In a recent comment St John Smythe linked to this article from the Washington Post by the Croatian Protestant theologian Miroslav Volf. Volf purports to explain the conditions under which ‘religion’ can become violent and when it remains peaceful. The position is an apologia for Protestantism and yet the ‘reformation’ he espouses surrendered religion into the hands of the state and absolved the state of any obligation to the moral law. ‘Reformation’ precisely transforms religion into an instrument of misdirected temporal ends (soon the to be discarded once it has been used).
His account of the dynamic between religion and politics is absurd when applied to Islam (the article is written ‘in the light of the Paris attacks’).
As history teaches, aspired dominance ends in a religion’s subservience; more often than not, religions become tools in the hands of the powers that be. And when they express the moral unity of a nation and political order with a sacred aura, world religions distort themselves and betray one of their signature features: the alignment of individuals, universal values and religion.
There is no distinction between Church and state in Islam. This distinction is built upon Christian revelation not upon reason. Islam is supposed to express the moral unity of a nation (the Ummah) and political order and it exists to achieve everyone else’s subservience to that order. Volf on the other hand is indeed using Christianity as a tool to justify a liberal political order contrary to the nature of Christian revelation.
His account of the position of the early Christians is false. They did not seek religious freedom but the adoption of the one true religion by the state and the eradication of idolatry. The distinction of church and state is a consequence of the Fall not of the transcendence of God or of man’s end. The transcendence of God and of man’s end is what requires the subjection of the state to the one true religion. Volf’s very use of the category of ‘religion’ is misleading. There is no such thing as ‘religion’ in the sense he uses it. Religion is simply an act by which we render God that which is His due. No culture can establish its norms on the basis of reason alone because the existence of God can be known by reason alone and therefore it can be certainly known by reason alone that man’s end (from which all cultural norms are derived) cannot be ascertained by reason alone but must be discovered through revelation.
False religion (the worship of God contrary to the manner He has appointed) breeds totalitarianism because the adherents do not have the supernatural certainty that ought to accompany God’s authentic revelation. Consequently, they would either have to admit their religion is false or pretend they have that certainty. Because they do not possess the light of faith and their certainty is simulated they cannot, as a Catholic can, distinguish between the absolute demands of God and contingent arrangements of man. The principle in necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas cannot be applied by the practitioners of false relgion because there is no objective principle by which the necessary and the doubtful may be distinguished and there is no charity (which does not exist apart from the true faith). As indefinite liberty would dissolve the social order all must become necessity, the polity animated by this false religion becomes totalitarian.
On the other hand, those who reject the necessity of public revelation are compelled to reject Theism which requires it. As Deism is indefensible they are quickly reduced to agnosticism or atheism. As they need a final end by which to order society and they have pushed themselves into nominalism (which both fosters and results from atheism) and have no extrinsic common good they make the contractualist state their end leading to an even worse totalitarianism than does false religion.
This is the clear teaching of St John Paul II:
Every institution is inspired, at least implicitly, by a vision of man and his destiny, from which it derives the point of reference for its judgment, its hierarchy of values, its line of conduct. Most societies have formed their institutions in the recognition of a certain pre-eminence of man over things. Only the divinely revealed religion has clearly recognized man’s origin and destiny in God, the Creator and Redeemer. The Church invites political authorities to measure their judgments and decisions against this inspired truth about God and man: Societies not recognizing this vision or rejecting it in the name of their independence from God are brought to seek their criteria and goal in themselves or to borrow them from some ideology. Since they do not admit that one can defend an objective criterion of good and evil, they arrogate to themselves an explicit or implicit totalitarian power over man and his destiny, as history shows.
– Catechism of the Catholic Church 2244
I cannot conceal my disappointment that in the [EU] Charter’s text there is not a single reference to God. Yet in God lies the supreme source of the human person’s dignity and his fundamental rights. It cannot be forgotten that it was the denial of God and his commandments which led in the last century to the tyranny of idols. A race, a class, the state, the nation and the party were glorified instead of the true and living God. In the light of the misfortunes that overtook the 20th century we can understand: the rights of God and man stand or fall together.
– Message on the 1,200th Anniversary of the Imperial Coronation of Charlemagne