religion and the state 6.25.2005

In Granada, Spain, there is a great Cathedral. It was built by the Catholics in the 1500's right after Ferdinand and Isabel conquered the Moors in the region. It's an interesting Cathedral in that it was built right smack dab in the middle of the arabic market. Apparently, as a statement to the conquered Islamic Moors, the Catholic kings leveled several square blocks of the old arabic marketplace, destroying countless stores in the process, in order to build a Cathedral which is almost rediculously out of perportion to the two story market place buildings that surround it.

It's an impressive cathedral; my wife and I ate in a little outdoor cafe just outside the steps of the main entrance. There is something impressive sitting in the courtyard of the main doors of the cathedral, and realizing the church itself is taller than the marketplace courtyard is wide.

It's clearly a political statement of Catholic Power.

Imagine: the primary marketplace where you go to buy your food and clothes and barter with your friends--and half of it is wiped out to build a cathedral for a King who just conquered your people. Everytime you buy food, tea, or clothes, you must walk alongside it's walls, outside it's main door, beneath the gaze of gigantic carvings of saints that aren't your religion: constantly reminded every day that you are a conquered and occupied people. (Nevermind the Moors pretty much did the same damned thing with the construction of the Alhambra, a huge fortification which looms over the entire Albaicin area, built by the Islamic Moors when they conquered the Jews who previously lived in the area.)

And this brings me to a theory of mine as to why Europe is fearful of a U.S. President (of either party) who professes a profound belief in God.

Throughout European history, kings and dictators have all professed a belief in God, and a belief that the laws of the State are supreme and stem from the laws of God. Because of this, religion and politics were intrinsically linked: the placement of a great cathedral in Granada speaks volumes to this point, with the placement of a church being made for political reasons--in order to demonstrate to a conquered people that they were indeed conquered by Catholics.

There is a strong suspiction of religion in Europe, because in many ways religion represents the bad old days of powerful Kings ruling weak people in the name of "God." Most Europeans cling to their kings as a link to the good ol' days--and so they blaim religion as the reason why people were (for the most part) miserable during most of Europe's last 2,000 years.

In the United States, we have always had some degree of separation of church and state. While this separation hasn't always been as deep as it is now, with some states in the 1800's using religious belief testing to determine if someone was allowed to run for public office, this separation has gone a long ways to separating the politicization of religion.

In many ways, Europe and America aren't speaking the same language because of this difference in history. When our President professes a profound belief in God, we know for the most part that he is expressing a profound personal belief. We may worry that this belief may interfear with his decision making ability, but we know implicitly that this belief at best has an indirect relationsip with the policies and procedures that our President may inact. (If that is positive or negative is simply a matter of debate.)

When Europeans, with 2,000 years of history where one's belief and one's politics are intrinsically tied together, when our President expresses a profund religious belief, Europeans hear two things. First, they hear a President make a profound political statement. When religion and politics are not separate, as they are in Europe, any religious statement is intrinsically a political statement--and carries a lot of consequences that our President may not intend. Second, and worse, when Europeans hear a President express a belief in God, they hear an invocation of their bad old days, when a Spanish Inquisition or an English King would put thousands to death for daring to profess the wrong belief, and where troops would march across the land in order to consolidate religious (and thus, political) power.

It also explains why Europeans have become increasingly secularized. Because they do not have the same history as we do with the separation of faith and politics, for Europeans to become more religiously tolerant necessarly means Europeans must become, well, less religious. In Europe, perhaps half express any belief in God, while in the United States (where religion is free of political consequences), more than 90% express belief in God.

It also explains why Europeans are now flirting with statism, as they flirted with totalitarianism and fascism in the past 50 years: even though Europeans have factored express religious beliefs out of the equation, they've done so by giving up religion. But they haven't even started to question the relationship between the people and their government: Europe still clings to the divine right of Kings and of the State--they've simply given up on God as part of the flow of power from the top down. So it's easy to convert to Statism: the supremecy of the State, from Monarchy: the supremecy of the divine King.

Europe couldn't even conceive of government flowing from the people, as we do: for this to happen they would need a complete revolution of thought. And that is not about to happen.

Religion in Europe is intrinsically political because of their lack of separation of Church and State. And European Political-Religion no longer has a place on the modern stage. Too bad they've replaced it with worship of the State instead.

posted by William Woody at 3:57 PM

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A moderate conservative living in the left coast, surrounded by the sureal, wonders if there is a sane life living amongst those who have lost touch with reality.

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