Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Church and State

In a comm box in the blog Civics Geeks I was asked "Do you think the Church should be a model for the state?"

Certainly an interesting question. Given that the question was asked in a Catholic context, I will assume that the Church indicated is the Roman Catholic Church.

As Catholics, we believe that the Church is the best means for carrying the teachings of Jesus forward to succeeding generations. Given the large number of the faithful, it also serves as an instrument of organization in the temporal world. Its members, while diverse in background and experiences, profess to believe a set of central truths, and claim to govern themselves by those truths. Also, there is nothing to stop someone in modern society, conscience and persuasion notwithstanding, from separating him or herself from the church. Membership in the church is an act of free will.

A state, any state, is made up of people of varying beliefs and backgrounds. Some may even not be in support of the state at all. Lack of patriotism does not cancel citizenship in most states. Citizen or no, it is more difficult to remove onesself from the purview of the state. Usually, one must physically move outside the geographic boundries of the state. This relocation is subject to the acceptance of the government of the destination state, as well as the level of means (funds) of the relocating individual.

Although both require governance, the Church and the state are not similar entites. And while Church governance is derived from state governance of a bygone era, for the purposes of the state it is not as good as representative democracy. The sticking point lies in the fallibility of humans. Given the power of the state over its citizens, there must be checks and balances against the failings of the rulers. Representative democracy, especially with term limits, ensure a periodic renewal of the rulers by the ruled. Bad apples can be weeded out in an orderly fashion over time.

In addition to periodic renewal, an independent judiciary is also a necessary check. I believe an executive branch, separate and distinct from the legislature, balances power between two institutions with some conflicting requirements.

Any system created and manned by fallible humans will have failings: no earthly system is immune. I am sure we all have our favorite examples of a Representative Democracy making a wrong move. However, I believe no system has a more civilized way of dealing with errors.

I think it is no accident that when it comes to governing the state, we render unto Caesar in a manner appropriate for Caesar, all the while being informed and guided by that which comes from God.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Zach said...

Ah thoughtful post, thanks.

As I understand you, you would agree with me that the political state needs a coercive force (to keep law and order), as you write:

"although both require governance, the Church and the state are not similar entities. And while Church governance is derived from state governance of a bygone era, for the purposes of the state it is not as good as representative democracy. The sticking point lies in the fallibility of humans. Given the power of the state over its citizens, there must be checks and balances against the failings of the rulers."

Again, this is to prevent anarchy.

As you may have seen, these questions came out of a conversation with Michael Iafrate, who is a anarchist of sorts. He believes the Church ought to be the model for the state, and seeing as how the Church does not have a coercive force, he does not think the state should either.

I guess I just think this is flat out wrong. The Church should not and cannot be a model for the state because it is, by nature, a different type of community.

Although I would not deny that there are some things that the State can learn from the Church.

12:39 PM  
Blogger CMinor said...

Whoa--I'm trying to keep from snickering here!

Iafrate may be an anarchist in philosophy, but if I recall from recent discussions over at Darwin's blog he's no stranger to employing the "coercive force" of deleting the comments of people who disagree with him while accusing them of flaming him. (I'm sure it was either him or Morning's Minion, and I have the impression from occasional forays at VN that he's the more hotheaded of the two.)

1:15 PM  
Blogger Zach said...

haha!

oh, i wish he'd read and comment on that comment.

maybe i'll send him this discussion in an email.

3:11 PM  
Blogger CMinor said...

Hooo boy, you are going to get me in so much trouble...

4:30 PM  
Blogger DMinor said...

Zach,

Thanks for the comments. Rule by the Church would not be anarchy. It would just switch one ruler for another. I am hard pressed to think of any civilization in history that did not use coercive power to keep order. If there are any examples I would be interested to know them.

I always have trouble with "anarchists." The conditions they propose would certainly lead both to the destruction of themselves and their neighbors.

6:11 PM  

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