Below is a letter to the Maryland State Bar President I sent on January 16, 2012. This is a response to his message found here.
Henry E. Dugan, Jr.
1966 Greenspring Drive
Timonium, Maryland 21093
Re: Message from the President, MSBA Nov. 2011
Dear Mr. Dugan, Jr.
When the celebrated Irish Poet W.B. Yeats wrote his often-quoted poem, the 20th century stood on the verge of something vast and terrifying. Yeats, like many other thoughtful men, particularly Christians, had witnessed the unspeakable carnage of the First World War and was keenly aware that something had passed out of his civilization. The Europe that he had known had turned away from the invisible constraints that had served as the moral law that made a community of nations possible. His poetic sensitivity was almost prophetic, indeed, it was prophetic. Harold Bloom, the brilliant homosexual literary scholar has noted that in earlier drafts of Yeat’s poem, there are clear references to the Bolshevik Revolution, and the dying away of the voices of such conservative Whigs as William Pitt and Edmund Burke.
So, before I go too far in explicating my response to your intriguing message, I wish to make it clear that I largely agree with your thesis. Religion and religious wars have often played a terrible part in the tragedy of human history. To support your point, up until the First World War, the most destructive conflict in European history had been the Thirty Years War that tore out the center of Europe and resulted in the fragmentation of almost all the eastern European States. That horrible religious conflict between Lutheran Protestants and Catholic Monarchies resulted in the death of almost a third of the German-speaking world. Nothing like its ferocity and sweep had ever been witnessed in Europe, seldom had it been seen even in classical pagan times, and the consequences of that conflict redound to us even to the present age.
Religion is a powerful force in the affairs of men. It operates on the mind and soul with ineluctable convictions that often, but not always, makes the subtler arts of compromise and reconciliation difficult or impossible. With this underlying assumption, I concur. Religion can be dangerous. Our American experiment has been successful thus far, in large measure, because our fathers rejected the idea of a centralized state religion. To the establishment clause and free exercise clause of our Bill of Rights, I genuflect, with a genuine gratefulness that it has saved us uncounted, unknown miseries. This may have been more the result of political compromise than inherent wisdom, but it has served faithfully in the intervening centuries. The ideas of George Mason who is the real genius of the First Amendment, and his amanuensis James Madison, have preserved for us a liberty of conscience unknown in the world, from antiquity even to this generation.
And here I must begin to put a finer point on things.
The unspeakable brutality of war fought in the name of religion is always, and I emphasize the superlative here, always perpetrated by means of states or forces operating with the authority of states. As a historian, I am unaware of any vast conflict ever undertaken by people of religious conviction without the employment of the state for the means of making war. Perhaps I state the obvious, but it is a point to be regarded in greater depth than perhaps we are accustomed. The genius of the First Amendment “separates” the church from the state. From this separation, some claim a “freedom from religion,” as I believe you also do. It is a sloppy expression, but at this point I make no effort to reject it. There follows, however, a corollary, if this is true—an equal separation of the state from the church— a “freedom from the state,” to employ an equally sloppy term, which expounds the liberty of conscience, as validly as the former notion of “freedom from religion” protects us from legally enforced orthodoxies.
What I mean to develop here, and I believe you probably concur, is the idea that the great enemy of human happiness is not religion per se. Rather, it is an unholy conflation of the state and the church—an alliance of action and thought that properly belong to two distinctive institutions. This is what W.B. Yeats prophesied—not the end of religion, but the perversion of religion to purposes contrary to its ordination. In his poem, he called this the “spiritus mundi,” the spirit of the world, pretending to be religion. In short, what he foresaw was the co-opting of faith and zeal by the state, for patently secular and even immoral purposes. That is the meaning of Yeat’s “rough beast slouching toward Bethlehem…” What Christian civilization witnessed in the carnage of the Somme and Passchedale was the utter ineffectuality of Christian moral sentiments to curb, as it has historically curbed, the actions of states in the excesses of war. Ten million men died in the trenches of the First World War. Another five million civilians perished in the savage crossfire. Nothing like this had ever been seen. And all the states of Europe employed religious language and state churches to enlist the enthusiasm of their people in the patent evil of advancing perverse secularized theologies, one of which was aggressive “nationalism”—an idea nowhere to be found in religion properly understood.
And now, I must put a gloss on this because it is important to be careful with the details of facts and ideas, as all attorneys know, in order to argue a case properly and to do justice. I agree with your presuppositions, but disagree with certain rather subtle ideas that I believe are invisible to you. I must develop the idea of religion. The validity of your argument, I believe fails, not because of its foundational assumptions, but because of sloppiness, indeed, a failure to understand what is religion— and further, a failure to explain how and by what means the church and state operate in unholy alliance. To be fair, your message was rather brief so I presume that the lack of distinction in these matters was forced by constraints of efficiencies and time. Nevertheless, these points must be elaborated if we are to discuss the effects of how religion and the state become allied in matrimonies of usurpation and abused power.
