Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Separation of Church and State


Today's post focuses on those times and places in human history when government and religion either got along or didn't, or maybe they didn't even notice each other for a while, or maybe, like, Religion got all weirded-out and did some stuff that got the government all p-o'd and junk, which made Religion behave even weirder until government was all like, "Yeah, no, you can't ever do that again, so we're just gonna kick you and all your followers out."  So Religion was all like, "FINE, what-EVER, just don't go bother us right before you DIE and want to be saved from the ultimate unpleasantness that awaits you on the OTHER SIDE, because we'll probably just ignore you, so HA!"

Not very mature for a venerable institution like Religion, which actually predated government in the chronological order of sociological institutions.  This is because the first of what we might call governments were probably extensions of the family's extended cousin, the clan.  Humans are similar to dogs, cats and naked mole-rats in that they are social animals who like to live together in groups.  There are genetic and psychological reasons I won't go into here that evolutionarily favor species that can live together without killing each other or eating up all the food in sight, so until early humans figured this out and set up actual rules for living together in groups larger than a clan, Religion had the whole place to itself.  This is because humans are the Earth's only animals that practice religious rituals.  Note, for example, the complete lack of synagogues inside a termite mound.

How do we know humans practiced religion?  A combination of two things: they way they treated their dead, and the pictures they drew on rock walls.  As far back as 50,000 years ago, people were burying their friends and families underground, arranging the corpse carefully, and including stuff the dead person owned along with the body.  This implies a belief in some sort of an afterlife, where the deceased person will need his stuff in order to get along.  What would you like to be buried with?  If
Ok, there's Fred, Jacquie, Wanda, Billy, your Mom and some random dude,
but WTF, who is that HUGE guy-thing on the right?!?
you believe the song, Willie the Wimp was buried in his Cadillac Seville.  Now, about those cave-rock wall- rock overhang drawings: they seem to show supernatural beings interacting with primitive people.  Could these be ancient aliens? --or could they be Supreme Beings conjured from the minds of primitive artists?  Also, among the animal paintings at Lascaux cave in France, there is a picture of a fearsome cave lion that had been struck thousands of times.  This implies a ritual --a ritual killing of a powerful predator in this case.


Government and religion ultimately collided in that totally man-made, artificial environment called the city-state.  These places were breaking out all over the Near East (as opposed to the Way-the-f*ck-over-There East) in places like Jericho and Sumeria.  Historians are fairly certain that the earliest governments of these places were priest/kings.  Why?  Because up to that point, only religious leaders could convince that many people to do things they might not ordinarily do, such as dig and maintain irrigation canals, not immediately kill people who offended them in some way, or construct these really weird statues and temples dedicated to gods and goddesses,  In Sumer, the priests even had a corner on the sex-trade market.  The temple of Ishtar was staffed by priestesses who were literally prostitutes.  For a price, men could lie with a priestess who was specially trained in the arts erotica.  Even amateurs got into the act.  If a Sumerian girl wanted a husband and wasn't rich enough or pretty enough to get a lot of suitors, all she had to do was to hang-out at Ishtar's temple and give it away for free --just as long as the guy took her home and raised a family with her.

My victory over these infidel unbelievers is made all the more complete
by using my wind-up horse chariot to smash the city's idols!  Mwa-ha-ha!
Religious leaders had to take a back seat to military leaders once cities started raiding each other for scarce supplies, but religion was still important.  What would make an army fight even better than usual?  Why, a special blessing from a priest!  However, there was trouble on the horizon.  See, whenever a victorious army broke into the walls of an enemy city, the second thing they did was to trash that city's gods by smashing the idols and killing the priests.  The first thing the army did was, of course, wipe their hobnailed boots on the corpses of dead enemies.  Thus began humanity's first religious war, a war that has been raging off-and-on for about four thousand years!

Sometimes, religious leaders and government leaders in the same city got into spats.  These usually worked themselves out with select banishments or a few well-chosen executions.  Sometimes religion won; sometimes government won.  This was the state of things when the Roman Empire was forced to deal with a new religious cult that had started in one of its eastern provinces.

Colosseum cat-food time!
On the whole, Romans thought of themselves as very open-minded when it came to the subject of religion.  There was, in fact, a temple in Rome called the Pantheon that had idols of every god/goddess/religious-type-thing worshipped in every corner of the Empire.  Romans had their own religion, of course, which was bits borrowed from the Etruscans, Greeks, Carthaginians and stuff they had pulled right out of their own toga-covered asses, but they generally left the different peoples within the empire alone when it came to practicing religion, except when that practice included human sacrifice which, strange as it may seen what with their love for gladiatorial contests and public executions, the Romans totally hated.  Because the Celtic Druids were big into the old kill-em-for-piety's sake rituals, the Romans got rid of Druids wherever they found them.  So what were they supposed to do with this weird messianic cult of ex-Jews who reportedly ate flesh, drank blood, and nevertheless professed to love their neighbors?

