I am going to do a few pieces on libertarian versus conservative thought. This is not a bonafide series, but I do want to cover some of the key issues that separate conservatives and libertarians philosophically, and explain why I embrace the libertarian viewpoint over the conservative one. One of these issues I run into the most is the idea of separation of church and state.
Most conservative thinkers agree that government should stay out of religion, but are often less concerned about the other way around. You Constitutionalists out there will likely point out that the term “separation of church and state” is not in the constitution, but in a letter between Jefferson and the Danbury Baptist Association. Indeed, a true separation is not possible, not if you include all belief systems in the umbrella of “church”, which I think was the intent. It is impossible because being without religion is, in effect, its own belief system with its own standards of conduct. All people on earth operate with some sort of belief/thought/moral system, so it cannot be removed. Furthermore, removal of the right to have certain beliefs or practice certain beliefs simply because one is an elected official is a violation of the First Amendment, and more importantly, the individual rights of persons in government.
That said, I maintain that it is important to keep religion out of actual laws and governing. The central reasoning for this? Separation of Powers. There are 4 kinds of power in the world: Physical, Wealth, Influence, and Authority. These types of power on their own can be misused, power in general implies control, especially control of others. On their own they can be bad news in the wrong hands, combined, they can be devastating. If you subscribe, as I do, to the adage that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, then you understand the need for keeping these kinds of power separate from each other.
Physical power can be used to manipulate through intimidation, but there is always a bigger club, and modern society does not bow to direct physical threats the same way. We may be a fearful society, hence the effectiveness of terrorism, but we do not choose our leaders based on who is the best warrior like we did in primitive times.
Wealth has great power, and when combined with authority you get the sort of corporatist system we currently have, hence part of my reasoning that will be covered in another post on separation of business and state. The extreme result of such a combination is essentially Fascism, and that is not a place we want to go.
Influence is the one that falls on the shoulders of the Church and other religions. People follow their religious leaders in many things, as long as something can be sufficiently portrayed as “right” according to one’s beliefs, then people can be convinced to do it. The things people have done in the name of their god are everything from great to evil, but they were all motivated by their beliefs, and in many cases influeced by the religious leaders they followed.
Authority is the power type that the government has. Basically, this authority ends up getting used to stockpile wealth and physical power in the hands of the government through taxation and the military. If business is separate, then they do not have all of the wealth, but they still have a lot to work with. If they combine with religion in a theocracy, then you have total power.
Theocracy has always lead to atrocities in history. The people who are corrupted by power realize the combined power of influence and authority allows them to get people to do anything. The Crusades, the Inquisition, Manifest Destiny, modern Islamic terrorism, and a host of other horrible things in history are all examples of what happens when Church and State combine. If you notice, not only did the state use the church to increase its power, but the church itself in all of those cases was also corrupted. Terrorism is not in line with Islamic beliefs. The Crusades and the Inquisition are not in line with Christian philosophy. Yet these things happened in the name of their respective religions.
It is essential to both the concepts of freedom/a government that is under control AND to the purity of faith that the separation of power be maintained. I ask that people keep their religion out of the law to protect their faith itself from the corruption that will certainly follow. I also point out that, even within most faiths all do not agree on every standard. Should we have laws that require a dress code for every person? Even a strictly christian moral person should be able to recognize that such a thing is largely personal choice. What would the standards be? No tight clothing? What about scuba divers? No shorts or short skirts? Who defines shorts? What about hair length? Makeup? Jewelry? You see, even with something so minor there are as many opinions as there are people. Such a thing cannot be made law.
Concepts of private property and individual freedom may be supported in many religions. Most conservatives point out that Judeo-Christian values support those things. I agree, but that does not mean that all Judeo-Christian values support freedom. Some things are matters of the heart and of faith. They are matters of influence. We can influence those around us without using authority to force people to abide by our standards. Laws that support freedom will include making theft and murder illegal, but they may not include keeping the Sabbath day holy. God’s laws are not man’s laws, nor should they be. One can be a conservative without having to force others to live as a conservative through force of law. And that is the difference, and why I choose the libertarian stance on church and state rather than the conservative or strictly constitutional one.