The Need for Separation of Church & State
The concept of the belief in separation of Church and State is a well-known but often subtly disputed point. Challenges to the separation of Church and State occur more often than most people realize. There are many religious groups that do not distinguish religious or moral laws from codified rules. These challenges to the concept of separation of Church and State are often seen in controversial issues such as gay marriage, equal rights for homosexuals, and abortion. While the controversies themselves are well-known, what is often overlooked is the fact that these arguments are often presented in new legal challenges to the separation of Church and State. For instance, laws are frequently made which try limit or outlaw aspects of these social issues. For instance, gay marriage is allowed in 17 states and the District of Columbia while 33 states currently oppose it through law. (Ahuja, Barnes and Chow) The belief that gay marriage, much like abortion and many other issues; is entrenched in religious convictions. At the heart of the controversy in many social issues is the religiously driven belief that these issues are rooted in immorality e.g. homosexuality is a sin. The problem with legislating morality in this manner is that it violates the concept of division of Church and State. When examined critically, the necessity for separation of Church and State becomes clear and theists should support this separation in order to uphold God’s will and protect religious belief.
The demand of faith for believers causes rejection of nonreligious beliefs and the nontheist is in the same manner forced to reject beliefs driven by religious belief or beliefs based on a deity. This stalemate of thought presents many conflicting views and opinions for the American political system. For instance, the view that separation of church and state has become a means for non-theistic belief to push out religion or even in the extreme an atheist conspiracy to control government are views held by theists. In opposition, many nonbelievers maintain that the US government’s laws and policies are infected with Christian doctrine. Again, a stalemate of thought occurs and discourse breaks down as both Christians and non Christians find themselves embroiled in debate.
The concept of free will is a central idea shared by most sects and denominations of theists. As a major concern for theists, the concept of free will in its broadest and simplest explanation is defined as; the ability of an individual to choose between alternatives of belief and actions. Specifically to theists, free will is viewed as man’s ability to choose between right and wrong. The idea of possessing free will is a highly interpreted view even amongst theists.
Most of the debate over free will with regard to theists has been focused on the idea of logically explaining the purpose and means of obtaining free will from God. The basis for having free will has been a source of debate since the beginnings of the Abrahamic religions and with few exceptions the idea of having free will is typically accepted amongst theists. The real debate pertaining to free will within Christian metaphysics has been to explain how free will is obtained from an omnipotent, infinitely knowing God (Perry, Bratman and Fischer).
This argument has been posed by theologians and nontheists alike. But arguments aside, theists, in the majority, act and speak in terms of man having free will. These actions coincide closely with the idea that mankind must choose to follow the will of God and to act in accordance with biblical belief or choose to act on their own will. The choice of free will is essential to most theological doctrines as it provides the basis for faith, the fall of man, and attaches itself to a variety of other values. For instance, the belief in free will is fundamentally cemented in most moral arguments amongst theists and nontheists. When questioned as to why God would allow murders to exist, theists will invariable answer this question by saying that those individuals who choose to murder are exercising their free will. This answer ultimately ends with the notion that these individuals have chosen a path that leads them away from eternal salvation.
Even theists who believe in predestination and only see man’s will as a will of sin, such as Calvinists, still recognize man’s ability to choose even if this choice is confined to sin and salvation. The most ardent of theists who deny free will typically confine this concept to the choice of salvation. Other than forms of Calvinism, the general consensus amongst theists is that man possesses free will. The largest of theistic religions voice this consistently:
Like humans, animals have choices. they can choose what to eat, where to live and with which male or female to mate. But unlike humans, the choices animals can make lie only in the realms of survival and procreation...Humans, however, have moral choice. This is summed up in our Sages' wisdom, 'Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except the fear of Heaven'. According to our prophets, fear of Heaven really means separating ourselves from evil and choosing good. (Svirsky)
Non-theists also would agree that free will is a component of the human character although their definition of free will would vary from person to person. Some nontheists (specifically atheists) would say that free will is not possible within the boundaries of biological and social forces reacting on humans. Logically, the denial of a supernatural agent that is a causal force without cause can also be denied free will. (Anselm) The idea that man is a causal force by virtue of his or her will is equally illogical in a naturalistic view of the world. However, these same persons would agree that there is merit to the concept of distinguishing right and wrong and having choices even if it is illusionary (Wegner).
Most nontheists would also agree with the idea of free will. The idea of choice is central to determining morality and law. Without the influx of religious rules if man did not have some form of free will then there could be no consequence for actions. From this point, we see the fundamental belief of free will exhibited by humans whether theistic or nontheistic. The absolute belief that there is no free will is problematic for both nontheists and theists. For this reason, a basic belief in some form of free will can be agreed. Within this understanding nontheists and theists can agree that free will is a component of the human nature. In specific, humans have the free-will to choose between alternatives most importantly, right and wrong.
The Necessity for Separation of Church and State
If one can agree that humans have free will then theists and nontheists have a common ground with which to consider the concept of separation of church and state. Within this framework of thought free will can be considered the determining point of morality and its consequences. If people have free will then when they commit immoral or unethical acts than they have chosen to do so knowing the impact as well as the consequence of their actions. From this idea, there is an overarching concept that is protectant of the free will concept. This concept is the idea that in order for morality and ethics to be properly weighed then individual free will must be intact. Simply speaking a person must be able to have conscious choice of actions in order for their actions to be judged as right or wrong. Any removal of free will negates the ability of the person to choose and therefore nullifies the consequence of an action since the person had no choice to begin with.
