Church-State Relationships in America

By Gerard V. Bradley | Go to book overview

Introduction

What persons believe to be ultimately true forms the core of their "religion" and influences, when it does not control, every significant decision they make. 1 Besides directing the purely spiritual life and affecting sundry matters of mere life-style, religious beliefs inform such decisions as choosing a spouse, how many spouses--both concurrently and consecutively--one may choose in a lifetime, how spousal obligations are defined, family size, selection of a profession, and schools for one's children. More important, what people believe to be ultimately true invariably begets some kind of moral code that determines how they treat others. Whether it be the Decalogue, the Golden Rule, or the principled egoism of Ayn Rand, religiously grounded morality supervenes and trumps society's own assignment of duties as contained in the law. The U.S. Supreme Court has made this primacy of conscience the sine qua non of its definition of religion as a "faith, to which all else is subordinate or upon which all else is ultimately dependent." 2 This intimate relation is hardly coincidental. Theologian Langdon Gilkey observes: "if one holds . . . that God is the ever-present ground of all of our existence . . . then necessarily our being and our activity will in every facet disclose a religious dimension." 3

The political significance of religious belief is not comprised solely of the public repercussions of these individual, more or less private, decisions. Each of the three great Western religions--Judaism, Christianity, Islam--characteristically subsumes all history within it, as does a characteristically American faith, Mormonism. Put differently, the claims of those religions encompass the fates of persons and nations, and if true, are true for believer and nonbeliever alike. Adherents therefore (and again necessarily) perceive their fate, and the

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