April 15, 2015 6 Comments
This is an outstandingly interesting (albeit long) article. I don’t agree with all his premises, especially with regard to intentions but he’s very good on outcomes. In any case he’ll make you think. By Douglas Farrow writing for Touchstone magazine:
The Audacity of the State
Jeremiah Wright’s 1990 sermon, “The Audacity to Hope,” which lent Barack Obama the title of his electioneering book, has the story of Hannah as its text, and a painting by G. F. Watts
as its foil. Whether the lecture at which Wright first heard of the painting, or his own subsequent reading, included a consultation of G. K. Chesterton’s 1904 treatment of Watts, I can’t say. […]
The Savior State
When I speak of the audacity of the state, the kind of state I have in mind is what we may call the savior state. The main characteristic of the savior state is that it presents itself as the people’s guardian, as the guarantor of the citizen’s well-being. The savior state is the paternal state, which not only sees to the security of its territory and the enforcement of its laws but also promises to feed, clothe, house, educate, monitor, medicate, and in general to care for its people. Some prefer to call it the nanny state, but that label fails to reckon with its inherently religious character. The savior state does have a religious character, precisely in its paternalism, and may even be comfortable with religious rhetoric. […]
We can hardly be surprised at this. The Erastianism which (to speak anachronistically) had long been trying to get the upper hand in Christendom, managed to do so in the wake of the Lutheran Reformation, though it was in England that it first succeeded. The year 1534 brought the Act of Succession, and a mandatory oath of allegiance that included assent to everything declared by parliament about marriage in general and about Henry’s in particular. Later that year, the Act of Supremacy also established the king’s ecclesiastical jurisdiction, making no mention of the proviso formerly attached to it by the bishops: “as far as the law of Christ allows.”
Christendom, of course, had already seen many princes who were determined to make the church do their bidding. But Henry, by writing his supremacy into the laws of the realm, inaugurated a new era. In that era, the ongoing process of subordinating religion to the demands of the state would outrun the monarchy as such, and the Church of England too. Not merely some, butallof the church’s authority over things public would gradually be expropriated, binding even the conscience—as the Act of Succession already did—to the authority of the state.
Today we live in a society that shrinks in horror from the very idea of established religion, something the American Constitution in any case forbids. Yet we live, even if we live in America, in states increasingly ready to withdraw conscience clauses not only from public servants but also from doctors and druggists and so forth, requiring them to violate the teachings of their religion and the dictates of their consciences in order to demonstrate their allegiance to the state.
In Britain, and increasingly in North America, even churches and charitable organizations are not exempted from laws that demand conformity to state-endorsed ideologies loaded with religious implications. Penalties for violation include heavy fines or even imprisonment. Thus have we come round to accepting Erastus’s invitation to the state to punish the sins of Christians, supplanting the church’s sacramental discipline. We have come round, that is, to the de-sacralization of the church and the re-sacralization of the state, which is once again taking a tyrannical turn.
Keep reading: Touchstone Archives: The Audacity of the State.
Specifically, I have trouble with his underlying assumptions about the Enlightenment, about John Stuart Mill, and about Christianity’s inherent hostility to the individual rather than ecclesiology. Still more would I dispute libertarians antipathy to the family, it may be true of some but most are far more family friendly than the sacralized state.
But whatever their intention, in many ways, what he says here, is where we are. That is our baseline and it’s up to us to guide where we want to go.