Category Archives: Citizenship

Separation of Powers and Religious Liberty

I have been interested in religion/faith and politics from as far back as I can remember. Mostly from my early 20’s. These are the kinds of questions I lose sleep over. Not in an anxious sort of way, just in an OCD sort of way. 🙂 One question that seems to come up time and time again has to do with equal treatment between religion and non-religion in the public square.

A number of years ago, I came across the Kuyperian view of things that gave explanatory power to these questions, however, (at least the materials I have read) they didn’t seem to respond to this question in substantial ways.

Kuyper, if you may recall, talked about the different spheres of society, each having distributive authority from God. For an example, the police have their own authority and a union has it’s own authority. Neither authority should be “omni-competent” taking over the other sphere’s authority. The police can’t take over the union and carry out their responsibility nor should the union do the job of the police. This is essentially what Kuyperians say is an injustice. I personally can bear this out with my job and that of Canadian Customs whom, in the past have expected me to do their job for them at times (I crossed the border fourteen times a night on a round trip. I have never had a problem with American Customs in this regard).

What you see here is what conservatives have always talked about and of which you can read in many of the writings of conservative websites and think tanks from some of their brightest thinkers—a separation of powers— plain and simple. I’m all for this because of my view of human nature. I believe that power can corrupt (not that it does so necessarily) and thus too much power in the hands of a particular sphere or authority is detrimental to the common good.

As an aside, Kuyperian political philosophy is actually conservative in this manner and I came to see this the more I delved into sphere sovereignty. Interestingly, I have a friend of mine who comes to LIBERTARIANISM from a Kuyperian position. Yet, Kuyperians will tell you that sphere sovereignty is different from conservatism and surely different from libertarianism. However, the reason I think Kuyper and conservatism are closer is not because of something I’ve discovered on my own but because it has actually been written about in books like Mark Larson’s book: “Abraham Kuyper, Conservatism, and Church and State’’ where he lays this out very succinctly.

It seems to me that where Kuyperians, conservatives and libertarians all lay their heads down is in this area of separation of powers. They may do so for various reasons but one of the underpinning reasons has to do with justice over-all.

Having said that, I think this touches on the first paragraph of the equal treatment of religion and non-religion in the public square stated above. It’s not so much a question of fairness (for life is hardly ever fair) but one of justice. How do we, as a society, do justice to religious belief and non-religious belief in the public square without establishing one or the other? Again, it comes up time and time again in battles that take place in the courts. For an example, the statue of Satan being placed next to the Ten Commandments in a public square-how does a society do justice to both?

An aside: Satanism is most assuredly a belief system and so I would not say it is UNBELIEF, thus I think it would differ from atheism which seeks to be free OF religious experience. Concerning belief and non-belief though, how does a government seek to do justice to both of those?

At the moment, I’m reading, “Secular Government/Religious People” by Ira C. Lupu and Robert W. Tuttle

I can’t say much about the book because I’ve just gotten into it other than this:

In there, they argue that a “secular government” is not necessarily hostile to religion and establishes an official religion of secularism. Kuyperianism will tell you that in many respects the role of government is to act in a judicial manner between the differing spheres (something the authors recognize). A further implication of this separation of authorities (authorities here can mean the different religious authorities as well) is that government:

“…does not promote religious worship, oversee religious indoctrination, or exercise religious authority. Instead, that responsibility belongs solely to the people and their voluntary religious communities.”

That being the case then, my question is, can the public “space” be filled with religion or no religion? So coming back to our example of belief and non-belief in the public square, would it be the case of government, not endorsing any particular religion per-se, but by allowing religious belief in the public, is that not essentially a violation of government backed religion? Would it violate the rights of those with “no religion?”

The authors as far as I can tell may get into this question but for now they say that each side:

“…ignores half of the “Constitution’s distinctive way of connecting secular government and religious people.”

