Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion

by Smitty

While we cherish our separation of church and state (and revile our separation of church and culture), it's important to understand the context in which it came about.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), which is Germany's NYT, has this article, with a rough Google Translate here, describing the 9% tax levied by the government against Roman Catholics and Protestants. This is a check box on the form you sign when registering at the local Rathaus (city hall, but "rat house" captures it beautifully and correctly).

Strangely enough, church affiliation and attendance in Germany is cratering. 130,000 exited the Protestant church in 2007 for example. 121,155 Catholics followed suit in 2008. Those large, beautiful churches echo mightily in their emptiness.

As a staunchly sectarian American, the concept of Caesar propping up that which is God's is just bizarre. But then, even the most exquisite brick collection is exactly that. The Church existed long before these European structures, and shall surely outlast them, as long as the candle burns.


  1. Didn't the Turks of the Ottoman Empire implement a convert or be taxed policy? Odd coincidence, Islam is the fastest growing religion in Germany.

  2. God's true church isn't bothered by the conflict of taxes or physical buildings. It is pervasive, enduring and eternal.

  3. I am a bit thick and having trouble understanding what is going on in this matter in Germany? May I ask for clarification?

    Is it the case that the state or some level of government is collecting a tax on behalf of ecclesial authorities, formed legally as a corporation, as they are in USA, and passing those monies on to those ecclesial authorities?

    Or is it the case that a level of government is taxing Protestants and Catholics because they claim that allegiance and holding the money for itself, for it own use, not giving it to ecclesial authorities? In other words, a straight punitive tax, like the Mohammedan jiza.

    I think it is the former. Am I right to think so?

    Beyond that question, it is the case that neither of those possibilities constitutes "establishment" of religion such as our Founders had in mind, although the first one would be a partial establishment.

    "Establishment of religion" means making an ecclesial organization an element of state and local government and supporting that element through tax on everyone just as government supports police, fire, military, post office, etc.

    As you know, the word "separation" is not in the Constitution in re ecclesial organization and state. That is Jefferson's exegesis of the concept that goes in as forbidding establishment of religion in the sense just given.

    The confusion that has always attended this serendipitous clause rises from failing to distinguish between religion and ecclesial organization. These are never identical and the latter at best only more or less reflects and represents the former. Not making this distinction causes endless confusion and hard feelings.

    Religion and culture are inseparable. Both, along with morality, are functions of the dimension of spirit, the dimension of life that is uniquely man's. In English of recent centuries and especially in modern humanistic positivism (communism, progressivism, "science") the dimension of spirit is off the radar of cognition, though of course it is at the heart of everything happening in life, culture and history -- including humanistic or scientific positivism.

    Suffice the observation that religion, culture and morality are functions of man's life beyond mere psyche, the grandest dimension of life that man shares with animals. Religion, culture and morality are both the aim and the driver of the dimension of history, no matter what governmental form is extant or where.

    Religion, culture and morality are inseparable. They can be distinguished but not separated So, therefore, is religion and government, because government is a form of culture.

    What is separable -- and should be -- is government and ecclesial organizations, to include churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, what have you. TBC

  4. Part II: The issue is the support and maintenance of ecclesial organizations. By taxes or by donations?

    The nature of religion and the possibilities for its distortion by ecclesial organization (note: I do not say religious organizations because such do not exist) are such that when an ecclesial organization is supported by taxation, civil crimes become religious crimes and the ecclesial organization has punitive authority that is in the hands of self-selected executives -- i.e., clerics.

    This is the story of Mohammedanism, of course, and the reason it only blights the world. Mullahs send press gangs around to their neighborhoods beating people who have not paid or are late paying their "alms," such as money, boys, food, personal "service," etc.

    Any time religious authority is civil authority freedom disappears and humanity weeps. This is the condition our Founders sought to prevent occurring here.

    The most horrendous tyrannies are those driven by the pretense of religion, which always and only drives the exact opposite of tyranny. The White House's current occupants are reviled and the people running about grasping their lives in their hands because those occupants are building a tyranny based on a pretense of religion with themselves as the object of worship.

    Regrettably, the Founders were only partially successful in the non-establishment of religion. The tax exemption for ecclesial organizations is a back-door tax that establishes a "religion" identified as an ecclesial organization.

    The evil of this arrangement is that no ecclesial organization can be identified with a religion. So the whole situation is a bollixed up mess and insoluble until the tax break or the in-lieu tax collection is vacated and ceases to exist.

    Now, that's more than perhaps is warranted by this story from Germany, which I own to not understanding in its facts, but there it is. What the hell else have we got to do! :-)

  5. It continues to say "or prohibiting the free exercise thereof". I've often wondered why the rest of the clause is not quoted?

