A Paradox of Anti-Theocracy
A piece by Bernard F. Sullivan in Tuesday’s Providence Journal brings to light an interesting paradox. On the one hand, it’s difficult to fathom that a man with such apparent deficiency in categorical comprehension could have ever been a regional editor for a major newspaper. On the other, his expressed concept of government enables insight into the thought processes of some secularists: they don’t necessarily have an especially restrictive view of “separation of church and state”; rather, they simply can’t understand that church and state have distinct functions and different rules of operation. Consider:
There is perhaps no institution more authoritarian and autocratic than the Roman Catholic Church. Yet its leaders were willing to cozy up to pols in a desperate attempt to end gay marriages on a popular vote. Then, when the vote threatened to go against their canonical stance, as in the case of women priests, they scurried back to the mountain of magisterial intransigence and, hoping for a collective short memory on the part of the congregation, said church policies are not determined by popular vote.
So, if “archdiocesan officials” explain that “church policies are not determined by popular vote,” they must behave as if state policies are not determined by popular vote, either, but rather accept the determination of the state’s judicial hierarchy. If they insist on attempting to leverage democracy to shape government policy in accordance with their religious beliefs, then they must subject their religious beliefs to the democratic process. It isn’t possible, in this civic model, for a religious organization to maintain that God’s instructions are not available for popular revision, but that human laws are.
Curiously, Sullivan doesn’t give any indication that he believes that those human laws ought to be determined through a democratic process when once the modern interpreters of old government texts have issued their ruling. Perhaps it isn’t so much authoritarianism that bothers him as disagreement.
Given my suspicions, I won’t bother addressing his crack that “maybe diocesan church leaders might get lathered up about street killings, poverty, violence, homelessness, child hunger and lack of adequate health care.” The notion that people could sincerely believe that fortifying traditional marriage could be central to addressing all of those problems would surely be too much for him to bear, and perhaps to understand.