"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Separation Of Church And State–Time To Rethink An Old Principle In A Time Of Holy War

America and the West is fighting a war against the Islamic extremism of ISIS, al-Qaeda, al-Shabab, Boko Haram, and their many affiliates and offshoots.  While the enemy is like all others in history seeks an expansion of territory, power, and political influence, it is also committed to spreading a religious and cultural empire – a new Muslim caliphate which harsh, punitive laws, medieval piety and obedience, and an absolute devotion to God.   The division between church and state is not only meaningless to ISIS but is laughable.  There is nothing more logical and desirable than the complete merging of the two.  There must be law in the new kingdom, but it should be God’s law, for nothing can possibly supersede it.  To assume that man’s secular law would have primacy or even a place in a religious caliphate is in itself blasphemous.

Ivan Karamazov, a character in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov argues that the state should be subsumed within the church, for what better way to assure morality, social harmony, and civil justice with sin and apostasy as weighty threats, and the threat of damnation and excommunication punishment?

Yet Ivan does not go so far as to argue for a theocracy.  In his mind there must be a valid secular side to his ideal society.  Church law, he knows, can be as arbitrary and unjust as secular law.  A balance must be struck, but the Church would always be primus inter pares.                   

In the Muslim Caliphate of ISIS there would be no such distinctions.  Secular life would disappear and all human activity would be governed and ordered by the ‘church’.

This idea is not new.   For conservative Hindus there is nothing but God’s law, although the individual is free to obey or disobey it.  Escape from endless reincarnation and final spiritual evolution to a pure state is impossible without following the precepts of the religion and applying the principles of its philosophy. Disregard them if you must, Hindu sages warn, but a life of perpetual rebirth into a profitless and illusory world awaits you.

There was nothing but the Law for the ancient Jews; and so deliberate and assiduous were they in its application that, at least according to Jesus Christ, they had become slavishly secular.  Christ was offering a new law, a new kingdom, and a new promise – one which was based on free will, not on legal absolutism.

ISIS has befuddled Americans who, in their belief in American exceptionalism, the absolute rightness of liberal democracy, and the principles of the Constitution, struggle to find an ‘appropriate’ response to Islamic terrorism.  Progressives advise that we have no brief with Islam, only its militant, extremist fringe; and our war is only with them.   Our military strategy must follow the familiar ‘hearts-and-minds’ doctrine of Vietnam later applied to  Iraq, and Afghanistan.  Our fight is a principled, moral one and inclusiveness, tolerance, and respect are its keystones.  We must demonstrate through our extreme caution in words and military actions that we have nothing against Muslims or Islam.

Today (3.22.16) another terrorist attack has occurred in Europe, this time in Brussels apparently as a reprisal for the arrest of the presumed mastermind of the recent Paris bombings which killed 130 people.   A suicide bomber is the likely cause of the carnage and destruction at the airport. 

Suicide bombings have been so common in ISIS’ war that it has become simply one more instrument of combat.  Yet it is far from that.  Few young men and women in any country would kill themselves for a secular political cause.  Few doubt that the  martyrdom of jihad and the promise of eternal reward is the principal motivation for them.   Suicide is not the same as dying for Napoleon or the Czar at the Russian front in the Battle of Borodino; or dying to save wounded comrades.  It is a willing renunciation of life for a superior end.  It is not a secular act.  It is a religious one.

The United States is slow to realize and even slower to admit the nature of the fight with ISIS and al-Qaeda; and until the enemy is named, described, identified, and targeted, the war will never be won.

Yet this alone may not be enough.  Can a Holy War be won without a moral resolve that goes beyond secularism?  Is liberal democracy really enough to motivate a nation or a region? 

Right now our secular exceptionalism has gotten us nowhere.  The Middle East no longer looks at America as a beacon of hope and prosperity.  Nationalism, political borders, the rule of law and a moderate civil society are considered constructs of former colonial powers who persist in their attempts at hegemony.  Religion, religious factions, ethnicity, and tribal loyalties have taken their place.  Dictators maintain the peace, but the surging movement of sectarianism cannot be held down for long.   ISIS may be the most extreme expression of this new sectarian ideology, but there is no doubt that it reflects the will of many in the region.

If liberal democracy, secularism, capitalism, individualism, and commercial enterprise are giving way to the other side, what chance do we have? Isn’t it time to throw off the old, faded and worn mantle of the Founding Fathers and face the new world?

To make matters worse, not only is the Middle East becoming more caliphate-minded, but America is doubting its own religious character.  We are not a Christian nation, say progressives who promote multiculturalism and ‘inclusiveness’.  We are a rainbow coalition, a multi-colored quilt of religions, all valid, valuable, and untouchable.

Yet we are indeed a Christian country.  Whether Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, or Sikhs practice their own faiths privately, they subscribe to Christian values.  These values – family, compassion, fidelity, respect, equality, and individualism - have been so uniquely and completely incorporated within the American ethos and character than they are universal.  Jesus Christ may have been the innovator,  but the Founding Fathers in their insistence on a Christian-based republic were his latter-day evangelists.  There can be no distinguishing the Jewish or Hindu American from the Christian one.  The homogenization within a Christian ethic is too universal and complete.

America is one of the most profoundly religious countries on earth, perhaps second only to India.  Not only Christians who make up over 70 percent of the population, but citizens of other faiths are also practicing believers.  We are a Christian country because as above, we subscribe to Christian principles regardless of our confession; and we are a religious country because we practice our faiths more dutifully than most other countries.

Why not, then, cast the fight against Islamic extremism as a Holy War?  Have we retreated so far from our Christian identity that we hesitate to martial religious sentiments if not zeal in our fight with an Islamic foe? Have we become so intimidated by progressive policies of ‘diversity’ that we are afraid of religious-based militancy?

Liberal democracy is in its death throes not only in the Middle East but in Russia and the former Soviet Union.  Vladimir Putin has dismissed nationalism as a Western construct and acknowledged the rightness of Russian ethnic identity, its imperial past, and its cultural destiny.  France has Europe’s highest Muslim population and these citizens are increasingly demanding separation from the French State whose policies and laws are offensive to Islam.   The waves of Syrian and other Middle Eastern refugees are sure to add fuel to the separatist fires.


The United States has put voting first and foremost in the developing world; but with few exceptions elections have been laughable farces.  Yet US leaders continue to sanctify the vote.  Once people have voted and seen the power of popular elections, they will never go back, and democracy will be right around the corner.  Nothing has been farther from the truth.  The vote has been a mythical silver bullet and nothing whatsoever with the harder reality of the structural institutional change which is required for democracy.

So why not put these fading principles aside?  History is bypassing us. The world is returning to a pre-democratic, autocratic, theological world and we are flummoxed.  Where is our Charlemagne?

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