August 20, 2005

The Effects of State Sponsorship of Religion

In a series of posts on their blog, Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker and former federal appeals court judge Richard Posner (both now professors at the University of Chicago) discuss the effects of state sponsorship of religion, and the recent supreme court decisions regarding ten commandments displays. Both argue that state sponsorship of a specific religion decreases "competition" between religious groups and thus decreases the likelihood of any individual having his "religious preferences" fulfilled, and simultaneously decreases the overall "religiosity" of a society. Today, they say, the United States is a very "religious" country precisely because the state does not support any particular religion (note however that Posner argued that displaying the ten commandments does not constite endorsing any particular religion in a way that violates these principles, provided the government does not pay for the display, and accepts such displays from other religions). Compare these arguments to the following quote from 19th century English preacher Charles Spurgeon that I came across the other day:

What a crying sin is that solemn lie by which our whole population is nominally comprehended in a National Church! How fearful it is that ordinances should be pressed upon the unconverted ... To adulterate the Church is to pollute a well, to pour water upon fire, to sow a fertile field with stones. May we all have grace to maintain in our own proper way the purity of the Church, as being an assembly of believers, and not a nation, an unsaved community of unconverted men.

This is why Christians like John Locke were the first proponents of separation of Church and state. When the Church and the government are mixed, the purity of the Church is sullied. It comes to be full of members who are not true believers. In fact, the same thing happens in any situation where there is major social or political pressure to identify oneself as a Christian. These situations must be fought against. "Pop culture" Christianity is the enemy of true Christianity. Any attempt to enforce Christian behavior (in manners of private morality - that is, matters that do not directly affect third parties) on a society ultimately corrupts the church. This is the foundation for separation of Church and state. This is why Christianity and libertarianism can be seen as complementary, rather than contradictory, belief systems. If people are to freely choose Christ (sorry, my Arminian is showing) and become true believers, they must not be compelled by the culture around them to put on the appearance of Christianity.

Posted by kpearce at August 20, 2005 03:05 PM
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