God is infallible. Although you could argue that he made a big mistake when He (or She?) scooped up a mess of Middle Eastern mud and sculpted Adam. The first Chinese is reported to have enjoyed a similar creation, although the river was the Yangtze. As for India’s Hindus, the first man was the result of a passionate coupling between Brahma and the Goddess Shatrupa.
But all religions have this in common: The infallibility of God. It is accepted by everyone who accepts the existence of God. If you don’t accept the existence of God than the question of His (or Her) infallibility is irrelevant.
For centuries in the West the concept of infallibility also extended to God’s representatives on Earth, from the Pope to the lowly parish priest. Even monarchs were divinely chosen to rule over lesser human beings.
The Age of Enlightenment put an end to that. The execution of England’s King Charles I started the head rolling—so to speak—on the issue of the divine right of monarchs. The French Revolution finished the job.
As for clerical infallibility, The Pope still claims perfection—but only in matters of doctrine. In Judaism, there are a group of ultra-orthodox Rabbis who have tried to don the mantle—mainly to support their claim to an Eretz Israel. Contrary to public opinion, no contemporary fundamentalist Islamic cleric claims the role. They use the recorded teachings of Mohammed and his immediate followers to impose a God-centred political structure, which is almost—but not quite—the same thing.
The problem with human infallibility, whether it comes from God’s anointed or self-proclaimed representative, or simply a hack politician—is that it stifles debate in one fell stroke. If it is impossible for someone to be wrong than there is no room for disagreement, discussion or improvement.
That is why it is disturbing that President Trump recently signed an executive order effectively restoring tax-free status to churches who use their pulpits for political purposes.
For decades, there has been a growing trend among America’s evangelical clergy to use a self-proclaimed personal relationship with God to push the conservative political agenda. “God revealed to me…” “God told me…” “God came to me.”
Their congregations believe them. They are told to believe in God and that if they believe in God they should believe in the Word of God as interpreted for them by their spiritual leaders. This, of course, blurs the separation line between church and state upon which successive US Supreme Courts have insisted since 1870.
There is a misconception that the constitution decrees separation of church and state. The First Amendment protects religious freedom and Article Six prohibits religious tests for public officials. But nowhere in the US Constitution does it explicitly state that church and state must remain forever separate.
The phrase “separation of church and state” came from the pen of that well-known religious sceptic Thomas Jefferson. In 1802 he wrote to a Baptist church that congress should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation of church and state.”
Generations of Supreme Court Justices have merely accepted Jefferson’s interpretation even though no amendment, specific legislation or executive order has been passed on the issue and Jefferson himself never sat on The Court.
Separation of Church and State is more of a tradition than a law and it is a tradition which has spread beyond American shores to become the norm throughout the West and other parts of the world seeking to advance their society. And where the separation has been applied, political and economic success has usually followed.
Those countries who have blurred the distinction between the church and state have—by and large—atrophied.
So why, in the words of retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, should America “trade in a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?”
Tom Arms is editor of Lookaheadnews.com