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The Myth of "Private Religion"
And "The Separation of Church and State"

The two most devastating myths in America today are 
"The Separation of Church and State"
"Private religion"

The "separation" myth opposes a public religion. The State has no obligation to acknowledge a "Law above the law." It lets the State become god.

"Private religion" will not challenge this deified state. Citizens with "private religion" will help the SS put the Jews on the trains headed for the camps, and then that night will have "private devotions" at home. Religion is "spiritual," internal, "in the heart." It is irrelevant.

It is true that the Framers of the Constitution gave no power to the new government to tell churches in the several states which scent of incense they must use. Many other questions of "worship" or belief/doctrine are rightly considered "private" questions. But the Founders also agreed with Benjamin Franklin, who knew quite well the value of Christianity to society, and who, in the context of teaching history to the youth of Philadelphia, said:

History will also afford the frequent opportunities of showing the necessity of a public religion, from its usefulness to the public; the advantage of a religious character among private persons; the mischiefs of superstition, &c. and the excellency of the Christian religion above all others, ancient or modern.
Benjamin Franklin, Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, 1749), p. 22.

The Founders believed in public religion. Official proclamations of national days of prayer and public appeals to the God of the Bible in the Addresses and Orders of every single Congress and President this nation has had since its inception in 1776 (and before) show that no one intended the Constitution to exile Christianity to the world of the "noumenal" and require every law favorable to morality to pass in review before the religion of Secular Humanism.

In his dissenting opinion in Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577 (1992), Justice Scalia, joined by the Chief Justice, Justice White, and Justice Thomas, noted both that public religion has long been a part of the American system, and that it was pure folly to try to remove it:

The reader has been told much in this case about the personal interest of Mr. Weisman and his daughter, and very little about the personal interests on the other side. They are not inconsequential. Church and state would not be such a difficult subject if religion were, as the Court apparently thinks it to be, some purely personal avocation that can be indulged entirely in secret, like pornography, in the privacy of one's room. For most believers, it is not that, and has never been. Religious men and women of almost all denominations have felt it necessary to acknowledge and beseech the blessing of God as a people, and not just as individuals, because they believe in the "protection of divine Providence," as the Declaration of Independence put it, not just for individuals but for societies; because they believe God to be, as Washington's first Thanksgiving Proclamation put it, the "Great Lord and Ruler of Nations." One can believe in the effectiveness of such public worship, or one can deprecate and deride it. But the longstanding American tradition of prayer at official ceremonies displays with unmistakable clarity that the Establishment Clause does not forbid the government to accommodate it.

Why Religion got Separated from Politics

It may be profitable to consider the concept of "Church/State Separation" outside of the Scriptures, in the Empires of the ancient Mideast.

Christians often think of the "Separation of Church and State" as an invention of Enlightenment Humanism, as a device to protect the "divine right of kings" from any intervention or interference from Theonomists.

Although most ideas of the Enlightenment were a reincarnation of "classical" paganism, "the separation of church and state" is not. The government of Rome was pervasively religious. The myth of "separation" is a uniquely post-Christian phenomenon. As we will see below, James Wood has shown that in all ancient empires there was no separation of religion and politics.He goes on to qualify that by noting that Israel never deified their kings, nor was religion a servant of the nation-state, but rather stood over the State and told the truth about the nation's kings. Christians followed this prophetic tradition, and for telling the truth about the Caesars, Christianity came to be called a religio illicita, an unlicensed religion.

The early Christians were faced with an increasingly hostile state. With their resistance to the demands of the state, Christians were repeatedly the victims of intense persecutions for the unwillingness to give the state their supreme allegiance and obedience.
James E. Wood, Jr., "Public Religion vis vis the Prophetic Role of Religion," 41 Journal of Church and State,  (Winter, 1998), p. 53.

This analysis is not unrelated to Rushdoony's discussion of the Foundations of Social Order, in which the uniqueness of Christ's divinity warred against claims of a divine state or deified emperor.

Wood concludes that the separation of Christianity and the State is normative. His error is a product of an amillennial presupposition. The Christians believed that the State had an ethical obligation to repent and subject its every action to the Law of Christ. They believed this would happen in history. Thus Christians also denied a private religion and a "separation" of religion and state, but they were more sensitive to the State's tendency to be the oppressor of religious minorities. This sensitivity -- but not the concept of private/politically-irrelevant religion -- was operative in the framing of the U.S. Constitution.  

The "State" did not even exist in Israel until the rebellion of I Samuel 8. Prior to that, the State was the possession of unGodly nations like Babylon, who could trace their origin to the first statist, Nimrod (Gen. 10:6-12). No ancient empire had a "separation of church and state," for the emperor was the divine link between civilians and divinity. His officers were priests of his administration, even as the sinful kings of Israel used priests for the administration of their statism (Theonomy, pp. 404, 406, 408, 410). "Temple" has always been supplemented with and synonymous with "palace" in the reigns of emperors who have departed from God's Law (I Kings 21:1 + 2 Chron. 36:7; cf. I Sam 1:9).