The first Christians were, of course, Jews who followed the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, an itinerant rabbi who had his own problem with the Roman state --it crucified Him.  After Saul of Tarsus' conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul, as he was now called, enlarged the Christian communion to include Gentiles, ie., guys who still had their foreskins attached.  Pretty soon, there was even a bunch of these Christians living in Rome itself --they had followed the Apostle Peter there and helped him set up a church.  All went swimmingly until the sect began to grow and flex a little political muscle among the Roman plebeians, the working stiffs of Rome, with whom the new cult was very popular.  Slaves liked it too.  Emperor Nero came up with the idea of blaming the Christians for the great fire during his reign ("Woah, I've seen fire during my reign," he reportedly sang from his own private stage during the worst of the flames), and thus kicked-off a kind of free-for-all on Christians.  Things got so bad that Christians were driven literally underground into these burial vaults called catacombs, where even there they were sometimes ratted-out by a jealous neighbor or total dipshit.

The Mass is ended.  Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.  And Tiberias? Tell your mom to keep her big, fat mouth shut!
However, Christians hung in there (some at the end of their ropes) and eventually were made the official religion of the Roman Empire.  There was only one small problem: the Roman Empire kind of sucked at this point.  It was invaded by a bunch of Germanic tribes and one Central Asian bunch called the Huns, until nothing was left but the Greek part which historians later called "The Greek Part of the Former Roman Empire," shortened to "Byzantine," just because.  So now that the Church was still relatively ok and the State was on life-support --at least in the West --the Church busied itself with setting up a hierarchy because it knew that the state would come around sooner or later and have it out with the Church at some point.

Note to self: don't piss-off Henry I-
he's a really mean drunk!
And a mere 604 years later, trouble broke out between Pope Gregory VII and Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV over something called investiture.  Basically, this bit of silliness was over the question of who got to hand out Church offices like Bishoprics and Archbishoprics: the Pope or the Emperor?  To be fair, the Church was well-meaning, attempting to curb the practice of Simony, whereby Church offices were sold by the nobility in the district, the offices often going to friends of the nobles.  When Gregory's reform-minded clergy told the Holy Roman Empire's nobility that Church offices were no longer for sale, the Emperor himself got into the fray, sending off some nasty-grams tot he Pope wherein he called the Holy Father, "Hildebrand, not-Pope but false monk," and other such neener-neenerisms that made Pope Greg hopping-mad.  The issue darkened the relationship between Henry I of England and Pope Paschal II, resulting in Henry's pal, Thomas `a Beckett, getting sliced-up by a quartet of Henry's knights in the basement of Canterbury Cathedral.

It wasn't until 1122 that H.R. Emperor Henry V and Pope Calixtus II settled the whole unpleasantness with the unappetizing-sounding Concordat of Worms.  The meat of the Concordat is something like this:  kings and emperors and, I don't know, Grand High Poo-bahs, have this stuff called secular power, with which they can make Bishops in their territory help equip an army if the place gets invaded.  Popes have this stuff called sacred power, with which they give Bishops the power and authority and the duty to go out there and save some souls for Jesus.  So yeah, after all the pushing, shoving and at least one murdered Archbishop of Canterbury, it all came down to a compromise between Church and State that puts Bishops under both authorities.  Still want to be a Bishop?

Now you would think that with this kind of sensible solution, there would never again be a problem between the Church and State, right?  I sure thought that!  But alas and alack, this was not to be.  See, there was this little dust-up called the Protestant Reformation that brought out some... issues... that had been swept under the ol' altar rug for about 350 years.  In England, a different number Henry --number VIII --completely kicked the Catholic Church out of England and set up his very own church just so he could get a divorce.  And that new church, the Anglican Church?  Yeah, the English King was in charge of it.  In Germany, there were a couple of small wars (the Schmalkaldic Wars) that ended with the Peace of Augsburg, which basically gave German princes the right to pick Catholicism or Lutheranism as the official religion of their territory.

Things got positively out of control with religion and the state with the 30 Years War, which lasted, um, 30 years.  It pitted the Protestant nations of Europe against the Catholic nations.  Nobody really won, lots of people got killed, but the French --who entered the war late and on the Protestant side, which is weird because the country was run by a Catholic Archbishop --kind of came out on top by not losing as badly as everyone else did.  They even got to thrash their next door neighbors, those miserable Spanish, in the process.  Hooray for religious wars!

