Stephen Strehle is a leading scholar of church/state issues. In this volume, he focuses his rigorous historical analysis and philosophical acumen upon a topic of great interest today and source of cultural wars around the globe—the process of secularization. The book starts with a discussion of early capitalism and how it saw the real world functioning well-enough on its own principles of individual struggle and self-interest, without needing religious or moral principles to meddle in its affairs and eventually dispelling the need for any intelligent design or providential orchestration of life through the work of Darwin. The book then discusses the growth of the secular point of view: how historians dismissed the impact of religion in developing modern culture, how scientists conceived of the universe running on self-sufficient or mechanistic principles, and how people no longer looked to the providential hand of God to explain their suffering. The book ends with a discussion of how the Deist concept of human autonomy became a political policy in America through Jefferson’s concept of a wall of separation between church and state and how the US Supreme Court proceeded to dismiss the importance of religion in shaping or justifying the values of the nation and its laws. The book is accessible to most upper-level and graduate students in a wide-variety of disciplines, keeping technical and foreign words to a minimum and leaving scholarly details or debates to its extensive notes.
Chapter Six: Mr. Jefferson
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The modern doctrine of church/state separation developed out of concerns over the temporal powers of the papacy. In the fifteenth century, the Conciliar Movement was successful at the Council of Constance in diminishing the authority of the pope through establishing the independent rights of the state and its people. In the sixteenth century, Protestant Reformers called for the separation of the church from the state, believing that the church had lost much of its original purity and fundamental spiritual mission in the Middle Ages by seeking the dominion of this world and using the coercive measures of temporal power to obtain it. The Reformers wanted to separate church and state for the sake of the church. They thought of the state as corrupting the church but were much less willing to reverse the equation and speak of the church corrupting the state or society. They never thought of the state existing outside the will of God, independent of a special metaphysical commission, or free to lead its citizens in secular autonomy, divorced from religious concern.
This secular view of life was a product of the Enlightenment. Deism arose at the time and rejected the biblical concept of the world’s dependence upon God. The Bible summoned its people to depend upon God for their “daily bread” as representing the ultimate force behind the sun, the rain, and the abundance of life (Dt 11:11–17;...
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