Friday, September 16, 2005

Separation, Hamburger, and Williams:

This post, I imagine, will be one of many on Philip Hamburger's book, Separation of Church and State (which I'm still reading). The recent decision by a federal judge declaring "Under God" in the pledge to be unconstitutional has made the Separation controversy a timely issue once again. And over at Volokh, Jim Lindgren is invoking Hamburger's book as *the* controlling authority on the subject.

Hamburger certainly is a brilliant scholar, and his book, a remarkable accomplishment; but that doesn't mean that his work is without its problems. One thing I find entirely off base about Hamburger's (and Daniel Dreisbach's) thesis is that Hugo Black, author of the Everson decision, gave us "Separation" as a constitutional metaphor because he was an anti-Catholic bigot, a former Klan member, and essentially acted on his Klan prejudices (the Klan were dedicated to the Separation of Church and State because of their anti-Catholic bigotry). Black's "Klan Kolors" certainly didn't show in his position on Brown and like cases! (In other words, while the history of Black, the Klan, and their support for Separation is quite interesting, it's also likely entirely irrelevant, a classic red herring.)

As Gary Wills said in this episode of Think Thank, (which examines Hamburger's book) "you can support the right thing for the wrong reason." As I understand, the Klan is against affirmative action as well. (And they probably want to teach Intelligent Design in the public schools too).

Hamburger similarly deals with Roger Williams, seeming to impugn his motives for Separation of Church & State, which again brings to mind Wills's saying. Anyway the rest of this post is based on this comment I left on Lindgren's thread discussing Hamburger, Roger Williams, and Separation....

Sometimes people have the most bizarre (or what we would consider irrelevant) reasons for supporting or coming forth with idea X, but X turns out to brilliantly solve an entirely different concern.

Facts: Roger Williams first coined the phrase (or a similar phrase) "Separation of Church and State," ("the hedge, or wall of Separation, between the Garden of the Church and the Wilderness of the world"), argued for religious liberty (even for non-Christians), and for government that was essentially "secular" in its purpose and functions. Williams was one of the first, if not the first Christian thinkers to argue for this, and keep in mind he made his case well before Locke and the Enlightenment.

Hamburger notes, correctly, that Williams was a fanatical fundamentalist. Now, the religious right may therefore endear Williams, as they sometimes argue that "religious toleration" is a "Biblical" idea brought to us by "Christians" like them. But wait, as Hamburger notes, Williams didn't really care about the well-being of those being persecuted, rather Williams, as a "religious nut" had a fanatical desire to keep Christianity "pure" from corrupt worldly influences of which civil government certainly was one.

And as Hamburger notes, Williams's views were not at all dominant; in fact, he was practically an anomaly (and was banished from Massachusetts to found Rhode Island for his dissident thoughts). Well, what then were the dominant views? You'd have to look to Massachusetts and other colonies: There was not only no distinction between Church and State, but the entire Bible was deemed appropriate to write into the civil code...and the results were disastrous. The God of the Bible is a "Jealous God" and as such civil codes forbade the open worship of any God but He, and prescribed the DEATH PENALTY for open worship of false Gods and Idols (this was the dominant view of the fundamentalists, as represented by John Winthrop, founder of Puritan Massachusetts, the antithesis of religious toleration).

Compare Winthrop's view with Williams's sentiment:

All civil states with their officers of justice, in their respective constitutions and administrations, are . . . essentially civil, and therefore not judges, governors, or defenders of the Spiritual, or Christian, State and worship. . . . It is the will and command of God that, since the coming of His Son, the Lord Jesus, a permission of the most Paganish, Jewish, Turkish or anti-Christian consciences and worship be granted to all men, in all nations and countries; and they are only to be fought against with that sword which is only, in Soul matters able to conquer, to wit; the sword of the Spirit--the Word of God. . . . God requireth not an uniformity of religion to be enacted and enforced in any civil state; which enforced uniformity, sooner or later, is the greatest occasion of civil war, ravishing consciences, persecution of Christ Jesus in His servants, and of the hypocrisy and destruction of millions of souls. . . . An enforced uniformity of religion throughout a nation or civil state confounds the civil and religious, denies the principles of Christianity and civility, and that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.


Now, I don't care why Williams came forth with that sentiment, which was an absolutely novel way to interpret the Bible for his time. It's brilliant sentiments like that which, after becoming more influential, helped "solve" the "religious problem" of bloody Christian persecution in the US and Western nations.

In other words, it was the *right* sentiment, regardless of what motivated him to come up with it.

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