Egypt is a compelling example of an ancient society without a "separation of church and state" -- because nothing was separated from the State. Rushdoony notes that

The Egyptian language had no word for "state." [And note the absence of the word in the Bible - kc] For them, the state was not one institution among many but rather the essence of the divine order for life. . . . Life therefore was totally and inescapably statist."
The One & The Many, p. 44

This was the nature of all States in the ancient world. They were the highest focus of all life; to use Tillich's phrase, they were the "ultimate concern" in society. Because the State was the comprehensive and highest unifying idea in society, the ancient State was overtly religious. The State claimed a continuity of being, a metaphysical link, or a communication between the underworld, the earth, and the heavens. The State was the divine mediator. Babylon, Egypt, Assyria, all claimed to be what in fact only Israel could be called - the locus of God's communication with man. Ancient empires - the "State" - claimed to be truly religious. It is necessary to recognize, with Rushdoony, that

throughout most of history, the state has been the religious order of man and the central vehicle of his religious life, and this is no less true today than in ancient Greece. We are accustomed to thinking of the church as the religious institution, and the state as simply the political ordering of man's life, but such thinking is at the very least erroneous and certainly guilty of accepting the framework of the myth [of the state]. The ancient polis, city-state, or kingdom was at all times a religious body, and, more than that, the religious organization of life. The ruler's office was holy: he was a royal or civil priest, and religion was the life of the state. The very word liturgy is derived from the Greek leitourgia, the original meaning of which was (1) a public office undertaken by a citizen at his own expense, as his service to the body politic and (2) any service, as military service, of workmen, or of that service done to nature [the cosmos] in the cohabitation of man and wife. The word was clearly religious: a liturgy was a public work done to promote the social and natural order. The leitourgos was a public minister, a servant of the state, or of the king.
The state was thus the religious ordering of society, and, as a result, each state was one church, holding a common faith, and no religious cults could flourish in a state without the permission of the state and without recognizing the state or its ruler as the mediator and divine lord. To have other gods meant to be in conspiracy for the overthrow of the body politic, of the visible god of that area, the state and its ruler.
(The Christian Idea of the State, pp. vii-viii)

In the ancient world, the one true religion
was service [leitourgia] to the one true doctrine
that the one true State
was the one true church.

Here is an excerpt from an important analysis in the Journal of Church and State, a respected and generally pro-separationist law journal ("Public Religion vis vis the Prophetic Role of Religion," James E. Wood, Jr., vol 41, no 1 Winter 1998, pp. 51ff.)

      In addressing the subject of "public religion," it is well to recall that the notion of private religion is a relatively modern concept and one primarily identified intellectually with the rise of modernity and historically with the American tradition of church and state. To the ancient world, and for many centuries, all of life and all of culture were viewed as sacred or religious. Conventions, customs, traditions, and taboos were all rooted in the sacred, i.e., rooted in religious sanctions or prohibitions. Every important event, from birth to death, was solemnized by religious ceremonies (a pattern by no means unfamiliar in the public and state ceremonies of societies in the modern world). It is no exaggeration to say that the concept of public religion, not private religion, still prevails throughout most of the world today outside of communist countries.
      From earliest history religion was a public matter -- for the community as a whole and not the individual. Religion and culture were inextricably intertwined and, as religion developed from a tribal to a national stage, religious history was inseparable from what today would be called social and political history. This interdependence of all of life was expressed in the intimate and intricate relationship between kinship and priesthood.1 Generally speaking, the religious and political head of the community were one; the priest was a magistrate and the magistrate was a priest. Religion was so thoroughly integrated into the nation-state as to constitute a religio-political system by which society was stabilized and governed. To be a king or chieftain meant that his was a sacred office, not merely one of civil or political authority, and that the office of priest was a political as well as a religious office. Consequently, distinctions between religious and civil institutions were non-existent. The religious and political were fused in such a way as to be virtually inseparable. Within the structure of the nation or state was an integrated system in which ruler, clergy, political decree, tenets of faith, law, ethics, religious rites, and state rituals were all conjoined. There was no place for any distinction between the sacred and the secular, between public and private religion.

      1. See, for example, Henri Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods: A Study of Ancient Near Eastern Religion as the Integration of Society and Nature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978); originally published in 1948, but subsequently supplemented by a preface by Noah Kramer.

Wood goes on to suggest that in Israel kings were never deified -- a significant difference between that nation and the nations around them, if true. But the fundamental point still remains: politics in Israel was not "secular." There was no "separation" between religion and state. Religion was not a "private" matter which the State ignored, or which ignored the State.

