Catholicism. With these foundations laid, Hooker uses Book V to defend the disputed parts of the Book of Common Prayer, Book VI (unfinished) to critique the presbyterian doctrine of lay-elders, Book VII to defend episcopal jurisdiction, and the unfinished Book VIII to defend (and just as importantly, to define and delimit) the royal supremacy in the English church.

Wolterstorff’s “The Mighty and the Almighty”: What is Political Theology?

For an upcoming conference, I am reading Nicholas Wolterstorff’s excellent and The Mighty and the Almightyeminently readable book, The Mighty and the Almighty: An Essay in Political Theology. In some future posts, I will get into his argument concerning the dual authority of the church and the state, as well as some important counterpoints to his view (he takes Augustine to be one such counterpoint, and this will also allow me to resume my Augustinian posting).

For this first post, though, I thought to explain a little bit about the subject itself. Political theology may be misinterpreted by those who are imbued with the spirit of post-20th-century American constitutionalism to be tantamount to ecclesiastical or clerical rule (or, perhaps, rule by theologians). But it is actually an account of the relationship of divine and human authority in matters of politics and governance. As Wolterstorff puts it: “[A]t the core of traditional political theology was the question of how God’s authority is related to the authority of the state.” (2) Political theology treats the question, for example, of how a person or a people can reconcile these different authorities and demands in their own lives. And it is Wolterstorff’s aim to articulate a distinctly Christian political theology in the book.

Even so, putting the problem of political theology in this fashion may sound unusual to modern ears. Even if God’s authority was once a political problem, have we not gotten past all of that? Mark Lilla, whom Wolterstorff cites early in the book, recently explained in his intellectual history of the subject that the God of political theology is actually a “stillborn God”–a God that ought not enter into the political calculations of modernity. Though I wonder whether Wolterstorff is exactly right that Lilla was offering a requiem for political theology (more like an admonition to be mindful of the dangerous endurance of political theology), Wolterstorff presents two cogent reasons for the salience of political theology today.

First, believers in God have reason to attend to political theology because the relationship of God’s law to the civil law is a perennial problem for them. And, indeed, there is a long Christian tradition stretching for more than 1000 years (from roughly 500 to 1600) that offered a compelling answer to the problem of political theology–what Wolterstorff calls the “two rules doctrine,” which he contests (more on this in future posts).

Second, political theology is not dead; rather, says Wolterstorff, it has been “flying under the radar.” (3) Wolterstorff’s primary focus here is on some of the writing of Augustine, Calvin, and John Howard Yoder (a twentieth century Christian ethicist), but I might put the point more broadly. Many accounts of political thought have buried within them a collection of assumptions–often not explicitly laid out–of the relationship between the state’s power and other powers (perhaps greater powers) that lie outside the state. Attending directly to the ways in which a political system conceives of the authority and power of different realms (including its own) helps to excavate and shine a light on its deepest commitments.

Prtichard, “Religion in Public: Locke’s Political Theology”

Here’s an interesting new book, Religion in Public: Locke’s Political Theology Religion in Public(Stanford University Press 2013) by Elizabeth A. Pritchard (Department of Religion, Bowdoin) that considers and challenges the view that John Locke sought to privatize religion and instead argues that Locke’s political theology aimed to secularize religion and make it public. John Locke’s views about religion and toleration, of course, are important as intellectual sources for the religion clauses of the US Constitution. The abstract follows.

John Locke’s theory of toleration is generally seen as advocating the privatization of religion. This interpretation has become conventional wisdom: secularization is widely understood as entailing the privatization of religion, and the separation of religion from power. This book turns that conventional wisdom on its head and argues that Locke secularizes religion, that is, makes it worldly, public, and political. In the name of diverse citizenship, Locke reconstructs religion as persuasion, speech, and fashion. He insists on a consensus that human rights are sacred insofar as humans are the creatures, and thus, the property of God. Drawing on a range of sources beyond Locke’s own writings, Pritchard portrays the secular not as religion’s separation from power, but rather as its affiliation with subtler, and sometimes insidious, forms of power. As a result, she captures the range of anxieties and conflicts attending religion’s secularization: denunciations of promiscuous bodies freed from patriarchal religious and political formations, correlations between secular religion and colonialist education and conversion efforts, and more recently, condemnations of the coercive and injurious force of unrestricted religious speech.

