On the Separation of Church and State

Photo by Nathaniel St. Clair

Once again, the Supreme Court showed its undemocratic and misogynist colors. It came down against women, encouraging employers not to pay for birth control services. The Supreme Court is obviously catering to the fashionable superstitions of religious preachers who resent the struggle of women for dignity and equality. The judges are also woefully ignorant the planet has too many people. Unchecked population growth has detrimental effects on human beings and life in the natural world.

The crime of the Catholic Church

In addition, the gigantic Catholic Church received 1.4 billion dollars from the government’s corona virus fund. Some of the money is going to dioceses that covered up the crimes of their clergy raping children.

I find this misuse of public money extremely inappropriate. Priests and bishops of the Catholic Church have been raping boys and girls, especially young boys, for decades. A crime of this magnitude nullifies any claims the Catholic Church puts forward for legitimacy or Christian faith. The crime is colossal. It pervades the institution from top to bottom. It cannot be forgiven, much less ignored.

With such a systemic violence possibly still going on in secrecy within the Catholic Church by unmarried male clergy, it is wrong for the government to pretend all is well. Perhaps, abolishing the priesthood might be a way out of the decline and fall of the Catholic Church. It’s clear to me, however, that as long as the Catholic Church forbids its clergy to marry, the crime will continue.

I don’t know what excuse brought the government and the Catholic Church together. But no matter the legal explanation for this arrangement, it smells of deep corruption. The Constitution forbids close relations between the secular government and those living in the non-secular norms of religious dogmas.

Clerical tyranny

This separation of church and state is the absolute minimum requirement for the safety and well-being of our society. The alternative is the dangerous merging of church and state. In such a case, like that of Saudi Arabia or Iran, the state constitutes a tyranny. In Islamic theocracies, Imams, not the law, decide how citizens behave. Freedom of speech is non-existent.

Turkey, a Moslem country that harmed Christian Greece for centuries, is returning to its deep suspicions and hostility towards Christians.

The president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, just turned Hagia Sophia, a sixth century Greek Orthodox Cathedral, into a mosque. This is bound to intensify the bitter antagonism between Greece and Turkey, and, furthermore, make Turkey a pariah in Europe, Russia, possibly America, and among other Christians all over the world.

These examples of rising religious tension, and subtle efforts to weaken the secular state, as in America of president Trump, mirror older, even centuries older violent history. This is a history of religious wars, crusades, and oppression that clarify the necessity of keeping the state secular.

In its early history, the United States had many immigrants from Europe who were escaping Christian clerical tyranny at home. The Salem witch trials in 1692-1693, in Massachusetts is another reminder that religious fanaticism is never too far away. It is no better than a plague.

Religious hatred is a political phenomenon with roots in the dark ages. It is primarily a disease-like attitude afflicting primarily the faithful of monotheism.

We know nothing with certainty about the gods

In ancient Greece, for example, people expressed piety for a variety of gods. These anthropomorphic immortal beings were forces in the natural world and the cosmos. Stars were gods.

The Greeks of the island of Rhodes worshipped the Sun god Helios. The Colossus of Rhodes was a gigantic bronze statue of the Sun straddling his legs across the harbor of island.

Demeter, sister of the supreme god Zeus, was the goddess of the threshing floor. She was equivalent to the Earth. Dionysos, son of Zeus, joined Demeter in the Greeks’ national Eleusinian mysteries. He was the god of wine, and dramatic theater. The Athenians had two annual major festivals in his honor.

Zeus was the cloud gatherer, the god of lighting, thunder and rain.

Apollo, son of Zeus, was the god of prophesy, music, and light. His Delphi Oracle was a global house of wisdom and prophesy. His son, Aristaios, was benefiting primarily Greek peasants. His knowledge and influence covered healing, prophesy, cheesemaking, honeybee keeping, shepherding and olive-growing.

The Athenians trace their name to Athena, patron goddess and daughter of Zeus. They built the Parthenon to honor Athena Parthenos, the Virgin. This was a deity of olive trees, intelligence, and the arts of civilization.

The founders of the Olympics dedicated the athletic and cultural festival to Zeus. Additional Panhellenic  athletic competitions honored Zeus, Poseidon, Athena, and other gods.

With a few exceptions, the Greeks had no doubt those gods existed, but Plato, correctly, said humans know nothing with certainty about the gods.

Polytheist Greeks did not have a church and state divide. They had no sacred texts, religious dogmas, or priesthood. State festivals honoring the gods brought people together for a free dinner and fun. The state appointed civilians to serve certain divinities for a fixed time.

The Greeks never fought religious wars. They respected the gods of the Persians, Egyptians, and Babylonians. The Egyptians claimed that the Greek hero and god Herakles was also a very ancient Egyptian god.

The atrocities of monotheism

All that changed with the decline of the Roman Empire and the triumph of monotheism. Jews, Christians and Moslems – followers of sibling Semitic religions — claimed they were the chosen people of the one god. They denounced each other and started centuries of wars, crusades, and mayhem that threw humanity into millennial dark ages.

The most atrocious crime of monotheism was the destruction of Hellenic culture: the smashing of statues and temples, the shutting down of universities and the torching of libraries, like the gigantic Library of Alexandria, and the termination of the Olympics.

After centuries of warfare against polytheistic Greeks , Christian church and state converted the surviving Hellenes to their Christian faith: genocide, brutal and lasting.

The Moslems commited similar atrocities. They either slaughtered the conquered people, converted them to Islam, or enslaved them.

Christians and Moslems turned on each other in the bloody crusades – for centuries. Christians slaughtered each other for trivial dogmatic and heretical differences.

Renaissance and Enlightenment

The Renaissance of the fifteenth century resurrected some of the written work of the polytheistic Greeks. Those books of science, epic poetry, and literature refreshed the mind of scholars and men of culture who were sick and tired of the legacy of dark ages, including religious controversy and wars.

Out of the Renaissance’s embrace of the Greeks and Romans, there emerged a more tolerant, civilized and secular culture of the Enlightenment.

The fathers of the American republic were students of the Enlightenment, incorporating into the American Constitution the separation of church and state, the rule of law, and limited democracy.

Reform the Supreme Court

This story highlights the precarious balance between church and state. Any interference on either side could be destabilizing. Which is to say, the interventions of the Supreme Court in refashioning America are illegal and outrageous.

I count on Joe  Biden becoming president during the November election. A Biden administration, including a Democrat Senate, should expand the membership of the Supreme Court and limit the tenure of the judges to no more than ten years. The same tenure limit should apply for federal judges.

In addition, the Biden administration should reexamine the qualifications of some two-hundred judges the undemocratic Trump administration put in federal courts.

But next to the life-and-death policies of combating climate change, the Biden administration should end any state support for religion of any kind.

Evaggelos Vallianatos is a historian and environmental strategist, who worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years. He is the author of seven books, including the latest book, The Antikythera Mechanism.