Christianity and the Separation of Church and State

This document addresses a popular but irrational interpretation of “the separation of church and state.” It’s a fairly common belief today that the separation of church means that the government is required to operate in a completely neutral way when it comes to religion. I would like to explain why this view is both irrational and dangerous to liberty. As I’ve said before, philosophical neutrality is fallacious and when an interpretation of the constitution is irrational, it could easily lead to tyranny.

The Founders’ Thoughts

It is possible that some of the founders believed they were neutral to all religions, but it is clear that they didn’t design a system of government that would actually work that way. The constitution merely disallowed the federal government to govern what they considered to be the exercise of religion. It is well known that the founders didn’t want the federal government specifying certain matters for the states or for the individual. The problem is that they also made claims based on the existence of God, that did apply to everyone. Unfortunately for us, the range of practices considered to be personal choices and the ones considered to be moral and virtuous for all, are not really self-evident to everyone today. As Christians, we must realize that no matter what the constitution’s problems are, our God is real, what He demands of government is not optional for anyone.

We do know that many of the founders favored Christian principles and those principles were reflected in the things they said and wrote. Here’s what some of the prominent founders of the United States said:

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim tribute to patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness — these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. . . . reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles.” – George Washington, First President of the United States, Farewell Address

“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” – John Adams, Second President of the United States

“Providence has given to our people the choice of their ruler, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.” – John Jay, First Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, Second Governor of New York

The Absurd Results of Religious Neutrality

No matter what a person believes about it, complete religious neutrality isn’t possible. It isn’t achievable because religions frequently define opposing sets of requirements. At best, a government can only pretend to be religiously neutral. Consider the religious practices of human sacrifice and cannibalism. If the United States government were really neutral, it would be required to allow these things to take place. It’s obvious to most of us that the government should not allow this, but by not allowing it, the government isn’t really being neutral.

This pretended neutrality also makes it easier for a government to destroy itself. We have seen this appear in the United States as some have suggested that the system of government itself is not neutral and must be dismantled. This is a crafty method of revolution because even if the government is torn down, a new non-neutral government will fill the void.

Over 100 years ago, a well respected pastor in England named J. C. Ryle, gave us this warning:

“To tell us that a Government must leave religion alone, because it cannot promote it without favouring one Church more than another, is simply absurd. It is equivalent to saying that, as we cannot do good to everybody, we are to sit still and do no good at all.”

J. C. Ryle (J.C. Ryle on the Government’s Role)

Opening a Door to Tyranny

When a government pretends to be religiously neutral, it damages the rule of law. It enables a tyranny to be empowered by a well known philosophical error. In logic, it’s well established that if you allow a single inconsistency in your worldview, it can be used to prove anything you want it to. This is sometimes called The Principle of Explosion. If a person can convince you to believe in a contradiction, it paves the way for them to manipulate you. If an inconsistency is used as a means of government, it can be used as a manipulation technique to make all of its behavior seem reasonable when it really isn’t.

If a government doesn’t admit its bias, it actually opens the door to tyranny. By choosing when it will pretend to be neutral and when it will not, it can make its subjective philosophy dominant over the objective philosophy of others. Since the founders intended our country to be governed by law not people, the only workable interpretation of the separation of church and state must be one that allows the government to continue to operate by law. The only way for a society to be governed by the rule of law instead of man is for that law to ultimately be in subordination to God’s law. This is a Christian principle and it was a common belief in the west at the time our government was being formed.

What Christians Believe about Government

Christians firmly believe that each person’s decision to become a Christian is personal and autonomous. If a person were to be forced to become a Christian, they would not really be a Christian. Christians also believe that whether or not you choose to be a Christian, all mankind must obey certain civil laws. These civil laws are clear and obvious in the Bible. They include things like fornication, theft, murder and lying in court. The Bible teaches that Christian morality is to be upheld, even among non-Christians. Because Christian principles are based on God’s law in the Bible, no man or government can avoid or change them. This standard exposes human tyranny and promotes liberty because every individual knows that they are free to think and speak as long as they live within the clear and simple civil laws of God provided in the Bible.