That is,

“One group exalts the secularity of the state but dismisses the religious character of the people, and the government’s legitimate responsiveness to that character. The other group denies the distinction between the government and the people, and expects the government to mirror and celebrate the community’s (usually the majority’s) religious identity.”

For me, at this point, “no-religion” IS religion. It IS religious. That to me seems to be an important question I hope the authors address. For there really is no violation of establishment of religion when all is religious. If the character of the people is religious, as the authors say, then atheist or theist, a government is ultimately going to violate, at a fundamental level, one party’s religion.


McCarthyism and Truth

Back in the day (1940-1950’s) there use to be political concern (more like hysteria?) about communists and communism in America. It was known as McCarthyism, named after Joseph McCarthy.

Under McCarthyism there was a:

heightened political repression and a campaign spreading fear of communist influence on American institutions and of espionage by Soviet agents. (From the Wikipedia page above under McCarthyism)

McCarthyism would spread over into the TV and Hollywood worlds as it was a political witch-hunt for communist and communist influence in America and what better way to influence America but through these channels.

Today, McCarthyism is pretty much all but forgotten except for by some liberals who mostly want to remind conservatives that witch hunts always get out of hand and are silly fear-mongering. (Personally, I think it would make for some great tv or film via the likes of Steven Spielberg).

Regardless, whatever one thinks of this “red scare,” one thing I think we as a society can learn from McCarthyism is this.

Whether we are looking for Communism, Marxism, socialism, jihadism, “Islamism,” or whatever “ism,” we should not lie about our neighbour. We should be smart and accurate about these ideologies or evil “isms” because to not do so hurts what one is trying to TRUTHFULLY SAY about these things. One discredits themselves when they OVERSTATE the case. Kinda like how some folks see racism everywhere or under every rock.

Lastly, however, this should also tell us something else. That something else is this. We should not deny the fact that McCarthy was. on. to. SOMETHING. It is not to deny that among the excesses there was something TRUTHFUL in his hunt. Let’s face it, Hollywood, at the time, was shot through and through with communists and communist sympathizers. It is this that seems to be a point that behooves those moderns who write off McCarthyism.


The Flash: Social/Political Ramifications 

I just started watching he first three episodes of “The Flash.” I just finished episode three on Netflix. Anyone else enjoying this TV series? This third one was one of the best episodes yet which has helped me reflect a little more deeply about principled pluralism (it also has some interesting philosophy about our running away from problems as well as running TOO something). Gonna put a spoiler out there to demonstrate what I’m talking about.
Barry has now had some time to think about his father in prison. As a matter of fact, he has being thinking about how he could rescue him since he first went. But now that Barry has supersonic speed he KNOWS he can free him without going through the proper channels and in fact he says so when he he talks to Detective Joe West in the hospital. But alas, both realize that the best way to get his dad out of prison may take longer (going through the process) but it is right and good that they do so in the end. And why is that? This scene, more than anything I’ve watch or read so far on authority demonstrates clearly what Austin Lee spoke about in his book, “Up with Authority” concerning the undermining of authority. Think about what would be the case if Barry decided to break his dad out of jail on his own? First, there would be issues of public trust. Barry (Flash) would be viewed as someone not trustworthy. Who’s to say that Barry would not bend the rules whenever it suits him? Also, what would happen with law and order–something we normally take for granted and depend on–if we decided to skirt the rules and act above the law every time it suited us? Not only would there be no public trust for the “Barry’s” of the world but we also wouldn’t have trust in the system. Think about it. You believe your father is innocent (and in Barry’s case actually is), the rest of us believe he’s guilty. You may have it within your power to free him from prison, but by doing so, you’ve done nothing to convince the rest of us that he is. You may want justice for your father but by freeing him without going through the process you’ve undermined 
justice because now nobody will trust the system, ie., were those in authority in on it? The scope of concern is wider than the more immediate need (in this case).

In saying this, I’m not talking about certain rules that can be bent WITHIN the “ground rules.” I’m talking about the ground rules themselves. Certain things can or must NEVER be broken.