The Catholic Thing
Worshipping the State Print E-mail
By George J. Marlin   
Wednesday, 01 May 2013

The prime objective of secularists in modern times has been to “free” us all from the influence (The burden, they’d say) of Christianity. Just how they have gone about destroying that influence on the course of human affairs is ably described in Dr. Benjamin Wiker’s new book Worshipping the State:  How Liberalism Became our State Religion.

Wiker, who has taught at Franciscan University and Thomas Aquinas College, holds that the raison d’être of secular philosophers’ has been to reduce Christianity’s hold on Western culture, and either to subordinate the Church to the state or to establish a rival civic religion that would make the Church irrelevant – or impotent.

In Wiker’s telling, it was Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) who “invented the absolute separation of church and state that is the hallmark of liberalism.”  His hope was to deny the Church any moral power and to subordinate it to the secular sovereign.

Machiavelli insisted that for a prince to survive he must “learn to be able not to be good,” hence he must be free from the moral restraints the Church imposes, even on a head of state.

Machiavelli does argue, however, that the ruthless prince should appear pious and if necessary use the Church to control the unenlightened masses.

Twenty-three years after his death, Machiavelli’s notions on the relationship of state and Church were utilized at the Peace of Augsburg (1555). The European monarchs agreed to a compromise known cuius regio, eius religio, “whose realm, his religion.” Each state was to determine its own established Church.

The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), author of Leviathan, built on Machiavelli’s political philosophy to undermine the “seditious” influence of religion. Hobbes, Wiker points out, “concluded that the political problem was the existence of any notion of religion independent of the political power. . . . Christianity itself had to be reformed in a Machiavellian way so that it would support the state rather than continually challenging it.”

Hobbes, the first proponent of the totalitarian state, dismissed the Church’s doctrine of sin insisting: “there was no sin and no right and wrong until the sovereign declares them to be so.” Natural rights do not come from God, but from the state. If there is to be a Church, it will be state controlled.

Dr. Wiker persuasively arguers that modern liberals adopted Hobbes’ notion of “moral relativism, and of an entirely secular materialistic foundation for politics.” The difference? Instead of the sovereign king determining what is right or wrong, the sovereign individual would define his own values.

             Click on the book to order Worshipping the State from TCT

The next philosopher to advance the case for the secular state was Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677). The leaders of his Jewish faith excommunicated Spinoza, primarily because he was a pantheist who “makes a god of this world and thus completely undermines the entire Judeo-Christian understanding of reality that flows from the creator – creature distinction in Genesis.”

In Spinoza’s view, the secular state is the “greatest manifestation of the divine.” A state-sponsored church would be available merely to promote the agenda of the state to the “plebs,” the dumb common people.

Such a church would be dogma-free and its core belief would be reduced to “love of neighbor,” in other words being nice. By love, Wiker writes, “Spinoza meant minding one’s own business, not bothering others but just getting along – in a word, tolerance. . . .Spinoza enshrines doctrinal tolerance as the supreme virtue in the established secular liberal church.”

While Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Spinoza encouraged the sovereign to use the Church to achieve secular goals, it was Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) who held “that Christianity is wholly incompatible with the new secular order and . . . must be superseded, replaced by an entirely new religion completely defined by the secular political project.”

For Rousseau, there is no “Body of Christ” only a “Body Politic.” He called for a pagan civil religion that requires the complete devotion of its citizenry.

The basis of his radical egalitarian religion is tolerance. Sexuality is liberated from Church restraints; marriage is not sanctioned by God but is defined by the state in a civil contract. According to Rousseau, “whoever dares to say there is no salvation outside the Church should be chased out of the State, unless the State is the Church, and the prince is the pontiff.”

Wiker concludes that these four philosophers laid the groundwork for the liberal secular revolution in the United States. Their joint influence has reduced morality to hedonism, bodily pleasures. Rights have been redefined as desires. Evil is the result of a bad environment, not inherently wrong choices.

Wiker rightly asserts that in the United States, “secular liberalism has definite moral beliefs, quite different from Christian morality, which liberals are trying to impose by governmental force: contraception, abortion, infanticide, sexual libertinism, easy divorce, the continual redefinition of marriage, euthanasia, and so on.”

