January 6, 2019
Once upon a time there was a political theory called caesaropapism. You got it; it means that the pope should be in charge of everything in human life. The Second Vatican Council firmly rejected anything that even smelt of this notion, boldly declaring that ‘the state’ has powers and competencies that the Church has not. At the same time, Vatican II asserted that neither politics nor economics nor sociology nor demographics nor ecology – whether alone or in some kind of interdisciplinary alliance – can provide an adequate ‘filter’ for understanding human life. There must be room for God, his word, and his will.
The opposite of caesaropapism, of course, is atheistic secularism, or just secularism tout court. This opinion is really well summarized by Jefferson’s (forgive my ironic lift of an eyebrow) oath of eternal enmity to everything that enslaves … and his wall of separation between church and state.
I don’t want to take on the internal contradictions in TJ’s thought – others can and have done so better. But I think that it bears noting that secularism of this stripe is infinitely less tolerant and free-thinking than is the present teaching of the Catholic Church. Imagine it being ‘liberal’ to say that religion and secularism have equal rights!
Mind you, if the sole realm of divine action is a life hereafter, and if the things we do in this life are irrelevant to that afterlife as long as they are approved by a voting majority (or a majority of poll-responders, or by a minority who resent the tyranny of the majority), then secularism is perfectly right and alright. But I would hardly think that a religious position; nor would I think it God’s position.
Let me tell you how absurd this gets. People who claim to be religious – more than just ‘spiritual’ -- will cry like stuck pigs if a religious figure tries to speak religiously about an issue that a politician has unilaterally has declared ‘political’. I saw this in full cry at a panel discussion on physician-assisted suicide. The first words out of the proponent’s mouth were Do not let anyone tell you that this is a moral or religious issue; it is purely private and personal decision. You can hear the same slogan about almost any ‘rights’ topic on offer these days. But what else is religion or morality about except private and personal decisions?
At the same time, those who are in charge of ‘public policy’ insist that laws and legislatures and elected officials alone have a right to speak on matters of national policy and international activity. ‘Right” means ‘legal’ and ‘rights’ are only what laws enshrine. Talk about enforcing one’s opinions on others!
Is there no middle ground between Caesaropapism and rabid secularism? Or is secularism the new state religion?
Really and truly and religiously yours,