Conscience

Some might wonder how Christians would expect non-Christians to abide by their Bible’s civil laws? The answer is that God has placed a conscience into each person, whether they choose to become a Christian or not. For instance, even in places where the Bible isn’t known, people know that murder is wrong. They also know that cheating, theft and taking someone else’s wife is wrong. The problem is that mankind tends to purposefully corrupt his conscience in order do things that give him pleasure. A person’s inner compass can be suppressed. God’s written civil laws go along with a person’s conscience and a good government merely enforces that conscience so that people can live together in freedom and harmony. This may be distasteful to those who are accustomed to living for their own passions in spite of their conscience, but it is the best thing for them and for their community. More importantly, it is what God, or Creator requires.

Further Reading

J.C. Ryle on the Government’s Role
Read more about what a honorable pastor and follower of the Bible said about the the Church and state.

Rebuilding America’s Foundation
This is something I wrote as I lamented the moral deterioration of the United States. It contains some more quotes that you may want to see by American leaders regarding the Christian worldview that forms the foundation of the American republic.

The Fallacy of Neutrality
I develop the Pretended Neutrality Fallacy a little bit more in this article demonstrating that it is immediately self-refuting.

Exploring the Limits of Civil Government
This document does a better job of explaining the true role of government. The reason that there is a separation of church and state is because God is the only one who gives authority to men and He made the distinction between the two. This is an exploration of the doctrine of governmental authority.

The Christian foundations of the rule of law in the West: a legacy of liberty and resistance against tyranny
This is a very detailed document that discusses issues regarding the history and application of the rule of law in western governments.

220 Days in Luke – Day 103: The Separation of Church and State
I also commented on this subject in my devotional commentary in the book of Luke. You can find that here.

A “Neutral” Government?

If philosophical neutrality is a fallacy, as I previously asserted, then building a government on this philosophy is a critically serious problem.  It appears to be a trend in governments across the world and it looks like a plan forged by the powers of darkness to me.

Peace does not come by the careful application of a fallacy.  It only comes through love and proper reasoning and that will mean that those who are thinking irrationally will have to be exposed.  That exposure doesn’t feel very good and some will fight to death over it, but I know from experience that true humility brings peace when we are finally willing to admit that we are wrong.

I was reading a report from a few years ago, about a Canadian ruling that was addressing the contents of prayers before meetings.  I am told that they were warning that there are prayers that may not be legal.  This appears to be a clear case of philosophical absolutism to me.  The United States has it share of the same kind of thing, as do other countries.

We may be tempted to assert that a government should stay out of speech related issues, but in reality, how can they?  A government must assert a philosophy of some kind or else it cannot function.  It has no choice.  The problem with what governments are doing is that the philosophy they are asserting is often irrational.  You can’t rationally assert a philosophy that assumes that no philosophy should be asserted. A government built on a foundation of irrationality is in no position to bring about peace or anything else.

With great sorrow, I see the problem again in the recent speeches of both President Trump and Vice-President Pence.  Their words sound like an attempt to respect all religions and creeds, even though it is obvious that they can’t.  In many of the same speeches, they rightly express that that there are certain creeds and religions that they do not respect, such as those that kill people or promote the destruction of the United States or disrespect its constitution.  Are these not creeds and religions?  This is confusing to say the least.  That’s not what made America great.

If they intend to go back to America’s foundation, they must return to the doctrine of Christian tolerance which asserts that although Christians don’t respect other creeds and religions, they do tolerate them to a degree in civil life, because that’s what Jesus expects us to do until He chooses to deal with them Himself.  Christian tolerance is built on the concepts of free will, grace (meaning favoring others when they don’t really deserve it), and the fact that Jesus is still alive and able to take care of the wicked without our help.  Christians desire that all men will come to know Jesus by willingly accepting His offer.  This means that, according to Christian tolerance, there can be no force when it comes to individual choice either.  This is the basis for American liberty and it also happens to be non-neutral.

