Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Can Faith In The Public Sector Remain Exclusively Private?

Many of the ideas this country has adopted and (wrongly) interpreted into the Constitution about church and State were shaped and introduced by the brilliant English philosopher John Locke. I discovered a post titled "The Privatization of Christianity on Behalf of America" that does a good job of giving us some insight into Locke's beliefs about the role of the church and the role of the State. Here are some quotes:

Giving a reason for establishing the right boundaries between the functions of the church and the state, Locke defends, “If this be not done, there can be no end put to the controversies that will be always arising between those that have, or at least pretend to have, on the one side a concernment for the interest of men’s souls, and on the other side, a care of the commonwealth.” Hence, it is assumed that the Church’s interests are primarily (if not exclusively) “men’s souls.” The care of the commonwealth is, thereby, placed in the hands of the state. The purpose of which is for “procuring, preserving, and advancing” civil interests, that is, according to Locke, “life, liberty, health, and indolency of body; and the possession of outward things, such as money, lands, houses, furniture, and the like….”

In Locke’s view, the “power of the civil government relates only to men’s civil interests, is confined to the care of the things of this world, and hath nothing to do with the world to come

Interestingly, as this blogger points out, these views sound strangly contemporary as we listen to Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney in his recent speech about the role of his religious views (he is Mormon) and the Presidency.

“Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions,” he pledged. “Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin."

But here is the question: Is this really possible? Can any man who truly believes in his religion with conviction separate the private implications of those beliefs with the public implications?

I can't speak for Mormonism, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Islam or any other religious group outside of Christianity because I am Christian and do not embrace any other expression of faith as valid or biblical. But as a Christian I cannot see where Jesus makes any allowance for the privatization of faith for the sake of the greater good within society. I see exactly the opposite. Even a cursory reading of the ministry and message of Jesus will see that Jesus intends for his followers to live for the phyiscal and emotional interests of others, including going so far as commanding his followers to live lives of sacrificial service towards others in humility.

The reality is this: true faith - even faith that I might dismiss as erroneous - does influence our decisions. Romney may state that his church or faith will not influence his presidential decisions, and by this he may mean that he will not allow the Mormon church to strong-arm any political presidential decisions, but make no mistake, Romney's faith values, as well as the faith values of every presidential candidate, will influence the private and public decisions of our next president. If they do not it only reveals that their religious beliefs have been expressed more for political expediency and currency than as true personal convictions.


At 7:33 PM , Anonymous R.O. Flyer said...

I'm glad to know that you found my post helpful in sorting out some of these issues. I think you are correct in noting that Christians should not surrender their public lives to the state. I am not all that sure if Romney's Mormonism shapes his political thought all that much. And this is the point I'm trying to drive home. Faith, in the US, is largely understood as a private matter in the tradition of Locke. Thus, Christianity or any religion for that matter has little to say about the shape of political life. Hence one can be both Christian and American without much problem.


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