A new state religion

Today’s Trouw contained three very interesting articles on the separation between Church and State. Now this is a topic that is bound to make passions flame up and overheat arguments. Which is probably because most people don’t know what ‘separation of church and state’ means. These Trouw articles did a good job explaining; I’ll just summarize.

Separation between church and state means that there is not one, established church that people need to be a member of in order to be eligible for government posts or in order to be electable. (In Denmark, Great Britain and Greece, there is no separation between Church and State, but only in Greece there is a strong pressure to belong to the Orthodox Church in order to be eligible for a public post).

It does not mean that all religion, all religious influence, all signs of religion are banned from public life — as it appears to be in France. That is called laïcité, and it is a completely different thing than separation of church and state. The point is this: two hundred years ago, there was a profound change. Before that time, one had to be a member of the state church, which was a church controlled by the state, not a church that controlled the state, in order to be eligible for a public post. Membership was enough; actually believing was not necessary. From the Roman emperor worship to the Anglican nobles of England, outward appearances were enough.

Afterwards, no matter what your religion, you could not be banned from public life. You were free to get elected on the platform of your religion; when elected to enact policy based on your religion, when opposing the government, doing so on the platform of your religion. In short, you were free to believe, and act according to your beliefs.

The trend nowadays is to claim that religion, that belief, is a private thing, a thing that should not be admitted into the public space. In effect, this means that one has to hide one’s religion, one’s beliefs. And then the situation is no longer different from the pre-modern times, when there was a state religion that one had to publicly conform to. Only now we have a-religiousness, atheism if you want, which has become the state religion, the state ‘church’.

And no longer are separated State and Church.