Utne Blogs > Mind and Body

Church and State, Reconsidered

by Staff


Tags: Spirituality, Church, State, Religion, Politics,

Church and StateWhen most people talk about the “separation of church and state,” the idea is to protect the state from the church. People work hard to keep “Intelligent Design” out of the public schools, believing that public life is already too religious. This may be true, but Steven Goldberg argues in the book Bleached Faith, that it’s religion that needs protection from the influence of public life.

“It is a sign of weakness—an admission that religion needs artificial life support—to push religious symbols into the smothering embrace of government,” Goldberg writes in the introduction to his book. Intelligent design in the classroom, over-sized menorahs in public buildings, and the Ten Commandments—dubbed by Goldberg as the “Nike Swoosh of religion”—in the courts don’t strengthen faith. Forcing religious imagery into public life actually cheapens religion and spirituality.

“The strength of real religion in America today is not undercut by the limits on government-supported religion in public settings,” Goldberg argues. Though many groups continue to test those limits. Writing for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Rob Boston breaks down “a laundry list” of organizations with clear religious motives that are receiving big money from the federal government. Teen Challenge, for example, is a drug prevention program that works by “applying biblical principles and establishing a chemical free lifestyle.” The organization was recently granted $587,514 in federal money, in part to work inside of public schools.

Many in the religious community, however, understand that politics and religion don’t mix well. In a recent survey by the National Association of Evangelicals, the vast majority of evangelical leaders came out unequivocally opposed to using their churches to endorse candidates. One university president put the issue in stark terms saying, “the pulpit is not the place for electioneering.”

Bennett Gordon

Image by Chris Phan, licensed under Creative Commons.

michael l. gooch
4/11/2008 6:25:34 PM

I really enjoyed the way this article presents the case for spirituality and the seperation of Church and State. I would like to note that the seperation of Church and Business is also a slippery slope but one which is critical to long term sucess (emphasis on long term) with the warning that too often, businesses may tiptoe over the line. The connection between business success and business failure is obvious to those who want to scratch beneath the surface. In my new HR book, Wingtips with Spurs, the longest chapter in the book is devoted to the spirit and the successful career. It also covers the connectiveness of our actions and the important of spiritual wisdom. http://www.michaellgooch.com


mick
4/9/2008 2:09:09 PM

Why should churches not be taxed? I've never understood this. Seriously, why should organizations that teach /spew really stupid ideas be exempt from income tax. why is stupidity given a tax break? My christian bible teaches it's ok to stone a woman who commits adultery to death. it also teaches stoning unruly children to death is ok. it also condonces incest while expressing hatred and eternal damnation to anyone who does not accept jesus. that's hate speech by any other name, Why give tax breaks to organizations that promote lunacy? Seriously.


paul burnett
4/9/2008 1:23:00 PM

In America, there is no "the religious community" - there are a large number of "religious communities," some of whom are sworn enemies. There are more Buddhists than Presbyterians, more Moslems than Episcopalians, more Jews than in Israel - and there's lots of closet atheists and agnostics (and some out of the closet). Some of the Christian Reconstructionists and Theocratic Dominionists want everybody else who is not in exact agreement with them executed or deported. The fundamentalists who are backing stealth creationism are scamming state legislatures in Florida and Missouri and Texas and other states, abusing the political process to get Genesis taught by its other name ("intelligent design creationism") taught in public schools - in spite of "You can't do that!" rulings by the US Supreme Court and Federal courts. The "state" desperately and urgently needs protection from some of these whackos. http://www.paulburnett.com/creation.htm


william mercer
4/9/2008 1:15:16 PM

Churches are tax exempt, rightfully so. This administration has stepped over the line by dumping tons of money into faith-based programs. Okay some of them undoubtedly do good work but then there are those who refuse to hire anyone who is not a so-called "Christian"...like the Salvation Army whom I have stopped supporting. If it is a government policy to help honest, non-denominational religious agencies then it is possible to accept that. BUT then the various religious groups turn to demanding prayer in public schools...that is PUBLIC...at public high school football games...that is PUBLIC....now weadling there way into a position in public schools by have BIBLE classes..(some have already been discontinued because of religious prejudice) I could better accept a study of the relgions of the world but not just the Christian Bible. Putting symbols on government land, buildings, public places where all religions congregate is interference in my and the public's right to not be proselytized. Accept kthe money...stay within the boundaris of the church and DO NOT attempt to take over public schools and public facilities.