For theists and nontheists this logic presents a variety of implications when considering separation of church and state. Most importantly, that free will is only free if it is unenforced. This negates the idea of having church and state mixed in authority or having a government that is founded on theistic rules. For example, having schools enforcing prayer is a violation of free will because it is enforcing religiosity which thereby undermines free will.
For theists this should be a problem because by enforcing an action such as prayer in school this is in violation of the religious concept that man has been given free will to choose between right and wrong. For example, when prayer is enforced in schools this removes the option of choice. In so doing, the theist violates his or her religious convictions. At the minimum, any action that interferes with free will violates the will of God. There is no way to circumvent this issue. If one accepts the premise that humans have free will to choose between right and wrong and that God has created them with this free will, then any act which interferes with free will is a violation of God’s will.
Theists might argue that enforcement of religion through state sanctions such as prayer in school or abortion are not the removal of free will but rather the enforcement of God’s will or the assurance of salvation. This argument is weak because it defies the nature of God and places human will above the will of God. To understand this concept, one needs only to understand the paradox of free will. The paradox of free will is essentially the idea that God is omnipotent and therefore understands and has foreknowledge of all things since he is omniscient. (Zagzebski) The majority of theists accept that God is all knowing. If God is all knowing then he has created man with the knowledge that people will commit evil acts and acts of good. This is the paradox of free will in which a God who is considered ‘all knowing’ and ‘all good’ has chosen to create a situation in which evil will exist. The question of why God has chosen to allow humans to have free will in this way is irrelevant, the important thing to understand is that God has made this decision and this is his will.
Despite knowing the inevitability and consequences of human actions, God has chosen to allow humans to be their own agents of free will. Thus, it is God’s will that humans be allowed to make their own choices (free will). Again, even with the intention of protecting people, any disruption of free will becomes a violation of God’s will.
As a result of this argument, the enforcement of religious doctrines and rules through state actions is morally wrong. In fact, theists should demand separation of church and state in order to maintain the will of God. From this idea, one can readily see that any state sanctioned religious ruling must be objected to by theists. Abortion for instance, needs to be allowed simply on the grounds that God has ordained that humans be given the right to choose between right and wrong. This does not mean that prolife activists cannot protest and voice their opinion as in their view it is also morally wrong to abort the unborn. However, they are impotent to force actions or laws barring abortion because this would violate God’s desire for free will. This argument can be applied to any situation or issue which may place a limit on the human ability to exercise free will.
For nontheists, the argument of free will and its limitations become somewhat more difficult. The difficulty for nontheists is that while humans may have free will the defining of morally correct actions becomes somewhat more muddled. However, in this instance, the separation of church and state, can be agreed on by theists. Nontheists would obviously not desire to have theocratic rules since they are not theists. Thus the argument of separation of church and state can find agreement with both parties.
It should be noted that nontheists will need to create arguments for law and rules which will define morality and ethics in a manner which is acceptable to all parties and their convictions. For the theist, agreeing to the legalization of abortion might be legally acceptable but morally wrong. This is not as easy for some nontheists because it is completely possible for a nontheist to be opposed to abortion morally without the influx of religious thinking.
In so far as the separation of church and state is concerned, the use of the theistic belief in God creates a paradox which must allow for free will. To deny free will in any way is to deny the will of God. The separation of church and state becomes a necessity in order to protect the ideologies and beliefs of both theists and nontheists. This idea is voiced both by theists and nontheists. James Madison who was an Episcopalian, voiced the necessity for separation of church and state when he wrote:
…practical distinction between Religion and Civil Government is essential to the purity of both, and as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States (Madison, 1811).
[and in a different letter] …in a Government of opinion, like ours, the only effectual guard must be found in the soundness and stability of the general opinion on the subject. Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters (Madison, Letter to Edward Livingston).
This idea of separation makes perfect sense when one considers that the purpose of government and the purpose of religion are very different. The primary point of government is to maintain order and provide a safe environment for commerce and life. This purpose is very different than the purpose of theism which is to provide moral direction and hope for salvation. Any interference with religion from the state or vice versa creates a situation where the principles of the other could be compromised due to their differing purposes. From this we see that government and religion should be separated to protect the sanctity of both.
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Perry, J., M. Bratman and J. M. Fischer. Introduction to philosophy: Classical and contemporary readings. 5. New York: Oxford, 2010. Print.
Svirsky, Rabbi Efim. Connection. Phoenix AZ: Inst. of Psycho-Spiritual Therapy, 2004. Print.
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Zagzebski, Linda. The Dilemma of Freedom an Foreknowledge. New York: Oxford University, 1991. Print.
Vincent Triola. Sun, Dec 05, 2021. Why Theists Should Demand Separation of Church & State Retrieved from https://vincenttriola.com/blogs/ten-years-of-academic-writing/why-theists-should-demand-separation-of-church-state