Radical Puritanism and Religious Vitality

In a previous post, I argued that there was no necessary connection between a policy of stringent church-state separation and the strength or vitality of religious life within the state. There have been many societies that enjoyed a flourishing religious life well before anybody got it into his head to talk about separation. And there are several modern societies that practice strict separation and whose religious life is seemingly moribund. Any correlation between separation and religious vitality, I argued, is situational and incidental. The strength of religious life within a society depends, I said, on other factors.

But suppose someone were to say: ‘No, that’s not correct. Religious strength does depend on strict separation. In today’s day and age, a strong religious life means exactly that the state is completely separated from religion. A person is most free to affirm true religious commitment just inasmuch as the state and religion are totally separate. In the modern world, the strength of a nation’s religious life depends upon that individual freedom.”

In fact, I think something like this view grounds the frequently-heard claims about the religious vitality that must arise in a strictly separated state. In my previous post, I noticed the puritanical and evangelical conception of religion that the view presupposes. I’ve been reading around in this volume on the Establishment Clause edited by T. Jeremy Gunn and John Witte, Jr., and David Little’s essay, “Roger Williams and the Puritan Background of the Establishment Clause,” offers further confirmation. Professor Little writes that it was the issue of establishment that most sharply divided Roger Williams from other New England Puritans. Disestablishment was thus in some sense the problem of an intramural dispute among puritan factions–the most radical of which was represented by Williams. Little and many others have recognized the mixture of religious and pragmatic arguments for strict separation.

It is the religious arguments that interest me here. Little writes:

Along with references to experience and reason, Williams adds extensive appeals to Christian scripture, doctrine, and history. . . . The decisive transgression took place

when Constantine broke the bounds of this his own and God’s edict, and [drew] the sword of civil power in suppressing other consciences for the [sake of] establishing the Christian [church]. [T]hen began the great mystery of the churches’ sleep, [by which] the gardens of Christ’s churches turned into the wilderness of National Religion, and the world (under Constantine’s dominion) into the most unchristian Christendom….There never was any National Religion good in this world but one [namely, ancient Israel], and since the desolation of that nation, there shall never be any National Religion good again.

No Establishment of Religion, 111-12 (quoting Williams, The Bloody Tenent Yet More Bloody). Little goes on to dispute Mark DeWolfe Howe’s claim that Williams was interested solely in the corruption of religion; Little believes that Williams was concerned about mutual corruption of church and state. But in either case, a theological argument against establishment of this kind can readily be inflated to serve the ends of strict separationism. And so it has been in the generations that followed, as arguments from mutual corruption have become ever more salient in the interpretation of the Establishment Clause, and have been held to require more and more separation.

Back to the initial issue though–the connection between separationism and religious vitality. The objection to my initial post, it seems to me, is a good one, but with one important proviso. Religious vitality does increase as religion and the state become more separate, provided that one adopts the radical puritan theology that Williams espoused. If one does not adopt that theology, then one is left with prudential arguments for strict separationism as conducive of religious vitality. Those prudential arguments, I believe, are entirely circumstantial and accidental; it simply is not the case, as a pragmatic matter, that strict separationism inevitably results in a strong religious life.

A committed policy of strict separationism that is not qualified by the accidents of circumstance and historical contingency depends for its support on the sort of radical puritanism in matters of religious vitality so ably articulated by Roger Williams. Might the need to adopt such theological premises occasion its own Establishment Clause problems? Something for a future post.