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On the Church & the State

Theology is no easy philosophy, it raises many different questions like how does the Christian live in a secular world, do they run for office, if so when? Likewise, the political realm has had its challenges with religion as well for example: what and how much should the gov tolerant rel? All the questions and more are very important and valid to answer. All of these questions answers could differ depending on one\’s view of God. This is why the study of God, theology is so important.

Martin Luther in his work Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed wrestles with the question of the “temporal authority and the sword it bears, [and] how to use it in a Christian manner, and to what extent men are obligated to obey it.” (Temporal Authority 1). Luther is writing this so that the Christian if he becomes the holder of an office will be able to rule and rule well by knowing how the temporal sword is to be used. One of the first points that Luther makes it established that the civil law is legitimate saying that it was established by Moses and then later reaffirmed by Christ because he did not forbid the use of the temporal sword. As Luther states, “is certain and clear enough that it is God’s will that the temporal sword and law be used for the punishment of the wicked and the protection of the upright” (Temporal Authority 3).

Having established the law as a legitimate law Luther begins to write on the law as it applies to the Christian, “…by the Spirit and by faith all Christians are so thoroughly disposed and conditioned in their very nature that they do right and keep the law better than one can teach them…[for the Christian] no laws are needed.” (Temporal Authority 4-5). The political implications to this are that the kingdom of man needs laws to restrain them of evil and injustices while the kingdom of God does not. Thus, the law is established to maintain “an outward peace” (Temporal Authority 5) between all men, both the kingdom of man and of God.

John Locke in his work A Letter Concerning Toleration also considers how the kingdom of man and God interact with one another. For example, Locke starts his work by first establishing what the temporal authority is to rule over when he writes, “The commonwealth seems to me to be a society of men constituted only for the procuring, preserving and advancing their own civil interests. Civil interests I call life, liberty, health, and indecency of body, and the possession of outward things…” (A Letter Concerning Toleration 3).

Here, Locke states that the temporal authority is only to rule over that which is temporal it, therefore, has nothing to do with the soul. So one cannot regulate the people into believing because the temporal authority deals with that which is external while religion deals with that which is internal to produce salvation.

Locke continues and begins to consider what a church is and to what powers and laws it is subject to. On the definition of a church, Locke writes, “I say it is a free and voluntary society. Nobody is born a member of any church; otherwise, the religion of parents would descend unto children by right of inheritance…” (A Letter Concerning Toleration 5). A church must be free and voluntary society because one can not be forced to believe with its end being the “public worship of God and, by means thereof, the acquisition of eternal life” (A Letter Concerning Toleration 7). Thus, the church is to deal only in matters of the soul and not so many temporal matters.

Alexis de Tocqueville in his work Democracy in America writes one how the separation of church and state in America was influenced by Christ and how that influences the morals in America. Toward the start of Tocqueville’s argument he identifies three circumstances that caused the American Democratic Republic system of Government to be successful; which are: 1) that the federal form of government which the Americans have adopted, and which enables the Union to combine the power of a great republic with the security of a small one; 2) township institutions which limit the despotism of the majority and at the same time impart to the people a taste of freedom; 3) the constitution of the judicial power which checks and direct the impulses of the majority without stopping its activity (Democracy in America 1).

From here Tocqueville builds on his argument by claiming that the Catholics in America helped to form the most democratic and most republican class. At the start of America, the American people acknowledged no other religious supremacy because they had just shaken off the authority of the Pope and did not wish to establish a religious monarchy in America by which prosecution of the Religious minority would be ramped. Shortly before Tocqueville wrote Democracy in America the Irish Catholics began to migrate into America and were the minority at the time. The Protestants had to issue with the Catholics being present in the nation, they were given the same liberties and rights that the protestants had at the time. Thus, Protestantism gave religious freedom to all and prosecuted none. As Tocqueville writes, “They constitute a minority, and all rights must be respected in order to ensure to them the free exercise of their own privileges” (Democracy in America 3).

Tocqueville then moves to write on about Christianity’s indirect influence on America’s political society. Tocqueville states that while there are innumerable sects in America they all “preach the same moral law in the name of God” (Democracy in America 4). As far as society its only concern in regards to religion is its moral code, not in whether the religion\’s doctrine is true or false; the speculative opinions of a religion are of no importance to society or its interests. Thus, Christianity does not involve itself directly with the political system; it does, however, involve itself with practical opinions that help to regulate the domestic life of individuals

Christianity brings order and the surest path to happiness in the home thus the individuals enjoy their quiet and find rest there. In turn, the Americans carry this love order into public affairs. Tocqueville contrasts this with the Europeans who are “galled by the obedience which the legislative powers of the state exact” (Democracy in America 5). So while Americans have many liberties given to them by the law to do as they see fit “religion prevents them from conceiving, and forbid them to commit, what is rash or unjust” (Democracy in America 5). Thus, the Government does not need to regulate every detail of an individual’s life because the individuals are fully able to self-regulate. “Religion is needed most in a democratic republic than in any others” (Democracy in America 7).

Tocqueville then writes on which principal causes render religion, particularly Christianity, to be powerful in America. Tocqueville identifies the main strength of Christianity as the separation of Church and State. His reasoning for this is that when religions are united with the government they have been known to “exercise sovereign power founded on terror and faith” (Democracy in America 9). When a religion allies itself with a temporal government it is heavily weakened in that it is now limited to the temporal authority rather than having sovereignty over the spiritual realm. Religion is also weakened when it allies with the temporal government because when the temporal government becomes corrupt the religion will become corrupt as well. This is part of the reason why the French government began to fail because the church allied itself with the government and the French government became corrupt and thus the church was as well.  

Part of Tocqueville’s conclusion is that in order for people to have true political freedom in must be rooted in religion, as he writes, “if [the individual is] to be free, [the individual] must believe” (Democracy in America 13). The more the people are to be self-governed the less need there is for the government. The more powerful the religion is in the nation the more freedom there will be in the nation. Thus, all these thinkers argue the relations between religion and state in regards to civil life.


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