On the Separation of Church and State

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I believe we might have gotten it wrong on this one. The contrivance of a gulf between the doings of humankind in the spirit of the creator and their doings in the spirit of secular governments has been an egregious failure in terms of producing humanely spirited and sustainable societies – and wasn’t that the whole point?

Some would have us believe that somehow, the world is better, especially the West, because of this separation. Just look at the world’s secular societies: western (such as the U.S. and Canada, Britain, France, and Germany) and eastern (such as Turkey), and compare those to the theocratic societies in the middle east and elsewhere. Yes, look at them:

Poverty, misery, anxiety, unmitigated stress, unbridled violence (even toward children), and malfeasance being perpetrated by some of those whom we elect or select into positions of public trust -from priests and politicians to public servants– are these things attributes of sustainable, cohesive, and progressive human societies?

I believe these things are, rather, symptomatic of deeply rooted social pathologies. ‘Deeply rooted’ because they are a feature of the societies we humans have produced since the very beginning. We have become so accustomed to these outcomes that we have lost any inkling at all that there exists the possibility of something better; something of benefit to all of humankind. One that has been there all along. It is an opportunity that offers humankind, among all species created by the Creator, a wonderful future. One we are capable of achieving if we set our sights upon it and don’t look away. One we are all entitled to as children of the Creator. We are all in serious trouble if we do nothing.

It is plain that secular nations can perform just as poorly as theocratic nations, albeit theocracies often one-up most secular nations (Turkey excepted) by rewarding non-compliance with horrific punishments: dismemberment, death, public floggings – punishments which were in vogue at the time their scriptures were written. Although these punishments are set out in the scriptural canons of many great religions, they conflict with every scriptural authority’s seminal commandment: Do not kill or commit violence. It must be plain to every soul created by god and as yet unsullied by life-experience that, because a nation declares itself to be, ‘Muslim,’ or ‘Christian,’ or ‘Jewish,’ or ‘Hindu,’ or ‘Buddhist,’  or whatever, does not make it so.

It appears that what the leaders of these countries desire first and foremost, is control over what goes on under their purview. The trouble is, in a theocracy this also subjects god to the government, not the other way ‘round, otherwise the Divine might not permit them to lop off the pilfering hand, cut out the heretical tongue, or perform cultural exorcisms, such as the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinians. Because the last thing governments want to do is share power, in such countries (this includes the U.S. and other countries with strong religious lobbies), it inevitably becomes a case of making god in man’s image; rather than, as my scriptural tradition declares, man being made in the image of god.[i]

Theocratic governments are no more effective in producing fertile and enduring societies than secular ones, and vice-versa. In either case, it is god’s people, not the people’s god, creating and disseminating social policy. It is people, not god, who are the de facto supreme authorities in theocratic societies, just as in secular ones.

No sovereign nation would ever make war upon another nation if its leaders truly aspired to manifest the will of god in their societies; nor would they ask their citizens to do violence to citizens of another country. How can we persist in the belief that it is the will of god (however you name him/her/it) to do violence to other souls created by god, to purge the ‘body of god’ of ‘unbelievers,’ say, when it has been so plainly communicated, in all religions, that we should not go around killing one another?

Seriously folks, what sort of god makes such big mistakes as to make it necessary to parachute foreigners into lands he/she/it had given to somebody else, and then have them slaughter men, women, and children in order to fix things? What sort of parent (if nothing else, the Creator is at least our mom and dad) would command one sibling to do violence to another, rather than grounding them both for not getting along? Cannot even imagine such a parent, yet this is exactly what every single leader of a sovereign nation is doing when they order their commands to do violence to another soul.

We in Canada, up until not too-too long ago, were different from other secular democracies. We were Peacekeepers by nature. We were this way because anyone living or emigrating here prior to our becoming a nation, was obliged to collaborate with their neighbours or succumb to the climate or the occasional offer of ‘inclusion’ from our friends south of the border. We were very good at peacekeeping by nature. We were good at it because this happened to match the spirit of our nation – which used to be – at least on into WWII and throughout our peacekeeping missions, a spirit of selflessness and bravery, compassion (even to the point of sacrificing one’s life) and kindness toward others; especially the vulnerable.  Lester B. perceived this and recognized an opportunity for which Canada was by nature best-suited to serve the world we find ourselves a part of.

We in Canada do not need to be like everybody else. Nor are we: we have too much French (I am half and half) in us to be able to imagine living any other way but by walking to the beat of our own tom-tom. We can keep pace with the beat that is true to our hearts (and to our hearts we must be true) and remain friends with other nations, although they might gripe from time to time.

In the days of Lester B., we used to be friends with everyone. I was in grade school in those days, but by the time I reached high school, the street-wisdom told you to sew a Canadian flag on your blue-jeans jacket if ever you left home for places abroad; you would be recognized as Canadian, and not only be safe, you would have strangers being as friends to you, no matter where you were (or what religion you professed). Nowadays, Canadians worry about becoming the next target of extremists and lone-wolf looney tunes.

What has changed since the days of the venerable Lester B.? We’re starting to look and behave like everybody else. We try not to, but the geopolitical pressure is mounting. These days, when Syrian children look up from play in their sandboxes, they remain as likely to see Canadian flags as the Syrian kids of the ‘60s and ‘70s; only now the flags appear on the underside of a bomber’s wings.

What has changed in Canada is our spirit. We are no longer what we were. What we were produced the likes of Lester B. Pearson and the selflessness of our soldiers at the Marne, unafraid to protect and lead us. What we are now runs the risk of being limited to producing the sorts of leaders who are consensus followers; coming up from behind the pack rather than leading from the front.

Canadians used to see the value in others, no matter their culture, skin colour, religious beliefs, gender, or ‘orientation’ -without even having to try. My mother surely did. She looked to and focused upon the good in others. She accepted the bad -up to a certain point. She grew up poor, often staying in boarding schools run by nuns. Needless to say, she got little to nothing at Christmas time -certainly none of the love that she extended to us five siblings from that deep inexhaustible wellspring within. Given that among these five siblings war was perpetually threatening to break out, my mother, true to her Canadian soul, was a master peacekeeper. I’m positive Lester B. would have been inspired by her parenting strategies to help bring peace to the world.

Canada is very much reconciled with the Creator’s purpose in its role as peacekeepers. Peacekeepers are mandated to stall continuing violence so as to ‘give peace a chance,’ in the immortal words of John Lennon. When a nation acts as peacekeeper, they are acting in utter reconciliation with the Creator. The ‘soul’ of the nation is reconciled with the Creator’s and there exists no de facto separation between ‘church,’ by which I mean any place of worship, and the state.

End Note:

The controversy surrounding the display of religious emblems in public institutions we will likely resolve by banning all religious symbols from display. Personally, I would prefer the symbols of Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, and First Nations be displayed side-by-side, rather than having none at all. In that way, an example of the Canada’s Spirit of honour, diversity, tolerance, respect, equality of opportunity and justice, can function as a daily reminder to the folks who deliver and rely on those services.

Ps

‘God’ is what my religious tradition calls the Creator, while other faiths have their own names. I chose not to capitalize my references to ‘god’ the Creator out of respect for the other Faiths, not out of disrespect for the big guy.

 

 

[i] The antipathy governments have toward power sharing is precisely why we in Canada have to endure the unending litany of calls to abolish our unelected Senate (now more than ever because it’s existence is contrary to the modern trend among western democracies toward centralization). We do not want to do that. If we make sure that the men and women who serve in the Senate are, above all else, true to themselves and to Canadians, they will save our bacon more than once in the future, and we will be glad we never abolished them, or made them an elected body.

 

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