July 22, 2008 | Graham

Christianity as a protector of the secular society

That Christianity, and Judaism, demand a secular, or at least dualist society where church and state are separate, was the theme of Father Robert Sirico at the CIS’s Acton Lecture last night. (The CIS doesn’t have a transcript or speech notes up, but you can get a flavour of his speech from this op-ed in The Australian).
I didn’t find much to disagree with, although he did gloss over the period of time between the establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire and the Reformation where the church was as often as not part of the state apparatus. To underline this, Sirico is a minister of a Church which actually runs a civil state, Vatican City, and Bishop Rob Forsythe, who gave the vote of thanks is a minister of a Church whose head is the Queen of England, and whose bishops are members of the British Parliament. The religious state still has its survivors in Christianity. I should also probably note that what we term “equity” came out of ecclesiastical courts in the Middle Ages, and so has something in common with Sharia law.
So to make his argument properly I think Sirico needed to distinguish between institutional Christianity and what I call authentic Christianity. Authentic Christianity is about non-material matters, and while it does have an interest in the state is principally interested in the person, and has very little to say about the state, although a lot to say about how a Christian should interact with the state.
The speech seemed to be timed to coincide with World Youth Day, which was what brought Sirico to Australia, and while much of the WYD commentary was obssessed with how many people were spectating or participating, I think it is also worth considering the proposition that authentic Christianity does best when Christian worship is, if not a minority pursuit, certainly not an institutionalised social cultural ritual.
When the speech is available, Sirico made some interesting remarks about traditions of liberalism within the Catholic Church, as well as the limits of clerical authority and expertise. I’ve often wondered how exigesis of the gospels, where parables so often draw on concepts of peasant economics, stray so quickly, and erroneously, into collectivist diatribe. Sirico, who is a classical liberal, had some historical context for the widespread economic illiteracy of Christian ministers.

Posted by Graham at 8:24 am | Comments (1) |
Filed under: Religion

1 Comment

  1. “the widespread economic illiteracy of Christian ministers.”
    Whilst all economists are first class theologians.
    This would appear to be a non sequitur.

    Comment by patrick — July 23, 2008 @ 12:06 pm

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