The fact that all of life was religious is precisely that which prompted the invention and rise of  "the State."

When Cain, and following him, Nimrod, apostatized, they left the religious-patriarchal order of the household of faith to form a new social organization under a new religious perspective. Life under Adam, or under Noah, was under God and His Word. Life under Cain and under Nimrod has been widely seen to be life away from Biblical patriarchy and under a new form of order, a "political" system, which we call "the State."

The implications of this early Biblical record of social and religious apostasy are staggering. A decentralized Patriarchal social order under God's Law must be contrasted with a centralized polis-based order. This is in fact the contrast between God's people (the Church) and apostates (the State).

Traditional defenses of the State, seeking Biblical support, have alleged God's institution of the State in the laws concerning the shedding of the blood of capital criminals. But this was a Family-based power, not restricted to "the State."

Political powers are certainly not outside of God's sovereign control, and we may agree with the Apostle that the powers are "ordered" or "ordained" by God (Romans 13:1). But we must not confuse God's predestination with His prescriptive Law. James Benjamin Green, in his Harmony of the Westminster Standards, has rightly noted that in Romans 13

It is not meant that God directly ordained the state by saying to man, Thou shalt set up a government or organize a commonwealth.

In fact, as we have seen in our Study on Patriarchy, God's Law forbids setting up such a socio-religious system as the State. God is sovereign, and He orders the actions of evil empires and rebellious institutions, though they think they are autonomous.

There was no "State" in Israel until I Samuel 8. It could also be said there was no institutional "church." Israel's social order was Family-centered. Israel itself was considered to be a Family, the "Household" of God. All Israelites looked upon themselves as sons of Abraham; the Gospel was a Gospel of "Adoption." When the people rebelled and rejected God, asking for a king (I Sam. 8), they were importing the trappings and humanistic power of the State from the nations around them, nations which claimed to be truly religious. This concept of a State was brought alongside a Patriarchal social order. This generated[17] conflict between God (Family) and Satan (State - or as Rushdoony calls it, "The Society of Satan").

Without the powerful working of the Spirit, as could only be expected in the Age of the Messiah and the New Covenant, it was not possible to expect the elimination of the Babylonian State. Family and State would have to live together until the Advent of the true King. The goal was obviously the continual reduction of the Welfare State and the nurturing of Family-centered Christian self-government (Rushdoony calls it "autarchy" [Institutes II, pp. 707ff.]). This move toward evangelical Patriarchy and away from an apostate social order (the State) could easily be mistaken for a move for the "separation of Family and State" or the "separation of the Church (the ecclesia) and the State" (Mark 10:42-45). But it is not a move for a separation of two orders which should continue to exist side by side; it is simply the move away from statism and the State entirely, and toward the defeat of all humanistic "archists," or statists (I Cor. 15:24).

In the pre-Christian world, concentric circles of holiness radiated from Israel: in the center was the Holiest of Holies, then the tabernacle, the camp, outside the camp, until finally you were in the realm of the unclean, the Gentiles. Yet all ancient empire-states denied the exclusivity and uniqueness of Israel and the Presence of God within her, and claimed that they were holy, in direct contact with the Source of cosmic power. Thus, to be unaccredited or outside their Empire was to be an unclean anarchist.

Now in Christian times, King Jesus, through His life and work on the Cross, has definitively cleansed the world, and all is in principle sanctified and consecrated to the service of His Kingdom. Again denying God's Truth, now all Empire-States claim to be "secular," "neutral," "non-religious," "scientific," or "pluralistic." Whereas before, in the age of limited holiness, all empires were self-consciously religious at root, claiming comprehensive holiness and complete sanctification, now, in the face of Christ's total, world-wide victory and sanctification of the world as God's Garden-Temple, the empires claim non-religious "scientific" neutrality.

Can the Church of Christ execute the commands of the Law as they are written in our Bibles, without the Law being modified to fit the theories of "respectable" Humanist political scientists? Some say no, advocating the "separation of church and state" doctrine of Deist Thomas Jefferson and the atheistic U.S. Supreme Court. In other papers we have expressed our desire to separate the State from everything, and for Christians to come out from the old structures of the Polis-centered world and "be ye separate." But if an apostate socio-religious order (the "state") is legitimized, the "separation of church and state" accomplishes, I believe, the separation of Christianity and politics, which is neither desirable nor Biblical.

The Godly have always desired the Church to come out and be separate from the State. The State has similarly but perversely wanted to be free from the influence of the Church. We must not grant their wish. The Christian Family must separate every area of life from Babylonian statism and consecrate it to the life-liturgy of King Jesus.

As kings and priests under Christ, we must destroy the myth of the State, and the separation of religion from politics.


17. or, rather, moved toward "epistemological self-consciousness."  [Back to Text]

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