Why Keep Church and State Separate?

Sitka, Alaska
Sunday, June 10, 2018

 

Why Keep Church and State Separate?

What most people call “mental health” may be simply viewed as maturity or, alternatively, integration or effective living.

Maturity means knowing how to behave like a grown-up, even though we are all really kids playing dress-up.

Integration means controlling your reactions to worlds inside and outside. You may have an upset stomach during a job interview, but you smile your way through it; you may feel angry at your romantic partner, but you speak your irritation instead of chucking a plate at him or her.

Integration also means wrestling with conflicting forces. Internally, for example, you may be serious about dieting but equally serious about wishing to eat a Snickers Bar. Externally, you might want to please your supervisor, on one level, while you despise him or her, on another. You manage these.

Even persons with brain-based conditions, like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, still strive to achieve maturity, a capacity for integration, and an effectively lived life.

Effective living, like maturity or integration, requires adherence to an extremely difficult paradox:

Control the variables you can;

Let go of those you can’t.

We exert control only incompletely, like a director overseeing an unruly orchestra. No matter how masterful, some musicians will be ill, off tune, or absent.

The director’s control has limits.

Thriving in life requires—more or less—an executive, a leader, an organizer, a director, who (kinda) runs your life.

Free will exists.

But freedom lives in dynamic tension with dependency.

Known as compatibility, we are free—we can choose what we want when we want to—but we are also dependent.

We are under the control of biology, physics, sociology, gravity, and other forces of the world. For example, you suddenly faint, lose consciousness, and awaken in an emergency room where a 25-year-old resident physicians asks you to count backwards from 100 by 7s.

WTF?

You have the flu, you suffered a stroke, you had two glasses of wine on an empty stomach. Whatever you did or did not do, your body runs you. Humbling, indeed, but not only your body, but other bodies, multi-national corporations, media, governments, and cosmic forces—to name one-billionth of them.

One good sun storm and we all burn up along with the forests and mountains and oceans in a micro-second inferno.

Therein lies dependency.

How does psychological maturity, integration, and effective living—namely this ability to activate free will while yielding to dependency—relate to government?

Simple:

As Plato noted, effective governing mimics an integrated, mature, effective personality.

A mature, integrated, effective life means you govern your life well;

An effective government governs its citizens well.

In a major evolutionary step in political science, the French thinker Baron de Montesquieu brilliantly proposed that, in creating governments, centers of power need to be separated from one another. Ideally, they balance against each other in a kind of dynamic tension.

Governments maintain dynamic tensions in much the way individuals manage their internal or external conflicts.

The concept of separation in government refers mostly to checks and balances like like congress versus the presidency versus the judiciary versus the media (aka the fourth estate).

But the concept has also been applied to the crucial, and uniquely American step, of separating religious beliefs from governing.

It may well be the most brilliant feature of the American model of democracy.

It facilitates tolerance of different religious, ethnic, cultural, gender, and other groups. Ideally, it allows every conceivable type of diversity to flourish.

But a few examples, these contemporary governments, who I identify by their religious basis, fail to demonstrate such separation of church and state:

Afghanistan is an Islamic state.

Israel is a Jewish state.

Bhutan is a Buddhist state.

North Korea is built upon Juche, a nationalist propaganda ideology fundamentally opposed to Christianity and Buddhism.

Hungary is a Christian state.

Here is the problem with any government based on a religious preference:

It cannot help but discriminate against its citizens who adhere to a religion differing from the state-sponsored one.

No matter how open any religiously-based government may theoretically be, it cannot help but promote one religion, and one religion only:

The religion of the state.

Followers of any other religious belief system are rendered second class citizens.

The strength, and longevity, of the American system of democracy rests on what the Nobel-prize winning Gunnar Myrdal called the:

The American Creed: the principles of individual freedom and egalitarianism.

As flawed as our democracy can be—and let’s hope it survives the Trumpian slide into authoritarianism—we can at least celebrate the awesome brilliance of allowing for egalitarianism, and individual freedom, through separating not only branches of government, but also church and state.

References

Levitsky, S. & Ziblatt, D. (2018). How democracies die. New York: Viking.

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Alan Karbelnig, PhD, ABPP

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