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The relationship between the church and the state has always been hard to define. While the constitution draws a clear line between the two, the practices make it murky and ambivalent. The United States and Europe colloquially termed the West, are marked by marked secularism. It means religion is a personal matter and not of the state.
In the US, the constitution demarcates this in clear terms in the disestablishment clause, the separation of religion from the matter of governance. The same goes for Europe, where state and religion-cum-Christianity are separate institutions with different roles. But recently, religion has become a stronger force both in Europe and the US, albeit with different tendencies and nature.
Politicization of Christianity: Christianity in the US, and the Past
Although Christianity and the state have been commingling in the US since its inception, the politicization of Christianity has become a lot more serious in recent times. There are many reasons why it is so but to envisage the best, it is pertinent to go to the root causes.
When the monarchs in Europe took the religious people and especially the fundamentalists, the Pilgrims, and Puritans, they fled to America to escape the religious repression notably under the British monarch, and to find tolerance for their views. They got along well with the system and soon found themselves strong.
To survive and thrive as a Christian power, they needed no interference from the state with religion. When the US came into being and its Constitution was being drafted, this religious power played its role to keep religion out of the gamut of state.
They succeeded as the new Federal Government unlike the English Crown had no role in filling ecclesiastical offices which were the first drawn line between church and state.
Politicization of Christianity: America has been Religiously Diverse
Secondly, the state needed to be impartial because America was religiously diverse, having different religious orientations, like Congregationalist, Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Quaker, so it was a troubling idea to favor one sect over another without endangering religious or political conflict.
Furthermore,(in the early days) to survive and thrive, they needed to attract immigrants, facilitate trade among the colonies and with other nations, and above all garner French assistance in the war against England, which necessitated better treatment of Catholics.
Religious Movements in the U.S and Politicization of Christianity
In contrast, some mighty strong religious movements have also come from the US. For example, the Abolitionist Movement was sparked and led mainly by the Christians, who denounced it by flagging the Biblical calls. The Temperance Movement in the early days of independence, which demanded a ban on alcoholic drinks and any other intoxicating beverages, was a success.
Recently, Martin Luther King jr led Civil Rights Movement was a successful struggle for the broader inclusion of minorities and marginal groups in the political process.
Politicization of Christianity: Christianity in Europe, and the Past
Europe was, once under the strong Catholic Church that decided the matters of state and governance. It was an anti-state and anti-education regime where nothing flourished, a period known as Dark Ages.
Then came the Renaissance, which originated in Italy, and then in England. Martin Luther king’s first-ever translation of the Bible ultimately resulted in, not only the bifurcation of Christianity but also the dismantling of the church as an all-encompassing institution. It sparked 30 years of religious wars which took nearly 8 million lives.
This havoc ceased to exist after the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, which weakened the Church as a force. Since then the exemplary progress and development of human beings, in general, are unprecedented and astounding.
Secularization of Europe and Church
Recently, the fast secularization of Europe, the infiltration of Muslims in a Christian continent, and the loss of Christian culture and glory have made the clerics proactive. The Polish Pope, Karol Wojtyla, famously known as John Paul II has lamented the secularism and the growing stature of Islam. Ratzinger another important voice is wary of the propagation of Islam in Europe too.
Movements such as Communion and Liberation, Focolare, Campiglio, Regnum Christi all of them from Italy, Othe Neocatecumenal Way in Spain, The Schoenstatt Movement in Germany and L’Arche in France, and many more which began in the 1960s and 1970s in the wake of the Second Vatican Council are whipping up Christian emotions in Europe.
Furthermore, there is a high surge in the number of cleric parliamentarians, especially in Poland, Lithuania, and Slovakia to bring back the evangelical church in business. This has given rise to hardliners like Viktor Orban in Hungary.
Differences Between Politicization of Christianity in Europe and the US
Although Christianity has equally been politicized in both Europe and the United States, there are some glaring differences between the two. First off, in the US, there is no established religion. As already mentioned, it is because early secular leaders like James Madison and Thomas Jefferson established Puritans who kept religion at a bay. This is famously known
Dis-establishment Clause and Politicization of Christianity
Dis-establishment Clause states, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
This was a standard set by the founding fathers that the successors did not dare to challenge. Although this clause does not leave any space for the politicization of Christianity, the reality is different.
Another important thing to consider in this context is the historical circumstances. It is that the liberation of the US and its state was itself the product of secular ideas associated with the Enlightenment philosophy. This knowledge-based philosophy rejected the overarching involvement of religion in state affairs.
The United States is a Pluralistic Society
Furthermore, the US was not a monolithic society so there was no unison in the religious beliefs and practices. The word America is tantamount to migration and pluralism. Even today when we analyze it demographically, Evangelicals (The Whites) comprise 25.4% of the total population while the Protestants are 22% man than the Catholics who are nearly 21%.
Other beliefs include Methodist, Presbyterian, American Baptist Congregational, Episcopal, and Lutheran churches. The number of Muslims and Hindus is consistently on the rise as well. A plural and diverse society like this can only thrive if it has religious and cultural tolerance, colloquially defined as Pluralism.