The Obama Administration’s move to force the Church to provide insurance coverage for contraception and abortion is just the most recent example of the state attempting to impose its views in the name of “tolerance.”

Dr. Wiker proves that ideas do indeed have consequences. In the secular state, freedom no longer means choosing what is right or just; it now means doing whatever one feels like doing. The act of choosing is all that matters. Choosing in itself becomes the ultimate value. Without absolute truths to measure actions, willingness becomes willfulness. What is an irrational action in Judeao-Christian teaching has now been elevated to a necessary principle.

George J. Marlin is an editor of The Quotable Fulton Sheen and the author of The American Catholic VoterHis most recent book is Narcissist Nation: Reflections of a Blue-State Conservative.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (19)Add Comment
written by Gian, May 01, 2013
So, to oppose Machiavelli, an absolute separation of state and church must be resisted. Now, the state is either informed by the Church or it would be informed in an inimical way. Neutrality is possible with respect to Hindu religion, for instance, but not with Catholic Church, as per the words of Jesus.

Thus, the American ideal of separate spheres of Church and State is unworkable. That is, it works only to the detriment of the Church. What is required is the inform the State with the ideals of the Church. This, I may see, is the ideal debated in the Brothers Karamazov. But it is strange to find it in an American setting.
written by Manfred, May 01, 2013
O.K., O.K., Now we know the "mechanics" of how this has been working for centuries. Your article stops where every Catholic article stops. Here is the question: HOW ARE INTELLIGENT, SERIOUS ROMAN CATHOLICS TO RESPOND TO THIS WAR ON THE CHURCH?
written by Deacon Ed Peitler, May 01, 2013
There will have to come a time when the Catholic Church no longer recognizes civil marriages because, by definition, there is no longer any commonality between the Church's and the State's definition of marriage. The Catholic Church will be forced to end its accommodation to secular society that has been going on since the Reformation and begin to engage society on Her terms. But this will require leaders in the Church with foresight and moral resolve. But lest anyone fret, the Holy Spirit has the Church's back and will provide.
written by Jacob, May 01, 2013
"How are intelligent, serious Roman Catholics to respond to this war on the Church?"

Stop stabbing coreligionists in the back. Realize that being the leaven in society doesn't mean becoming enthusiastic about its favorite sins. Boycott anti-Christian technology companies like Google and projects like Wikipedia. Boycott anti-Christian media. Create orthodox Catholic alternatives. Boycott government programs and do all private charity. Use the freedom of not taking government assistance to establish authentic Catholic communities. Spend all the time you save not working for the government welcoming in all the people who hang around church every weekend but leave because no one has time to teach them about Catholicism!

(This only seems so difficult for older, "wiser" Catholics--the Nancy Pelosi Generation.)
written by WSquared, May 01, 2013
"Evil is the result of a bad environment, not inherently wrong choices."

...funny, then, how an aggregate of inherently wrong choices produce a bad environment. The devil, we like to say, is in the details.
written by Dennis, May 01, 2013
It was in the Spring of 1970 that Eric Voegelin was teaching a class in political theory at Notre Dame. A young student radical made a comment of some sort and Voegelin said, "I will ask you five questions."

I remember three of these questions, to each of which the student answered in the affirmative : "Do you believe the state should control education? Do you believe in the strict separation of Church and State? [And most important to my thinking] Do you believe that the line of demarcation between Church and State should be drawn by the state?" When the student answered 'Yes" to each of the above, Voegelin replied, "Then you my young friend are a fascist. You are a Nazi. You believe what the Nazis believed. I was there in 1933 at the University of Munich. There were many young men like you. They believed what you believe. They were Nazis. And you are a Nazi."

The student radical was completely flummoxed while the few conservative students in the room roared.

I think more and more that it will never do to continue to send 9 of 10 Catholic children to be schooled in atheist government schools, where they learn pious civics platitudes, and where they learn not to think.
written by maineman, May 01, 2013
To Manfred's plea, I would offer the following:

First, we should be clear that, in liberalism, we are dealing with religious fanaticism. That is the central tenet of this article.

Second, we should be wary of engaging in the similar heresy of Americanism, since there is an obvious temptation for those of us who do not hate, but love, the ideals upon which this country was founded to engage in idolatry, not mere patriotism.

