With a Combination of Powers, the Devil Smiles
We’re all familiar with the concept of separating powers across government. Especially in the United States, the notion of checks and balances is woven throughout civic education. Too few in the modern era appreciate the importance of separating powers across society. Not for long will powerful people in business, religion, and government maintain mutual respect out of intellectual habit; such respect will only flow perpetually from the actuality of power. The businessman will respect the religious leader because the former’s customers trust the judgment of latter. The politician will respect the businessman because the latter has economic clout.
Hopefully, we in the West are beginning to wake up to the fact the more we look to government to handle, the more power politicians will demand and the more authority they will assert. Thus, as an editorial explains in a recent Rhode Island Catholic, a government tasked with ensuring equality will interpret its authority in such a way as to draw parameters around tolerable religious beliefs and practices:
The bill, which claims to eliminate discrimination in the workplace, would regulate churches including the Catholic Church as employers. It would make it unlawful to require a Catholic priest to be male, unmarried or not in a civil marriage, since no priest would be able to clearly demonstrate that their time was wholly spent leading prayer, liturgy or worship and promoting and explaining doctrine. The Bishops of England and Wales have protested the bill and its immensely serious consequences for over two years. …
Catholic Bishops reject claims by the government that as long as priests spend 51 percent of their time leading worship and preaching the Gospel they would be spared any hostile legal action. They suggest that priestly ministry is so diverse and includes pastoral work, private prayer and study, administration and building maintenance that it would be impossible to guarantee that such a condition could be met. The rejection of the government’s claims includes the objection by Catholic Bishops that the government would now effectively define what work a priest must perform. Last month an amendment to protect the liberty of churches was rejected by the House of Commons and as a result the bill will likely become law next year.
News of strengthening allegiances across Christian denominations is clearly related:
“For religion, militant secularism is just as dangerous as militant atheism was. Both tend to exclude religion from the public and political sphere, relegating it to a ghetto, confining it to the area of private devotion,” [Russian Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion wrote in an introduction to a book of speeches by Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI].
The archbishop added that in modern Europe the “unwritten rules of political correctness” are increasingly applied to religious institutions, to the point that believers can no longer express their religious convictions publicly because it would be considered a violation of the rights of non-believers.
Archbishop Hilarion said Europe’s political unification had brought with it the risk of a new pan-European “dictatorship” that would impose a single model of secular humanistic values on all European countries.
Religious leaders are not innocent in the modern movement to grant government authority to implement preferred social policies, so the first step in combating its overreaches will be admission of culpability and reconsideration of political philosophy. Even now, when it comes to economic and (sadly) environmental matters, the belief that government can simply dictate the enlightened practices is proving to have an insidious allure among the faithful.
It will not prove possible to imbue an all-powerful government with respect for the individual and communal rights granted by an all-powerful deity. To the extent that such a thing ever seemed possible, the impression relied entirely on secular leaders’ respect for the power of individuals and communities in other social spheres. Where government sees opportunity to marginalize those checks on its power, it will.