Oddly, the argument about religion and politics continues. On the one hand are those worried about the drift from religious principles that ensure a certain level of morality. On the other hand are those worried about the intrusion of beliefs that can neither be proven nor disproved into our politics, the imposition of the religion of a few onto many. As long as some voters have religious beliefs, there will be a commingling of church and state. This seems inescapable. So what, really, did our founding fathers and their Enlightenment era peers bring us?
The transformation of religion in the West took place through two waves. The first wave was most simply illustrated when Henry VIII made himself the head of the Church of England and severed ties with Rome. The second wave was best articulated by John Locke about 200 years later, arguing that it made no sense for the state to force a particular kind of worship on its citizens. In the first wave, the church was subordinated to the state; in the second wave, religion was made a personal matter that could not be imposed onto the community.
This is worth mentioning because suddenly, in the last few years, this matter of religion and politics has reared its head again. It's as if a drunk at a dinner party has suddenly gained consciousness and forced the polite guests to repeat the conversation of the last hour. The neocons have revived this ludicrous notion that our laws should be based on religion; the neo-atheists have revived this amusingly unreasonable notion that our values and policy should be based only on reason. Personally, I find the revival of this argument tiresome. I find it tiresome because the church and state are so clearly no longer leading the parade of social development and norms that to spend an inordinate time worrying about which of the two deserves first place is like arguing about whether the Brooklyn Dodgers or Philadelphia Athletics are the better team.
A topic that is far more interesting is the question of why we are so endlessly fascinated by this topic of church and state. I suspect that it is because we have a wealth of arguments to draw from (to support either side) and prefer to parade our intellect in familiar garb rather than retire to the back room to sew new garments. More relevant than the separation of church and state is the separation of state and corporation, the role of the multinational corporation in modern communities, and the transformation of national identity as globalization accelerates.
The church and state argument is to intellectuals what the music of, say, Dylan and the Band is to folks born in the late 1950s and early 1960s: an argument that we can admire, that engages us, even as we are comforted by its predictability. Well, if New Year's resolutions are about nothing else they should be about stretching the comfort zone. Perhaps its time to shift our attention from church and state to question the role of the most powerful institution in our modern world: the corporation.