Visiting, alas too Brief

As I intimated this morning, I wanted to comment on serveral remarks Henry Neufeld made in this post. Which I will do below the fold. Please note that this post is somewhat rushed (because of evening commitments and a workout scheduled I have 20 minutes total to write). My apologies for errors and the like.

He begins:

Have you ever heard a conversation like this?

“You can’t legislate morality,” says one person.

“Oh yes you can! We do it all the time. Murder is immoral and we legislate against it.”

It seems to me that legislation and morality are, in the words of Douglas Hofstadter in a different context, an “eternal golden braid.” Whether or not an controlling minority of Congress thinks a particular thing is moral or not, it cannot be too far out of step with the culture or it can’t be enforced. Bertrand de Jouvenel writes on sovereignty and authority teaching that when a sovereign has authority, no force or coercion is required because authority is possessed when those ruled believe that the dictate is natural. That is, one has authority when the instruction of the law (or soveriegn) is recognized as righteous. Those governments which we term authoritarian are, oddly enough, those governments which must resort to force because they lack authority. One cannot, in today’s US, legislate everyone subist soley on black bean gruel and that all males must be in top physical condition and serve from age 7 to 70 in the military as was done in Sparta long ago. The state doesn’t have that authority and it is (way way) too far out of step with the people.

It seems to me, that legislation can nudge the people and just as well, the people nudge the legislature.

Mr Neufeld continues:

Interesting, no? For me, this gets combined with separation of church and state. I’m an advocate of separation. People will frequently ask me why I don’t want politicians to take their faith into their actions in government, and how I would be able to separate those actions if I was a politician.


I advocate separation because of two things. First, I believe that getting the power of government is inevitably corrupting to the church. When we try to accomplish the goals of the gospel through legislation, we often forget the power of God and the value of grace. Secondly, I believe that the government is too easily led to serve only the majority, and that aligning with a particular faith or religious tradition exacerbates that problem.

I’m not convinced by the first part of his argument, that is the power of government is inevitably corrupting of the church. Yes, power can corrupt, but, on the other hand is the pristine American “non-corrupted” church such an shining beacon on the hill when compared to for example, the by inference “completely corrupted” Byzantine church of the Eastern Roman Empire in the years 400-1400? Yes, the Byzantines purge the Paulicans. But that is a small example and one wonders if the American example so much better in comparison. On the other hand, the legitimization of the church brought for example for the very first time in history the narratives of the poor and the establishment and support of the church as hospice and welfare system into play, bringing charity into government as principle for perhaps the first time. This gives rise to evidence that while the church might be corrupted, the government might benefit. That is while power corrupts the church, but the Eucharist and Gospel might help government. All I’m saying is that the contention that “the power of government is inevitably corrupting to the church” is not so clear, especially if one regards the Byzantine history as being the best test case, which argueably it is given that there is 1000 years of it.

Oops. That was 25 minutes, not 20. 😉

Update: I should point out, I too hold the very same opinion about separation as expressedy by Mr Neufeld in his essay regarding church and state. However, when lately I began to examine that notion and why it is axiomatic … I’ve begun to be confused as the evidence is not as clear as one would assume for such a strongly held belief.

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