The Secular and the Sacred: Nation, Religion, and Politics

The Secular and the Sacred: Nation, Religion, and Politics

The Secular and the Sacred: Nation, Religion, and Politics

The Secular and the Sacred: Nation, Religion, and Politics

Synopsis

The relationship of religion to freedom and democracy has been a matter of controversy throughout known history. Locke believed that religion is not compatible with individual freedom or democracy. These essays explore the links between nation, religion and politics.

Excerpt

William Safran

The place of religion in politics is at once a reflection of the extent of free choice of expression and the matrix around which a national culture and identity develop. Religion has functioned as a mechanism of social control, a rival to the welfare state and a brake to modernization. Many generations ago, religion and politics were inseparable; indeed, the state was, more often than not, a secular manifestation of the dominant faith. Many rulers of antiquity argued that they derived their authority and legitimacy from God, not from the people they ruled, and justified their absolute power on the basis of their divine right to rule. the Jewish nation and, subsequently, the Jewish state, were based on a contract with God, made through Moses, that committed them to obey revealed law; similarly, the Greek state's security and prosperity depended upon the grace of the various gods.

During the Middle Ages, a distinction was made between the cross and the sword, that is, between the spiritual and the terrestrial power; yet the supremacy of the Church in Europe was unchallenged by a secular state, because the state in the modern sense did not yet exist. in fact, the early Christian churches insisted that their sovereignty was supranational. the Holy Roman Emperor was anointed by the Pope; during the Protestant Reformation later on, monarchs, basing themselves on the principle of cujus regio, ejus religio, decided which religion was to be 'established', and they became its heads and 'defenders'. Certain nations were so deeply imbued with a collective religious faith that they came to be identified in terms of it. Spanish, Irish and Polish nationalisms were congruent with Roman Catholicism and equated with it. Until the Revolution of 1789 (and except for a brief interlude in the seventeenth century), 'Frenchness' was defined so thoroughly in terms of Catholicism that France was considered 'the eldest daughter of the church'. Analogous situations are found in other countries: thus, Russian and Greek nationalisms have been closely associated with Eastern Orthodoxy; and the 'Arab nation' is difficult to imagine without Islam.

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