16 April, 2008

A Christian State?

There are a number of Christian sects who do various thing such as trying to run a town based on the ten commandments (see West Wing commentary). However, mainstream Christianity (including groups who may have pretty vigorous opinions on many others things such using prayer rather than medicine) usually shies away from creating a Christian State (in the legal sense of the word, not the community sense, obviously!). Pope Benedict has just arrived in America today and one of the first things he praised was that there was no state religion there.

Whilst the three Abrahamic religions share a number of features, to me, this attitude to religion's place within the state is one of the crucial separations of Christianity from Islam and Judaism. Christianity not only lacks any form of legal framework to create a Christian State (sure, it's possible to disagree with the frameworks of Judaism and Islam, but they are clearly there and fairly comprehensive, even in the modern age), but Christians are explicitly instructed to 'render unto Caesar', ie, let the state deal with the business of the state and let the church deal with the business of the church.

It has always puzzled me, given that all Christians accept 'New Testament trumps Old Testament', why fundamentalists (whether today or in the 16th century) feel the urge to return to the OT. Seems, to me, a clear example of working out what you want your religion to say and then finding the passage that supports your view. I realise that the NT is also quite clear on judging people, but this type of action really annoys me. Very glad the Pope made the Church's position on the issue clear.


Marc_Newcomb said...

I think the desire to return to OT laws comes from the fact that the NT assumes the perspective of Christian citizens under a non-Christian government, so while it instructs Christians to obey the laws of a non-Christian government (hence "render unto Caesar") it doesn't really deal with what Christians should do when they get political power. The "God-given" political system of the OT provides clearer guidance on this issue so they refer to that.

Liz Ford said...

Hmmm, I would say that other areas of the NT suggest that a Christian State (legal sense) just isn't desirable. Surely, if the message of the NT (broadly) is 'don't get hung up on things in this world, they're not important' then creating such a state undermines this. Further, creating (or implementing) 'religious rules' for a society quite quickly leads to thetype of judging that, again, NT is quite clear about prohibiting.

Not a biblical scholar, just my interpretation. Mind you, the Pope is and I seem to come to the same opinion as him so I can't be doing too badly now!