  6. "Is it the case that the state or some level of government is collecting a tax on behalf of ecclesial authorities?"

    Yes. It is NOT a "tax levied by the government against Roman Catholics and Protestants," as Smitty says. It is a tax levied by Catholic and Protestant communities for their churches. Local communities decide whether to have state authorities collect the tax or to collect all their revenues on their own. In Germany the majority of church revenues come from the 'church tax,' as it's called. Only declared members of the church must pay the tax.

  7. @d.eris,
    Thanks for the clarification. I understood and meant that, but my phrasing is too terse.

    People are bailing because the realize they have an option.

  8. @d.eris, @ smitty1e: Thanks, guys, for the clarification. I thought that is what the FAZ article meant but felt need to verify.

    With that tax protocol, Germans are grandfathering the traditional status of the churches (Protestant at least, I am not sure about RC or Jewish), along with the universities, as agencies of the state supported by taxes.

    Under the Hohenzollerns and earlier, both churches and universities had great freedom despite being government agencies. Developments in the panoply of German culture until the rise of Kaiser Bill and his "liberal" (meaning, at the time, capitalist, industrialist, merchant) self-promoters illustrate the point.

    It wasn't the German clergy or academic faculties (usually the same people) who precipitated WWI. It was the German industrialists, merchants and financiers, then called "liberals." Drive a nation by money, for money, drive it to ruin.

    Neither clergy nor professors in those days had to sign oaths of loyalty to the state. But the Nazis made them do that or lose their jobs. The first Professor to lose his job for refusing to sign the loyalty oath was not a Jew, it was the Christian Theologian Paul Tillich, who became my father's P at Union, held and blessed me in my newborn condition, died at University of Chicago two months after I matriculated at Union and has ever been my theological mentor.

    A prominent clergyman not a P to eschew the Nazi oath, and one with strong connections at Union, was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who I did not meet but in whose shadow I have ever lived.

    It was Bonhoeffer who foresaw the need for "religionless Christianity" (religionsloses Christentum), meaning Christian religion without the status of being a government agency.

    Here in the USA we have been doing that from the commensuration, thankfully. To Bonhoeffer and his generation of Europeans, however, it was a radical, radical transformation of received and habitual thought, life and practice.

    Apparently, it was too radical for the clerics who followed the courageous Bonhoeffer to accept. Seems they made an "accommodation" with the government to assure their income: tax their congregants on their behalf, although not the whole populace, as was common among "Western" nations, including Great Britain, until the rise of the USA.

    In that condition, the congregants are not only justified but duty-bound as Christians to disavow "church membership" so as to avoid the fleece. Damn the clergy! Empty their churches! Let them earn an honest living at manual labor after the precept and example of Sts. Paul, Benedict and Gandhi. Any "cleric" living from the "offering plate" ("alms" it is called by Mohammedans) is a charlatan dissembler of the religion they claim to espouse and represent.

    I'm a clergyman, but I earned my living and supported my family driving public transit and, but for about five weeks early in 1970, before I recognized my self-disgust and the reason for it, accepted nothing from an "offering plate."

    German laity are right to crater membership in the churches. Clergy should lead the way! They should bring ecclesial membership to zero. Scorched earth! In every country, laity who are taxed to support an ecclesial organization should do likewise. Religion by its very nature cannot be an agency of the state.

  9. "Anonymous" makes a useful point that "preventing the free exercise thereof" is not usually referenced in discussions such as these, implying that it should be. I concur. However, not establishing religion in the sense the Founders meant the concept (i.e., proscribing state-tax-supported ecclesial organizations) implies not preventing the free exercise of religion, because every positive implies it negative (and vice-versa). It is good, IMO, however, that the clause goes on to make that implicit point patent.

    Hectoring again on this difference between religion and ecclesial organization:

    "Red" states, correctly, that there is a "true church" untrammeled by conflict, being "pervasive, enduring and eternal."

    A technical and rhetorically useful way of saying this is, "'The Church' [capital 'C') is real, spiritual and omnipotent whereas 'the churches' [small 'c'] are delusional, mixed spiritual/demonic, and omni-seducible."

    Precision terminology in theology and religion is no less important than it is in chemistry and mathematics. Indeed, not a few have pointed out that theology is chemistry and mathematics by another name, and others that chemistry and mathematics are theology by another name. At least one theologian has said that every problem is susceptible to theological analysis and every analysis is theological in nature.

    Or, as G.W.F Hegel said, "The Truth is the whole."