In the final chapter of Ben Shapiro’s latest book, The Authoritarian Moment, Shapiro makes the following statement, “The principles of American liberty are eternal and true.” But if the principles of American liberty are “eternal”, then they are not America’s principles. They are divine principles.
The founders were under the impression that freedom “pre-existed” government and that these eternal truths were found to be “self-evident”; that these rights are immutable and intrinsic to our humanity. These truths transcend government, and as we will see from the Russian communism that ravaged the church, it is vital the church not be unequally yoked with the state.
In my review of Shapiro’s latest work, I have one major criticism: if these principles are eternal, then how can our solution to authoritarianism be merely political rather than spiritual? Do our religious institutions have no role to play in the attacks on freedom, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? If these principles are divine, then the church is entrusted to protect and defend these principles through the expression of faith: especially in times of uncertainty when an unwavering and faithful church is needed most.
A Call to Pastoral and Priestly Action
There are spiritual solutions to authoritarianism, and they can only be implemented by those to whom they have been entrusted. These are summarized in 3 parts:
- Part 1: Protect the Faith
- Part 2: Protect the Conscience
- Part 3: Love your Enemies
Protect the Faith
Should the government tell you how to practice and exercise your religion? The short answer is no. For this section, I will use the Anglican 39 Articles as a backdrop for a separation of church and state. The 39 Articles provide a rubric for drawing the boundaries that government ought not cross and that church leadership should not compromise. For example, the Center for Disease Control recommended guidelines of social distancing and face coverings. The Anglican Church of North America responded by telling dioceses to follow local government guidelines and the restriction of communion wine was instituted. The 39 Articles are very explicit about the need for both elements to be present:
“The Cup of the Lord is not to be denied to the Lay-people: for both the parts of the Lord’s Sacrament, by Christ’s ordinance and commandment, ought to be ministered to all Christian men alike.”
XXX. Of both Kinds.
The church has been placed in a difficult position. If they refuse to abide by the CDC guidelines, they are a target for vilification and religious legalism. If they abide by the CDC guidelines, their churches will empty, their missional efforts will be hampered, and the religious habits of Christians everywhere will be disturbed.
Something of a similar form unfolded in Communist Russia’s early years as famine ravaged the land. According to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Russian people were too fond of the church and direct attack on religious institutions caused doubt in the communist agenda. But the Russian church had made the mistake of becoming too enmeshed with the Russian government. They had accepted its help in the form of decorations and relics made of precious metal.
“We have already had an opportunity to observe that the separation of church and state was so construed by the state that the churches themselves and everything that hung in them . . . belonged to the state…”
So, the Soviet leaders devised a plan to ensure their foreign exchange and precious metals were replenished, while simultaneously destroying and undermining the reputation of the church. As famine devastated the Volga region of Russia, the Soviet leadership constructed a plan that was proportional to the wisdom of Solomon and deeply demonic in its application:
“Political genius lies in extracting success even from the people’s ruin. A brilliant idea was born…So now let the priests feed the Volga region! They are Christians. They are generous.”
Ibid. 343, emphasis original
If the priests refused, they would be “blamed for the whole famine” and the people would destroy the church. If the church agreed to feed the region, they would go bankrupt selling all their relics back to the state. Regardless, the church would be undermined and the state would eventually do away with it.
It is plain to see a similar effect, not to be confused with intent, happening between the church and the American government. If a church decides that they will not compromise their religious expressions, they will be demonized by the people as not living up to their own ethical standards to “love thy neighbor”. If they compromise their religious traditions, they water down the substance of their religion and set the precedent for future modifications to religion via the state during chaotic times. The apathy that we Christians were so concerned about will only intensify if the church continues to operate as a proxy of the state’s policy and agenda.
The Anglican church appears to have been aware of such manipulation and its dangers. In article 37 it states:
“The Power of the Civil Magistrate extendeth to all men, as well Clergy as Laity, in all things temporal; but hath no authority in things purely spiritual.”
XXXVII. Of the Power of the Civil Magistrates.
The counter argument would be that the COVID pandemic is a ‘temporal matter’ and therefore the church should submit. Let’s grant this objection. What will the church do if the government requires vaccination passports to enter a grocery store? What if unvaccinated children are barred from receiving a public education? What will the church do when parents in their parishes and congregations decide that they are going to stand, not as Christians, but as human beings with Muslims, Jews, and Atheists against the encroachments on their divine liberty?
This is where protection of one’s conscience is essential. In part 2, I argue that the church must allow the government to handle matters of state and the man as a political being. However, if the church does not protect the conscience of its members, it removes a defensive structure that is necessary for the benefit of all peoples.
Thanks for this review. Here are a couple thoughts about the perpetual enmity of totalitarianism to any religion, including Christianity.
1. Religion is inherently something that transcends humanity; in it men look beyond themselves to divinity. Because at least some religions inform the conscience, the totalitarian state cannot endure that competition with itself.
2. As Tocqueville remarked, the Americans he saw immersed themselves into countless organizations: not only churches, but clubs and associations of all kinds. These he saw as buffers to the state’s power over individuals. A good example of this was in England, where by the early 1900s there were, if memory serves me correctly, after reading a social history of that country, no fewer than 15,000 voluntary self-help associations among the citizens. For a few pence every month, their members, subject to the idiosyncratic rules of each club, banded together to relieve each other of medical and death expenses. But the National Health Service, begun in 1948, soon squeezed the life out of these associations. With the “benefits” comes the state-sponsored definitions of life, health, and death. Now no citizen is buffered from the politics of big government.
Thanks for the thoughts James. I’m not as well versed on English history as you, but your point 1 definitely is the basis for this article. I’m working on Part 2 of this on conscience, and as I’m sure you’re aware, Christianity and its thinkers have much to say on the role conscience plays in the life of the believer, as well as their relationship with God. Thanks for reading and your comments!
And the private associations soon died out.