In the same way, no religion dares to coerce from above all the decisions of Caesar. No religion can coerce the consciences of individuals to respond yes or no. Before God, all individuals are free to respond in conscience. In this, the state cannot interfere. Man’s inalienable responsibility before God is the foundation of his inalienable rights before the state.
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Third, there is a worldwide misconception that there is only one kind of secular state — the kind found in the European continent. The kind rooted in the ruthless irreligion of the French Revolution of 1789. The European continental secular state is virtually closed to public religion. It tries to imprison religion in the recesses of private life, outside of public sight.
Yet there is, in fact, another type of secular state. The other type may be called the Anglo-American type. Here citizens are recognized as both religious beings and political beings. The one cannot be surgically separated from the other.
Similarly, the institutions of man’s religious nature, and the institutions of his political nature — the church and the state — must be distinguished as Caesar and God are distinguished. Nonetheless, religion necessarily flows into political consciences, and political consciences generally root themselves in pre-political beliefs about human nature and destiny. The two interpenetrate each other. Communism was overthrown not by secular morality alone, but also by religious conscience from above.
Therefore, the state must not coerce religious consciences from above, and institutional religion must not coerce the work of Caesar from above. Fruitful accommodations must be worked out by trial and error.
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Finally, the Western world has yet to hear all the new reflections on liberty, human rights, democracy, and the best relations between Caesar and God from the other great religions of the world: Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism (to name those with more than 500 million adherents each).
The careening adventures of freedom and religion in their long journey through history are not at an end. Much is yet to be learned.
– Michael Novak’s latest book is No One Sees God. His website is www.michaelnovak.net.