According to our self-admittedly atheist Deputy PM, “In the long run it would be better for the Church and better for people of faith, and better for Anglicans, if the Church and the State were to stand on their own two separate feet.”
Here one has to admit mournfully that, while disagreeing with people one respects is always hard, agreeing, even partially, with those one despises is harder still.
This is one of such thorny situations for, as a matter of abstract principle, I agree that Church and state should not have any institutional power over each other. They are, after all, responsible for different realms.
This assertion has the weight of scriptural authority behind it: “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18: 36) or “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22: 21)
General historical observation also suggests that whenever a state lorded it over the Church or, come to that, vice versa, this compromised both by pulling them out of their natural realms and into uncharted territory.
When after the disintegration of the Roman Empire the Church had to assume secular authority by default, it was filling a dangerous vacuum of power. In a way the Church had to usurp secular authority as Europe was falling into the kind of free-for-all chaos that could threaten not only civic order but indeed the survival of the Church itself.
The Church thereby descended to a level where it found itself on the receiving end of the slings and arrows hitherto reserved for lay authority. Its core business suffered as a result, and that’s when the seeds of the Reformation were planted.
Conversely, when the Church becomes an addendum to the state, the latter invariably rides roughshod over the former. Anyone wishing to contest this observation would have to find some doctrinal justification for homomarriage, which the Church of England has more or less countenanced.
Such a search would be in vain: in this instance, as in many others, the state imposed secular values on the Church – and not just any old secular values but those egregiously contravening Christian doctrine.
Russia, as she so often does, provides the most grotesque example of the state subjugating the Church. Ever since Peter I grabbed the reins of ecclesiastic authority, the Russian Church has been a state puppet, to the point of most of its current hierarchs being life-long agents of the secret police.
Even in pre-Bolshevik times the state tended to embrace the Church too tightly, mauling it in the process. This was illustrated by the comic clerical error as a result of which Nicholas I put the Metropolitan Philaret in command of a hussar regiment.
So all in all I agree that separating Church and state is an arguable abstract idea. But if we eschew generalities and put the concept within the specifically English context, both historical and present, the situation changes – especially if we consider the current source of this idea.
As a confirmed socialist, Nick, after all, is heir to the revolutionary tradition of the Enlightenment. For those within this tradition, separation of Church and state is among their most cherished dogmas.
Since atheism (sometimes camouflaged as deism) has always been integral to this tradition, one is tempted to think that revolutionaries like Robespierre, Jefferson or Lenin didn’t have the best interests of Christianity close to heart.
What they craved was power over their residually Christian flock, a desideratum that necessitated undermining the Church’s moral authority over the state. For, while its claim to secular authority was dubious, the Church was entitled to sit in moral judgment over the state.
When Christ spoke of his kingdom being not of this world, he left his listeners in no doubt that his kingdom was higher than this world. Therefore, when the West was still called Christendom, the Church’s remit was to keep the state on a moral straight and narrow, mitigating its excesses.
Since all modern states came out of the Enlightenment, they found this situation intolerable. Hence the idea of separation of Church and state, acting not so much as a means of protecting the Church from state tyranny as a stratagem for marginalising the Church as a moral and social dynamic.
Larceny being a telltale sign of any post-Enlightenment state, the US Constitution coyly eschews the phrase ‘separation of church and state’. Instead the First Amendment states only that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
But in his comments both before and after the ratification Thomas Jefferson was unequivocal: this amendment, he gloated, built “a wall of separation between Church and State”. Since Jefferson, along with most other Founders, was a visceral hater of Trinitarian Christianity, he felt that this construction project had been completed none too soon.
Jefferson was an Enlightenment revolutionary, but the American version of this tradition was milder than the French and the Russian ones, if ultimately as detrimental to the survival of Christendom. Clegg, on the under hand, comes from a much more radical heritage, and his advocacy of disestablishment must be viewed in that context.
He doesn’t really mean that disestablishment would be “better for the Anglicans”. Given today’s situation, it’ll only be better for the likes of him, those who have devoted their whole careers to constitutional vandalism.
England’s ancient constitution is based on a monarch whose right to reign is under the auspices of Parliament amalgamated with, indeed derived from, the English Common Law.
The monarch’s person links the generations past, present and future along essentially the same timeline as the Church. Both are inseparable parts of the constitution of which Parliament is the repository, guardian and enforcer.
Removing the Church from the constitutional settlement would mean neutering both the monarchy and Parliament, which would leave England’s constitution lying in ruins.
This is exactly the end Clegg craves. Our constitution, whatever is left of it, is the last obstacle in the way of Britain becoming a province of the European Union – with Nick possibly shaking the dust of Little England off his feet to claim a post in the government of Greater Europe.
For anyone aware of this context, Nick’s advocacy of disestablishment precludes any serious discussion. One’s knee jerks and the words ‘not on your Nellie!’ spurt out as if by themselves.
A pity, that. For the issue does merit serious discussion.