March 8, 2018

More Thoughts on Church and State

[This post consists of lightly edited notes from internal debates on the topic. It is thus written in a slightly different tone, and with more jarring assumptions, from our usual publication tone.]

We need a well structured state. The state needs someone in charge. The guy in charge has to actually be in charge, and there needs to be a unified chain of command. This neatly solves so many problems, we should be very averse to discarding these axioms. We can’t just have a backdoor where “this guy is in charge except for this and this and this”.

Now the question is how does the church fit in? Here’s our current view: “The Church” might be a confused concept, filtered through centuries of political distortion and corrupted structure and bad historical circumstance. Let’s then discuss more purely how the problem of Truth is handled, separate form how Salvation is handled.

The state needs an official authority on what is True for the purposes of the state. More generally, we need systems of knowledge production and maintenance backing this guy up. Those systems can be structured however. We don’t know yet. But there needs to be an extremely trustworthy guy who curates all of that and tells the state what to think. The state needs to actually trust this guy on raw intellectual authority. Not because this guy has some hold over the state, but because the state decides of its own free will to defer on questions of truth. See also: Axioms of Church and State

Now there is a question of who is this Truth guy and how did he get the job and what happens if the state doesn’t trust him? There doesn’t even have to be a literal guy, it could be an official newspaper like the New York Times, but we’ll assume it’s one guy for now. The easiest punt here is that he is appointed by the state, and the state appoints him because they trust him. Thus we have to make sure the state has the ability to assess experts and make such an appointment. The system will break otherwise. So be it. There will be some hard constraints on the state that must be met, our paradigm does not assume that this can be escaped, nor does it try to fully escape this and build an incorruptible state. Rather we are trying to design a state that is least likely to become corrupted by being as simple as possible.

So we’ve got a truth guy, appointed by the state (perhaps not one guy, and perhaps not formally) to curate the truth-sayers and tell the state what to think. Maybe he also tells the rest of society what to think, if the state thinks this to be a good idea.

So this is the matter of Truth. The state keeps official advisor(s) to tell it what to think, and makes sure that the systems of truth generation backing these advisors stay working. This is the extent of the trickyness on Truth.

Now, Salvation.

If we went with a Christian state for example, which is convenient at least as a thought experiment given Western history. The Church (by which we mean the Christian Church, not abstract as in the above) is an institution within society that is concerned with making sure everyone gets Saved, and being the earthly representative of the Kingdom of God, etc. They also do a lot of Truth generation and maintenance, build a politically useful collective identity, and have a lot of powerful influence through their parishes and associated management structure. Thus if they are big, they almost necessarily have to come to the negotiating table with the state, and work out a deal. The substance of the deal has to address four things:

  1. Is the Church allowed to do its business in saving people and making them Christians? Does it get state support in this mission? Probably. This seems like a straightforwardly good deal for a state that is not hostile to Christianity, and it’s almost the default. The Church would have to screw up pretty badly to get unplugged.

  2. Is the Church trusted as a matter of philosophical, scientific, social, metaphysical authority? Maybe, maybe not. Note that this is an actual question, that can be answered either way without immediate political disaster. This question is just whether or not the Church has its mechanisms working, and whether the state recognizes this and trusts it.

  3. Does the church submit to the state’s earthly authority in the areas where the Church wields state-like power? This is another obvious one, and the answer is yes. This must be true. A bunch of holy men don’t get a free pass to run around wielding power outside the system of order set up by the state, just because they claim to be holy. They have to cooperate like everyone else. They don’t get to command the state in any kind of general way.

  4. Does the state, as a collection of individuals and an institution, fall under the authority of the church in the limited sphere of spiritual life, marriage, etc, where the Church regularly takes positions of authority? The answer to this could be yes. It is not an immediate political solecism for the state to bind itself in this way. It’s the same as the state making a contract or committing to the rule of law. The state can take this bind because it thinks it’s a good idea. It is key to note though that the state must not surrender actual power in this deal, and the power of enforcement is still just the good word of the State, as always. (As required by our approximately absolutist current paradigm). If the state decides to pull out and start having demonic rituals or whatever, that’s going to reflect badly, but no one must have the earthly power to stop them. Otherwise self proclaimed holy men will decide that things other than actual demonic rituals are grounds for intervention, and civil war will result. The state must enter this deal in a relatively paranoid way. It may in fact end up giving over some power to a bunch of self-proclaimed holy men, so it needs to do so with utmost care, and make sure that it is not possible for the Church to get out of line politically. This may involve having backup schismatic sects or alternate religions that the State could convert to if the Church proves itself to be illegitimate by attempting to wield earthly power. This is a bit of a MAD thing: State says “Ok we’ll submit for now, but if you jerk us around, we’ll have to conclude you guys aren’t legit, and convert to Shinto”. Doing this in a philosophically correct way is a challenge. We don’t know if this is a good idea, but we don’t see a problem with the state being arbitrarily paranoid here. It’s only a problem if the Church has political ambition, which it shouldn’t if it is what it claims to be.

We want to make clear that the state has and retains optionality on all the matters of purely political import here.

This is just a snippet of some relatively undeveloped thoughts in the area. There are other pieces, especially in how much political ambition the Christian Church actually necessarily has, how this relates to historical tradition, and other topics that will need further development.

Edited and curated by Wolf Tivy

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