Three approaches to religion and culture

In the Latin nations the secular model has prevailed. A sharp distinction is made between the state and the religious bodies, deeming the latter to fall under the private sphere. The state denies that it has a religious foundation and affirms that it is based on reason and rational knowledge. Since reason is inherently fragile, however, these secular systems have proved to be weak, becoming easy targets for dictatorships. They survive only because elements of the old moral conscience have persevered, even without the earlier foundations, enabling the existence of a basic moral consensus.
In the Germanic world, the liberal Protestant model of church and state has prevailed. An enlightened and essentially moral Christian religion has some forms of worship that are supported by the state. This relationship guarantees a moral consensus and a broad religious foundation to which individual non-state religions must adapt. This model has long guaranteed state and social cohesion in Great Britain, the Scandinavian states, and once upon a time also in Prussian-dominated Germany. In Germany, however, the collapse of Prussian State Christianity left a vacuum that would later provide fertile soil for a dictatorship. Today state churches throughout the world are characterized by their fatigue. Moral force — the foundation on which to build — does not emanate from either the religious bodies subservient to the state nor from the state itself.

Situated between the two models is the one adopted by the United States of America. Built on the foundations created by the free churches, it adopts a rigid dogma of separation between church and state. Above and beyond the single denominations, it is characterized by a Protestant Christian consensus that is not defined in denominational terms, but rather in association with the country’s sense of a special religious mission toward the rest of the world. The religious sphere thus acquires a significant weight in public affairs and emerges as a pre-political and supra-political force with the potential to have a decisive impact on political life. Of course, one cannot hide the fact that in the United States, also, the Christian heritage is falling apart at an incessant pace, while at the same time the rapid increase in the Hispanic population and the presence of religious traditions from all over the world have altered the picture.