Jefferson assured the Danbury Baptists that the federal government would consider the church and state separate entities. He did not, however, offer that he would make the same separation between the state and God.
Say what you will about the complicated and mutable theology of Jefferson and his Enlightened peers, but they understood that the concept of God – whether as a provider or a watchmaker – was intimately woven into the warp and woof of American politics.
The active and proactive campaigns to make church and state – or “faith and politics” – mutually exclusive is a much more modern endeavor, and is reflective of the existential philosophies that exhort us to place the primacy of existence over essence.
Politics and the state are the hic et nunc – the here and now. They are phenomena we can observe and measure – or at least we can observe and measure some of the variables in the phenomena.
The Church and faith, on the other hand, at least ostensibly transcend the empirical – what we can perceive through our physical senses. It claims a higher epistemology – one that is ontological, and not limited to the quiddities of casual observation.
But the more we study politics, or even science, the more we are drawn to the conclusion that faith is a necessary part of knowledge – that we cannot proceed without accepting some premise on faith.
In politics, differing sides will make truth claims about the nature or teleology of man. But they don’t really know them. They cannot prove without appealing to faith that man is basically good, or even that man is basically equal. They cannot even realistically define good or equal without an objective standard of goodness or equal-ness.
In science, the question of good must be abandoned in the pursuit of truth, for matter, energy, force, and motion – it is supposed – have no concept of ethics or morality. But faith is still exercised in the recognition of the constant. We accept on faith that entropy, gravity, and velocity relative to light have throughout time been the exact same. We also accept on faith that logic is not capricious, and that A=A can never be falsehood, and that 2+2 has never equaled anything but 4. But we don’t really know that – not without omniscience.
We posit theories about quantum physics and the nature of waves and particles, but if we were to be honest, we should always admit that in any scientific theory there may be variables unaccounted for that affect the outcome – that make randomness seem possible without having to answer for a cause for randomness in the firstplace.
We propose hypotheses about the origins of man – never having been there at the origin, or even throughout the proposed development – but arrogantly preach them as if our premises rest on a foundation of omniscience.
In modern politics we reject custom and tradition on the premise that humanity is advancing toward a greater good; and by doing so we admit progress is defined by ethics; and by admitting ethics we admit a mechanism for morality, and forget that empirical science observes no such thing as physical morality.
We turn to the state to define or protect our purpose – but in science, we neither observe nor measure any purpose. A purpose presupposes a purposer, and empirical science cannot admit such things. In science, we cannot admit purpose, because purpose can only be discerned by a calculation of all the variables. We do know the purpose of 1+1 is to equal 2; and we know the purpose of 1+x=3 is to name x as 2; but we cannot discern any purpose to the equation 1+y+z=4, because the possibilities of variable adjustment are non-finite. Imagine the scientific purposelessness of calculating the variables of politics and life when 2 BILLION variables are unknown instead of only 2.
So we guess.
We begin with premises based on faith – that equality is actually a thing that can be objectively defined as good; that freedom is actually a thing that empowers us; that existence itself is objectively its own reward.
The truthful existentialist will, like Camus, ultimately arrive at the conclusion that “there is only one really serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy. All other questions follow from that.”
If the subject concludes that worth is either non-existent or irrelevant, then politics is irrelevant, and existence itself is irrelevant. But if the subject concludes that objective worth IS relevant, they admit a worth-ness that, once again can only be accepted by faith – not by observational science.
So let us dismiss the notion that the teachings of the church and the teachings of the state shall not overlap – that faith and reason are incompatible in the advancement of the individual or the state.
In a Venn diagram, faith and reason are not circles that are repulsed by each other; but rather, reason itself is a smaller circle that is completely encompassed by the concept of faith – faith in knowledge, faith in the acceptance of variables, faith in constancy, faith in goodness, faith in providence, faith in logic, faith in the laws of physics, faith in the laws and revelations of God.
The church should not be so timid in reasserting its own faith in marketplace of the state, otherwise the faith of the non-church will certainly have the market cornered.