So why is this a big deal?  It’s because it’s this issue that leads a people toward either liberty or tyranny.  If a government doesn’t have the authority over life, liberty and personal property, it definitely doesn’t have authority over the Creator that endowed those rights.  Any government that thinks it does that is indicating that it believes it is the supreme authority in certain matters.  Even if taking God’s place isn’t intentional, that’s what is being communicated and it leaves the door open to serious future problems.  Even now we are seeing the desire for philosophical respect drive the followers of various ideas to converge against Christianity, asking that it either comply or be silenced by “civil” government.  Since Christian tolerance is the basis for our liberty,  freedom as we know it is in serious danger.  What governments must do is to acknowledge that their right to rule comes from the God of the Bible, the true One that the Christians have acknowledged.

Other brands of neutral thinking have already been used in the west and have failed quite miserably at critical times.  Recall that Neville Chamberlain attempted to bring peace in his time using a method that would allow the UK to respect Hitler’s choices.  President FDR signed a peace agreement with Japan in a similar gesture right before we entered the war.  It’s important for us to remember how well those things worked out.  How about those Israeli peace agreements?

It’s important to ask ourselves: What good is peace if freedom is taken away?    There is a way for peace and freedom to coexist, but it depends on Christian philosophy, because that’s the only way they fit together without the government becoming an irrational tyrant.


 

The Fallacy of Neutrality

Neutrality is actually a fallacy. That’s because “neutrality” is a position.

A person who decides to be neutral is taking a position of neutrality, therefore, they are not being neutral.   They are relying on a self-refuting logical argument. Not only that, they are implying that every philosophy that takes a position is wrong, usually while convincing themselves that it is an expression of tolerance!

It is not unusual to hear people assert that they come to scientific evidence neutrally, but this a denial of the obvious fact that everyone takes a position.  Evidence can’t talk (even though some say it speaks for itself). Evidence requires a method of interpretation or else the “evidence” is just a set of objects without significance.  To deny the method of interpretation is another way to deny taking a position.

It is also common for nations, business and individuals to claim the be neutral in regard to religious beliefs.  Once again, this attempt to tolerate them all, denies them all since all of them are asserting their own position.  Just because a person claims to not be doing something, doesn’t mean that that is what they are actually doing.  You can claim to love someone while harming them.  The same thing happens when a person claims to be religiously neutral and then disallows any of them to be expressed.  The fact is that a secular position is being promoted under the disguise of “neutrality.”

The claim: “I am neutral” is itself a non-neutral claim because it assumes that “Neutrality exists.” Asserting this claim, is taking a position against those who don’t believe it exists. When a person asserts a position, they are not being neutral. Therefore, the claim that neutrality exists is a fallacy.  Dr. Jason Lisle calls this fallacy: “The Pretended Neutrality Fallacy” in his book “The Ultimate Proof of Creation”.

Both Evolutionists and Creationists aren’t really neutral. They may convince themselves that they are, but by choosing to believe in neutrality they are not only taking a position, they are being irrational. It’s understandable that evolutionists would be irrational, because they don’t have a basis for logic or morality in their worldview, but Christians actually have a moral obligation to be rational because it’s biblical.

Christians are supposed to be honest about the fact that they are not neutral. Jesus said that people were either for Him or against Him. He never said that there were people who were “on the fence.” Instead, He made it clear that the fence didn’t exist. By doing this, He exposed everyone’s position. Claiming to be neutral is to say that Jesus is wrong. When you say that Jesus is wrong, you taking a very bold, non-neutral position.

So, the claim that a person is neutral is fallacious because it is based on the non-neutral position that neutrality exists.  Christians should be aware of this and not be persuaded by the fallacy of neutrality.