Tug of War between Church and State in Europe and Politicization of Christianity
But, in Europe, this was not the case, where despite the bloody wars on religion (Christianity) and vicious tug of war between church and the state, religion did not completely cut off from the state. In fact, the politicization of Christianity has remained a pervasive reality.
One of the reasons was despite the lost war against the state, the supporters and endorsers of religion didn’t vanish. The posts of the pope too didn’t cease to exist. Further, his post and institution have still been alive, albeit a titular character.
The people in Europe have so far been overwhelmed by the teachings of John Locke, Rene Descartes, David Hume, Kant, Hagel, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, etc.
On one hand, their teachings have had a stronger influence on the minds of common people while on the other hand, the religion, say Christianity has always existed as a force with enough supporters and promoters. It is the reason that has never been sidelined completely from government affairs.
Religion has Always Played a Role in Europe
Almost all states in the European peninsula have their specific religion which has some presence and role to play. For example in the UK, there is a post of Lords Spiritual which has 26 seats, where the bishops of 12 churches can sit and debate.
In Italy, Poland, and Hungry the case is not much different. All except France have their religious identity. In France, at the dawn of the 20th century, the ‘Licete’ made religion disconnected from the state mattes.
Pubic is Religious in the US
Another important difference between the two is that in the US, there is stronger religiosity in public. The state may not have much concern with religion but the public has. They as power have played their role on various occasions.
Abolitionist Movement. Temperance Movement and Politicization of Christianity
As earlier discussed, in the initial days the constitution’s secularity was because of the Puritans. Then the Abolitionist Movement and the Temperance Movement. These were led by common folks who had strong bearings on the state decisions.
Even today a significant percentage of adult Americans say they never doubt the existence of God or angels, and saying a prayer is an important part of their daily lives.
Furthermore, public religiosity is highly visible in Utah and mainly among Caucasians and African Americans. Mostly the layperson always shows explosive religious differences over the issue of abortion, prayer in schools, censorship, euthanasia, and biological research like human cloning.
Politicization of Christianity and Dominionism
The majority of the religious people are the so-called Dominionism. They assume that Christians have a God-given right to rule all earthly institutions. The movement originated from a small fringe sect called Christian Reconstructionism, founded by a Calvinist theologian named R. J Rushdoony in the 1960s.
He openly advocated replacing American law with the strictures of the Old Testament. He suggested the death penalty for homosexuality, abortion, and even apostasy.
New Apostolic Reformation and Politicization of Christianity
These hardliners even have another offshoot, called the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). Their leaders consider themselves apostles and prophets gifted by God. They aspire to take over societal institutions and government.
Jeff Sessions former attorney general of the US blatantly said that the idea of a “wall of separation is not constitutional and is not historical.”(Separation between Church and the State). Incumbent US Attorney General William Barr 1995 wrote an article in which he lambasted what he calls
“An increasingly militant, secular age and growing hostility toward religion, particularly Catholicism”
Politicization of Christianity: Mike Pompeo is an Evangelical Christian
Barr’s Justice Department has also extended unqualified support to restrict access to abortion. Further, his attempts to secure taxpayer funding for Christian schools point toward this. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is an evangelical Christian as well.
He explicitly shares his religious beliefs.
“I ask God for direction in my work and I’m proud to say that President Trump has let our State Department do that. Indeed, he has demanded that we do.”
In short, in the US this involvement of the religious people in the state is not new. Despite this, it is never threatening as it has never weakened the institutions of the state. But the rise of religiosity in Europe, a form of politicization of Christianity, may have strong undercurrents for the system.
The USA is not a Monolithic Society; Europe Does
The reason is that the USA is not a monolithic society but Europe is. Gone are the days when Europe was a civilization. It is a nation-state system where each country will try to assert religion in state matters.
Not to mention Pope Benedict XVI, John Paul II, or Ratzinger but the political leaders of various countries like Poland, Bulgaria, Scandinavian countries and especially Viktor Orban of Hungry are openly challenging the long-held liberal ideals. Orban’s statement to Christianity has the power to supplant any law is not superficial at all.
U.S. Stands on Firm Footing as Compared to Europe
Another important difference between the two is the vanishing identities. Even if Trump had won even another time, its strong institutions would remain unmoved. The US stands on a firm footing as compared to Europe. Many NGOs and volunteer organizations are contributing to the politicization of Christianity and to restore the lost glory of Christian civilization.
The recent religious activism in the US has less to do with religion but more with race. Europe is trying to go back to medieval times to combat the challenge of the spiritual vacuum and surging Muslim population.
To conclude it is conspicuous that the politicization of Christianity is becoming a snowball in Europe and the US. It is becoming more pronounced and vociferous in matters it earlier remained inert. They may have some common things but in reality, both are two different things with different causal factors. In the US, religion has always been a stronger part of their beliefs.
They have performed their role in the Temperance Movement, Abolitionist Movement, and MLK Jr-led Civil Rights Movement. Religion is the impetus behind all these movements. At the same time, it never compromised its secular ideals. the founding fathers tethered these principles tightly.
But in Europe, religion was not a part of the daily doings of the public. But religious people and religion both sustained as separate and somewhat functional institutions of the state.Share