Those are the Spanish on the horses, wisely choosing to not make horse-kebabs on the ends of French pikes.
Church vs. State conflicts became a bit more subtle after the 30 Years War, and it mostly had something to do with how much influence States allowed the Church to have in their countries.  There were countries like Spain and England where a person's religion was basically ordered by the State.  In 1492, Spain kicked all the Moors and Jews out, then created the feared Inquisition to find people who had fake-converted to Catholicism but were still secret Jews or Muslims.  The Catholic Church would hang onto this much influence in Spain until the death of Generalissimo Francisco Franco in the 1970's.  In Elizabeth I's England, she didn't really care of some English people were Catholic, just as long as they showed up once a month to an Anglican service.  The Stuart Kings followed harder lines: James I kicked the Pilgrim Separatists out, first to Holland, later to Plymouth, Massachusetts, North America.  His son, Charles, got his head cut off because 1. he married a Catholic; 2. he probably was a Catholic; 3. he pissed-off the Puritan Parliament.

In America before our revolution, Church and State had a mixed relationship.  New England started out pretty much as a theocracy lead by fiery Puritan Calvinist preachers, which went great until Salem and some other towns were convinced they were besieged by witches from within their communities and hanged a bunch of mostly harmless old women who had a few too many pet cats.  In Virginia, they allowed so-called "dissenter meetings" such as Presbyterians and Baptists, but they had to pay a tax which was used to support the Anglican clergy in Virginia.  Maryland was basically set up as a place that English Catholics could go and, if they didn't starve or get killed by Indians, live in relative peace and quiet.  However, Maryland was soon overrun by Protestants, and Catholics had to put up with not being able to openly go to Mass without being molested by their neighbors.

I am Thomas Jefferson.  #*$! religion!
Enter Thomas Jefferson.  He was a young man who traveled in Europe, was a good student of Enlightenment authors, and although a nominal Anglican himself, was kind of bugged by Virginia having its own "official" religion.  I guess some of his best friends were Quakers, Lutherans, Anabaptists, Catholics, or Presbyterians.  He drafted Virginia's Religious Toleration Statute, which was basically copied and stuck into the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights which, along with Article IV, made the United States of America the very first country in the entire world that explicitly separated Church from State.

Over the years, lots of Supreme Court cases tested and further refined the "Establishment," "Free-Exercise" and "Religious Test" clauses of the Constitution, which has had the effect of really pissing-off the fundamentalist Christian right-wing wack-o's who basically want to unite Church and State and have THEM in charge of BOTH.  On the other side of the coin, atheists get all bent when they look at the money in their pocket and have to read, "In God We Trust," or send their kids to a school where the Pledge of Allegiance is recited, especially the "One Nation, under God" part.  There's basically just no pleasing some people!

Go in peace, and thank you very much.
There are a lot of religions in the United States today, some familiar, some exotic, some weird, and at least one completely preposterous religion.  I am referring, of course, to the Chapel of the Church of the Divine Elvis Presley, a "religion" that was invented by my friend, Voga Wallace, as a way to get out of paying his city property tax by claiming part of his apartment was a religious shrine devoted to --you guessed it --Elvis.  A small room that was probably supposed to be a pantry was outfitted with four Elvis posters lit by a dangling black light, an old guitar was set up on a trunk, into which people were encouraged to leave free-will "Love Me Tender" offerings, and the perpetual "Elvis Light," a candle stuck inside an Elvis drinking glass, was always lit --whenever Voga remembered to do it.  And I am completely not making this up when I tell you that the city bought this charade, even listing it as one of the city's "places of worship"  on some grotty official publication.  That, despite the fact that the whole time I hung out with him, there was never one, not one person who visited Voga's stupid shrine!

Lastly, let me just say this: even though our state and religion are separate here in America, that doesn't mean that Americans aren't friendly towards religion in general.  Just look at the parking lots that surround mega-churches on a Sunday morning and you'll see what I mean.  So Iran can just suck it whenever they try to pass us off as the Great Satan or whatever.  I bet you there are more mosques in America than there are in Iran, tons more synagogues and tons-squared more churches to boot.  We just don't think our religious leaders should have a say in fixing potholes in the streets, or whether or not to go to war with some country whose religious leaders call us the Great Satan.  Get it?  So here's to religion and government: may they peacefully coexist as separate institutions because bad things tend to happen whenever they team-up.


No comments:

Post a Comment