Third, here is a helpful quote from C.S. Lewis:

“I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”
written by Timothy, May 01, 2013
Dennis, I like your post. If you ever think of the other two questions, it would be great to know what they were.
written by Beddoo, May 01, 2013
@ Manfred...what are we supposed to do? The answer to that question is obvious, Manfred. Go back to the days of divine right monarchies--you know where every ruler was crowned by the pope. Then you never have to worry about the encroachment of the secular state again.

If you follow the doctrines of these kooks to their logical end, that's pretty much where you end up.
written by Dennis, May 01, 2013

Regards. I've tried for over forty years to remember the other questions. I've asked classmates who also were there: they recall the exchange with Rick L. and the fact that there were five questions, but none of us can remember the other two. It was quite a class that day.
written by Chris in Maryland, May 01, 2013
In reply to Manfred's Question...Among other things:

1st - openly admit exactly how bad things are in The Church in the US and the world...for example, in the US, I believe Russell Shaw indicates only 20% of 75 million baptized Catholics fulfill the obligation for Sunday Mass - stop pretending that there isn't a gigantic crisis in the US Church (not trying to pick on him...but, for example of what's wrong - I heard that the Pres. of the USCCB recently dismissed the notion of the crisis at a speech to the Knights of Columbus).

2nd - The Church in US and other countries should sever all monetary ties to the State - period.

3rd - fund down-sized parish schools from tithes of Church going adults/families to form Catholic children in Catholic faith.

4th - Laity going to Church every Sunday should increasingly demand/work toward the dismantling the wall of secrecy erected by many Bishops and many "self-styled" Catholic institutions that inhibit Catholic parents/adults from finding out about institutionalized dissent and corruption at colleges (e.g., the mandatum), seminaries, hospitals and charities.

5th - demand/work to attain full transparency/audit of where all money is flowing in from the government and other sources, and outflow of all Church money.
written by Frank, May 01, 2013
@Dennis...I applaud your story and encourage you to post the two questions if you ever do remember them.
How much will these madness end? i don't know but if history is any indicator, the French Revolution may provide the insight. The Reign of Terror finally imploded on itself claiming as victims, those who started it in the first place.
written by Tony Esolen, May 01, 2013
My reading of Voegelin is LONG overdue! Thank you, Dennis.

There are four forms of religion, as I see them. I categorize them by these names: Baal, Pharaoh, Adam, Christ.

Baal denotes the worship of nature. Pharaoh denotes the worship of the state. Adam denotes the worship of the self. Amazing, that anybody who loves mankind and freedom would turn from Christ to Pharaoh -- unless he's a suckup to Pharaoh, or he thinks Pharaoh will let him be debauched. But man loves slavery.
written by Christophe, May 01, 2013
The primary problem is that the Church in Vatican II (Dignitatis Humanae) and after Vatican II has bought into the secular paradigm -- individuals have a right to believe in any religion or in no religion, and the Church has actively sought to destroy the confessional Catholic State.

How can we complain about the secular assault on the Church when the Church herself accepts the secular premise that choice is the ultimate value?
written by Dennis, May 02, 2013
I think the best introduction to Voegelin is his slender book, Science Politics and Gnosticism.
written by Chris in Maryland, May 02, 2013
Amen Tony Esolen.
written by eddie too, May 02, 2013
i do not quite see how "Choosing in itself becomes the ultimate value." since denying people the power to choose is what the state appears to be intent on doing.

will americans be free to choose not to finance abortion?

to me, the secular has chosen more to follow nietzche's "will to power" than locke and spinoza's secular religion.

america today seems to be huge numbers of people seeking to force their vision on many others through the use of force, not because of any particular set of principles but because they can.

principles of any sort seem to be sorely lacking in secular society. choice is an illusion fostered by those determined to rule over others.
written by BuzzD, May 02, 2013
Unfortunately, our Episcopacy is complicit
written by Defender, November 30, 2013
The bottom line of Benjamin Wiker's thesis is that we should replace the worship of 'liberal secular' state as a pseudo-religion with a pseudo-religion of right-wing conservatism. No matter how you are slicing it, you are still subverting your Catholic faith. Time to decide, which are you, a Catholic first, or a republican?

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