Religion and here I narrow the discussion to Christianity, may be defined by certain salient distinctions:
Christianity holds to dogmas—ideas of supreme importance, beliefs that are sine qua non, first things without which one may not be admitted into the community of believers.
Christianity holds to a distinctive anthropology— a view that man has a certain nature—that he is out of harmony with what he ought to be, in his own being and in the world at large.
Christianity holds to a soteriology, a doctrine of redemption and salvation—how men and women are brought back into proper relationship with the ultimate truth (who is Christ) which means being brought back into a right relationship to our own nature and the world. These ideas involve notions of justification and sanctification, ideas about how man is “saved,” and what marks the processes of returning to a right relationship with the Truth. In this view, every man must be made perfect in the law, a law that man resists and abhors. He must demonstrate by action and deed that he is moving in the direction of that proper relationship if he is to be embraced as a member of the believing community.
Christianity holds to eschatology—a view of history as it moves toward an ultimate conclusion. In the Christian view, history is moving toward the establishment of a final state of justice and peace—ruled by an omnipotent and just Ruler.
In sum, Christianity holds to orthodoxy. To embrace positions contrary of this orthodoxy places one outside the Church. In the Middle Ages as with all Catholic States at the time and with all the Reformation era churches, meaning the Erastian Anglican, Dutch Reformed and Luther churches, to find oneself outside these orthodoxies was to find oneself outside the protection of the state. One became, literarily, persona non grata. As with Galileo Galilei, Michael Servetus, William Tyndale or Giordano Bruno, the result was never good. With Galileo it was a life sentence of house arrest. With the others, it was burning at the stake. This is what establishmentarianism means. The State becomes the enforcement arm of the Church.
Thank God, therefore, for the First Amendment. Men are secure in their beliefs without the state casting judgment upon thought or motive. The roll of the state is to adjudicate unjust actions not beliefs. That is what the New Testament teaches.
At this point, I must admit a brief comment. There is absolutely nothing in the New Testament or the testimony of Jesus Christ, in particular, which would give credence to such a relationship. Christ came to change our convictions and the structure of our minds and souls by example, exhortation and argument. There is in his teaching and in all the teaching of the New Testament writers not a jot or tittle of utterance that conversion by violence or threat of force is the way of orthodox Christian faith. It is not sanctioned. It is not even obliquely countenanced. The testimony of Christ is a testimony to the conscience of mankind. It is an exhortation to the effaced truth written on our hearts. It is an effulgent light that burns through the darkness of our imprisoned understanding. The use of force was and continues to be, in the orthodox view, reserved and ordained to the state for other purposes. Hence, the Church-State separation is the orthodox view of Christianity. The Church changes men by faith; the state enforces conformity by the sword. Nothing could satisfy the perverse appetite for total power more than to require conformity to orthodoxies whether theological or political, than to unite these two institutions into one formal corporate state. This is Yeat’s “rough beast.” And if it is to be born, it will be born to unite these institutions in ways that pervert, destroy and subjugate human liberty and the freedom of conscience. Indeed, when “he” comes, for the Bible says that “he” will come, that idea will render all the treasure of man’s spiritual life to the hand of Caesar, to the abuses of political and secular power. That is the “spiritus mundi” That is the orthodox reading of scripture. That is what “anti-Christ” means to orthodox Christianity.
And so I agree, there is, today, in America, and all over the western world at large, a vast, horrifying and expanding pall of religious bigotry that threatens to extinguish liberty and the long continuity of our civilization. It is wedded to the authority of the state. It is co-opting coercive power to demand conformity with its worldview. It holds to dogmas that conscience may not challenge. It admits to no alternative view. It maintains a view of human nature. It espouses progress toward the appointed purpose of human community. It justifies men according to the faith they hold in these ideas, and sanctifies them by measuring their motives and commitments. It presumes to define institutions like marriage, the beginning of life and the limits of liberty. It instructs with unshakable certainty how we got here, and where we are going in our march to the future. It offers redemptions through a doctrine of work. It plumbs the invisible motives of men. It brooks no teaching of other views. It demands contrition—imposes moral conformity according to developing doctrines of learned men.
In short, it is “slouching toward Bethlehem” to be born.
Yet, the approach of danger, as some foresee it, may not be from whence we imagine. Indeed, it may spring from a place we thought not of. Such is the glass darkly through which men strain to see the shape of things to come. That shape that slouches toward Bethlehem may be something outside the paradigm of those with distinctively different views of what constitutes religion. Yet, I offer this alterative view, even while joining the clarion against the unholy matrimony of church and state.
