Sunday, August 15, 2010

Render thoughtfully

Where we stayed while in Jasper, and where we didn't stay.

In an interview aired on CBC1 as we were driving home from Jasper the other day, celebrated author Ann Rice told about her recent conversion to, and subsequent abandonment of, organized religion when she realized how her church was behaving in relationship to the secular world. She gave as an example the pope’s condemnation of gay marriage in a manner designed to influence voting. She claims that she is now one of the millions who, like her, have lost confidence in the integrity of the institutional church and are exercising their faith privately.

It’s not easy, understanding what separation of church and state involves, or what is meant by “render . . . unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God, the things that are God’s (Matthew 22:21).” I’m not sure I understand it fully myself, but if I had to explain it to an inquiring mind, I’d say something like this:

There are two ideals at play for us in the separation of church and state in our country at this time: one is the Christian ideal based on the laws of the Old Testament and the gospel of Jesus Christ as interpreted by his early followers in the New Testament. The other is the ideal of political democracy, an ideal that says that every person--be he or she Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Atheist, etc.--has equal representation in formulating the laws of the land. Under the democratic ideal, every citizen, whether Christian, Hindu, Muslim or Atheist etc., should work to realize the democratic ideal and seek to legislate to the common good, not to his/her particular good, thus rendering to “Caesar” (today, our democratic ideals) the things that belong to democracy.

For some of us most of the time, and for most of us some of the time, getting our heads around this principle is a daunting task. If, for instance, we find abortion generally abhorrent based on our religious scruples, the liberalization of abortion laws is hard for us to take. Thinking through the window of our democratic ideals, however, we could possibly be convinced that charging women who choose abortion with accessory-to-murder (and the abortion doctor with first degree murder, possibly) may not best serve the common good, especially when we realize that induced miscarriage has been a fact of life through all history and will continue to be a best-solution to a certain problem for certain women--no matter what legislators decide.

That in no way prevents a Christian or a Christian church from practicing its religious ideals, teaching its children a doctrine of the sanctity of life and arming them with proper information and convictions to manage pregnancy as well as they can. It doesn’t prevent the Christian church from setting up clinics to help women who are up against hard choices, to facilitate adoptions, to provide sex education, to influence their neighbours and politicians to make life-giving choices and so on, thus rendering to God what is God’s.

The advantages we have gained by the proper separation of church and state and by the democratization of our politics are almost immeasurable. So peaceful have our lives become, generally, that we could be lulled into a state of ignorance on this subject and neglect to understand and practice the “render[ing] . . . unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God, the things that are God’s.”

We may not regard Ann Rice very highly as a theologian, but I have to think that she has grasped something that might be self-evident to recent converts and obscure to those born into faith. Her testimony is a warning to all established religions: render more thoughtfully.

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