January 13, 2019
More interesting than antiquarian and medieval discussions about the separation Church and State is a recent phenomenon that is less popular in Vermont, but is very popular and powerful in other parts of the country (and the world, for that matter) – evangelical activism/religious fundamentalism.
This ‘movement’ is characterized by a biblically (or Quran-) based theory that God chooses certain political realities and personalities to be his vanguard in the world. Think of the choice of King David or the declaration that Jesus is the King of Israel, etc. Think, too, of the ouster of the Shah of Iran in favor of the present theocracy.
For sure, the original Puritan settlers of New England were certain that they were founding something like a ‘new Jerusalem’ in a new World. In its modern incarnation, evangelical activism inserts the USofA, the Republican Party and the modern State of Israel into spaces once reserved for David, the Plymouth Brethren, etc.
You might think that Catholic thinkers would be right in line with this kind of religious activism. But, as we saw last week, that is not the case. The Church does not believe that any government, nationality or political system enjoys anything like an exclusive mandate from God. As a truly catholic-universal Church she stays clear of allying herself with one nation or governmental system or political party or ideology.
There is another biblical foundation for politicized evangelicalism – millenarianism or chiliasm, in Greek. This doctrine, based in the Book of Revelation, holds, that there will be a religious utopia here on earth for some thousand years (hence the name) before the return of Christ and the end of the world. In this view, it is the job of America and Americans to build this religious utopia – here! – now! Why no one objects to this mash up of religion and politics is beyond me. The kind of political gamesmanship that cozies up with this kind of religious thinking is just cynical and manipulative.
What the Catholic Church says of the world and herself is that the Gospel she proclaims and lives offers a view of humanity and human destiny that is truly ‘human’ and ‘humane’ because it is grounded in the view that all creation and all creatures are meant to live together in peace on a peaceful earth.
It is the two alls in that last sentence that express the Church’s sense of ‘catholicism’. There are no boundaries or divisions or separations or hostilities in God’s plan for the world. Clearly, then, chiliasm and exceptionalism are equally excluded from thinking, planning or choosing. Clearly, a creation-based universalism will not go far in a world where election (theologically speaking) and elections (politically speaking) are all that count.
Really and truly and universally yours,