What if there were men who had orthodoxies, but did not call them thus? What if there were men, who had distinctive views and held to them so strongly they could not indulge any man who thought to the contrary? What if they were so certain in pharisaic righteousness, they could not see their own sins? What if they were outraged by the mere suggestion that their worldview was incorrect? What if those men were so firm in their convictions that they cared little, whether they quoted or represented facts accurately?
Well, perhaps you know where I am going. As a Christian, I see things differently than you. When the slouching beast comes, I will sail to Byzantium. I will not genuflect before any man or idea who presumes such power over the mind of men, repentant or otherwise. The Kingdom of God, as Jesus elaborates in His Sermon on the Mount, His Kingdom is among us; it is in us. It is not of this world. It is not the state. The merger of King and Priest will occur at the Second Coming which oddly, is the poem from which you quote—not “Sailing [to] Byzantium.”
In modern America the only orthodoxy that threatens the conscience of men, is NOT the orthodoxy of Christianity. This new orthodoxy holds to dogmas that may not be challenged. It has wedded itself to state action and uses the power of coercion to require conformity to it. It holds to anthropology that man is good and that certain human institutions corrupt that natural goodness. It holds that man may return to Eden, his proper relationship to the world and god, by environmental consciousness, and self-denial. It even offers a kind of human sacrifice, infanticide, as so many false and wicked religions, as a means of offering up the “lighter footprints” of innocence to the goddess Gaia. It holds to a soteriology of justification by political correctness, sanctification by community organization. It holds to eschatology of progressive human action that directs mankind to the promise of a perfected human society. In this millennial age there are no wants, no health care needs, no poverty—where justice reigns and alienation ceases, where human desire is satisfied by the whole, fully integrated, total community of believers. The new orthodoxy measure man’s redemption by his “good works” and even presumes to plumb the motives of the soul under the scrutiny of the omnipotent judicial power.
What is this beast slouching toward Jerusalem? What is the secular theology that presumes to speak with the authority of a doctrinal church wedded in unholy matrimony to the coercive authority of the state?
That religion is secular humanism.
Do not gasp. The judges of this religion themselves have pronounced it thus. The Supreme Court, that mysterious conclave of high priests, which you so adamantly defend against all challengers, has stated that secular humanism is, in fact, a religion. In 1961, that opinion was delivered in Torcaso v. Watkins and is now secular dogma, since the court is entrusted with the power to speak ex cathedra. Since you insist, we must not challenge the authority or wisdom of that august body I presume that you too believe Secular Humanism is the STATE RELIGION of our country.
“The darkness [that] drops again,” “the vexing nightmare,” comes with men and women who impose this new bigoted orthodoxy on human society while remaining utterly unaware of their own prejudice—just like the Pharisees of the New Testament. They prod the state to greater and greater excess, whether in courts of law, or classrooms, or in the case of war, in its most extreme, to brutalities and violence unshaken by reservations of Christian conscience. They are marked with evangelical zeal, charismatic leaders, and monastic scholarship. In all these, there is no separation of church and state. All these institutions and ideas are moving toward the endgame of modern liberalism’s religious love affair with the power of the state. The state is becoming the church. It has become the sole object of veneration and transcendent love. The state has become the source of human redemption.
The deep impulses that drive secular humanism are not secular in nature, rather they are the secularization of religious impulse, impulses directed toward the wrong object. That is what secular humanism is. As G.K. Chesterton noted in 1908, just a few years before the First World War, “[t]he modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus, some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful.”
Such is, and will be, the Slouching Beast. The Church-State “hour has come round at last.” She and Caesar are striding up the aisle to matrimony of unholy coercive power wedded to a new religious orthodoxy. And beneath the bridal veil, when lifted, will not be the Bride of Christ, not the Church, but the “spiritus mundi” the spirit of the world, the false church of secular humanism.
I conclude by thanking you for bringing up the subject and humbly suggest we continue the dialog, perhaps by being a guest on my radio show to further discuss this issue. Or, perhaps the MSBA could sponsor a symposium or friendly debate on these issues, truly doing something fresh and new. If so, consider me your servant in the endeavor.
In His name,
John R. Garza
The Garza&SnyderLIVE Program www.garzasnyderlive.com is a radio talk show hosted by Johnny Garza and John Snyder that is broadcast every Sunday evening on WAVA 105.1 FM AM in the Washington DC area. It airs every Sunday Evening 6 pm to 8 pm. We are affiliated with the internet radio network The Public Square Network (PSN) www.publicsquarenetwork.com.
THE Garza and Snyder LIVE Program is also an interactive webpage and blog aimed at engaging Christians and secular audiences in conversation about contemporary issues, culture and politics. We are also in Facebook (garzasnyderlive) and Twitter (garza&snyderlive).
The Garza and Snyder LIVE Program exists to provide an intelligent and genial forum for the discussion of important issues in contemporary life from a Christian perspective.
OUR MOTTO: No Contempt!
REMEMBER: “Do not overcome evil with evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21