There has been unrelenting pressure in recent decades to expunge Christian prayers, and allusions, from public life, and from the various agencies of state, most particularly schools. A clear message has been delivered by prominent parliamentarians, that Christianity should be a private and not a public matter. Christians can share their beliefs within, but not beyond, those of similar mind. Even the Speaker of the House was successful in having all references to Jesus removed from the official parliamentary prayer. The Prime Minister was happy to have the Muslim call to prayer broadcast nationally after the Mosque attacks, while her antipathy to Christianity remains palpable. And yet all of these voices have appeared conspicuously silent when it comes to karakia. How might we explain these paradoxes? What is really going on? Should we be concerned?
For almost three hundred years liberal democracies have been sensitive to the implications of a church and state union. The actions of the medieval papacy testify amply to the dangers when religious systems have the ear of the state, or when the state is used to enforce matters of religion. The history of Islam is no different. The emerging republican and constitutional governments of the eighteenth-century were acutely aware of these tensions, and of the risks of church-state union. Their founding constitutional documents often explicitly safeguarded freedom of religious association and the separation of church and state.
The founders of the United States were explicit. The first amendment reads as follows "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...". Many of those migrating to the new world were escaping religious persecution in their homelands. They knew just how bad things could get. While numbers are contested, it does seem that several tens of millions of lives were lost in Europe through the crusades, the inquisition, and the religious wars during and post the reformation period. This is not to say that motivations were always, or entirely, religious, it was more complex than that, but it does suggest that when church and state combine things can get ugly.
Interestingly, those nations and movements that railed most vehemently against state-church union, often did not move far from these in actuality. The arbiters of the French Revolution raged vehemently against the Roman Catholic Church, only to replace it with an ideology that equaled or exceeded the former in its brutality. Marx is well known for his criticism of Christianity, but the record of almost all Marxist countries testifies to a state promulgated ideology that has many of the hallmarks of religious dogma, in both its implementation and its ultimate results. It is generally accepted that Marxist countries murdered in excess of a hundred million of their own citizens, in what looks remarkably similar to the religious persecutions of earlier ages. It seems that religious, or religious type, belief systems meet a need present in all societies. This makes people vulnerable to manipulation. We have religious 0rientations without realizing it. We naturally seek answers beyond the known and demonstrable facts of life, if not in religion, in something that looks remarkably similar. Even Freud, Jung and Frankl, the heavyweights of psychotherapy, saw an inherent yearning for the religious in all people. Interestingly, Carl Jung noted in "The Undiscovered Self" the tendencies of twentieth-century man to worship the state in ways that earlier people had worshipped the religions of old.
I believe that we should be very concerned about the creep of pantheistic religion into public life. Increasingly, references to things spiritual have been used to silence debate, or to fill the gaps when logic, reason, and facts are lacking. Not infrequent assertions that the Treaty is a spiritual taonga, vested with mystical power, in and of itself, is a clear effort to make the arguments of its most animated adherents uncontestable. When you move into the realm of the mystical, reason no longer applies, and familiar democratic safeguards can be progressively dismantled.
Our government has a duty to safeguard the rights of people to worship as conscience dictates, but equally to ensure that the worlds of the mystical and the real do not merge. The merging of state and religion always, ultimately, ignites the basest of emotions, leads to the suppression of free speech, and gives license to those who are inclined to persecute and marginalize those with whom they disagree.
One world government will ultimately produce a one-world religion, of sorts. History forewarns us of how this will end up.
Caleb Anderson, a graduate history, economics, psychotherapy and theology, has been an educator for over thirty years, twenty as a school principal.