Inescapably religious state: Historical views on the separation of church and state

INASMUCH as it is impossible for any kind of church to have no religion, there likewise cannot be a state without any religion or religious inclination.

Jeremiah Belgica

INASMUCH as it is impossible for any kind of church to have no religion, there likewise cannot be a state without any religion or religious inclination. This is simply because both the church and the state are inescapably religious.

As with individual persons, every individual state has a worldview from which it fashions its policies and laws. Worldview is the particular conception of life and the world and it is the conceptual prism through which we view everything and everyone. Rich or poor, big or small, young or old, individuals or organizations, all have a worldview, whether wittingly or unwittingly. Just as humans cannot see without an eye as an organ, it is impossible to have a conception of one's world without a worldview. Through one's worldview assumptions and presuppositions about people, things, nature and society are created. Important questions like a person's value and intrinsic worth as well as purpose must first be answered by a state in order for it to come up with standards that approximate justice and fairness for diverse situations and different people.

However, in order for the state to formulate a more universal and encompassing framework on a person's intrinsic worth, value and purpose, such framework must not merely rest upon situational utility, but must transcendentally depend upon its conception of the origin and destiny, or the lack thereof, of man and society. Views about origins and destiny of men are matters of religious belief that take faith in authoritative sources, whether those sources be through revelation by a Supreme Uncreated Being or conclusions by another man through some other discipline of thought. Ultimately, states and governments all have worldviews that rest upon religious belief.

Religion, simply put, is a system of belief that dictates one's way of life. In every belief system, there is a final authority who is considered as the standard or lawgiver. The lawgiver or standard-maker of one's system of belief is the God of his or her religion. It could either be YHWH or another god.

There is no such thing as a neutral position in God, it is either we are His or not His. To say that we have no position in religious matters is, in itself, a position on the matter. To prohibit an idea claiming authority for being divinely inspired in the area of civil government is a religious act in itself which believes that God and his revelation is not applicable, much less supreme over human affairs. That is why in a religious worldview, a person or state is either for God or against God. There is no middle ground.

The term "separation of church and state" emanated from US history. The term was created by US Supreme Court jurisprudence but originally was inspired through a famous letter of Thomas Jefferson to a bishop friend. In a letter, the bishop expressed concern that a state denomination (congregationalist) would be installed as the official religion. But then President Jefferson assured him that "the wall that separated us shall never be breached." Thus, the term's original intention was to safeguard and protect the institutional church against state intrusion and not the other way around.

There are five historical views of the separation of church and state: ecclesiocracy (government by church leaders); erastianism (a doctrine stating that the state is superior to the church in ecclesiastical matters); establishment principle (a doctrine that the state should recognize Christ's authority over all things and set up the visible church within the nation); secularism (the separation of religion from political, economic, social, and cultural aspects of life, religion being treated as a purely personal matter); and confessionalism (a system of government that is a de jure mix of religion and politics).

Today, the dangerous misapplication of this principle has resulted in the removal of God from anything concerning the civil government. Remember that anything removed from the will and law of God, who is the source of life, dies a natural death.

More so, a man could also choose to regard himself as equal to God by installing himself as the god of his own religion. In that case he is a secular-humanist. Religion is a system of belief that dictates a person's moral persuasions. The final authority of a system of belief is the god of that religion. That is why atheism is protected by the religious clause in our Constitution because, in this regard, it is still a kind of religion.

National confessionalism is the proper biblical understanding of the separation of church and state which sees the church and state as "separate institutions but are both under God." In the Christian worldview, it believes Christ is the real head and sovereign of the nation-state who is seated at the right hand of the Father and shall soon return to judge and rule the nations.

In the Philippines' 1987 Constitution, the preamble recognized that Filipinos implores the "aid of the Almighty God." The statement on the sovereignty of the Filipino people is an allusion to the natural right of every man to defend his divine and inalienable rights to life, liberty and property. This natural (sovereign) right of every Filipino for individual defense becomes the basis for their organized efforts toward corporate defense through the creation of an organized civil government.

Uncontestably, the Philippines declared its belief and reliance upon the Almighty God, thereby removing any doubt as to whether we are a secular nation or not. The Filipino people's imploration of the "Almighty God's" aid is a national confession or recognition that God is sovereign over our civil and national affairs, giving a strong case for the national confessionalism principle in our land. In my view, we are at the very least a theist nation in the Constitution and not a secular country.

This discussion, I believe, is timely and important as our country and people face various laws and proposed legislation that touch on the sensitive matters that cross the sensitivities of faith and religion. Truly, a free nation encourages freedom of speech and expression, however, if truth be told, one cannot and may not express anything at all without first having the freedom to believe as one deems fit. Thus, before the freedom of speech and expression, there must be freedom of conscience, belief and religion. My belief is the Church and the State are separate institutions both under God, more especially today that the talks on the amending or improving of the Constitution are alive and continuing.