Religion And Politics


Religion And Politics Essay, Research Paper

The influence of religion on humankind can be traced back to the first records

of history. Religion has served as a pillar of strength to some and binding

chains to others. There are vast amounts of information and anthropological

studies revealing the interaction of religion and humankind. However, for the

purposes of this paper, the time periods of study will be broken up into three

sections. Each section will give a general description of how religion affected

the institution of the state and its Sovereignty in a Euro-centric perspective.

The first period is the early period, which will encompass from Christianity and

the Roman Empire to the Medieval times (approx. 311 to 1100 A.D.). The second

period will include the Renaissance, the Reformation to the Treaty of Westphalia

(1101 to 1648 A.D.). The third and increment of history will range from 1649 to

1945 A.D. The date 311 A.D. marks the issuing of the "Edict of

Toleration" for Christians. This date is important because it symbolizes

"national" acceptance of Christianity, and planted its roots as a

political institution. Later the Roman Empire on the verge of internal collapse

acknowledged the importance of Christianity and used it to hold together the

remnants of it former self. This adoption of Christianity took form and

eventually became the Catholic church. The church became intermingled with

politics and became a strong entity. The policies delivered from the church had

more authority than the local rulers and magistrates of the developing feudal

system. For example, St. Augustine wrote about war and what justified its

enactment against fellow men. This policy was followed and adhered to for

hundreds of years after St. Augustine wrote it. Another example, is the use of

the Bible as a guideline for establishing governing systems. Scripture portrayed

God as choosing the king of the people. The pope, being God’s

"representative" was then given the authority to crown the king. This

crowning process gave the pope large influence in the political arena. This

ritual continued for a number of centuries. The Crusades, which occurred around

1100 A.D., played a crucial role in challenging the church’s authority. The pope

identifying the spread of Islam as evil requested all of Europe embark on a

"Crusade" to defeat the infidels. As the battles were fought, great

treasures were found in the form of books and knowledge. These books were crude

translations of old Greek texts, containing information which would eventually

produce the waning of Church authority in the future. The Renaissance marked the

beginning of intellectual re-birth. Writers such as Dante, Machiavelli,

Guiarccidini, Vitoria, etc., all attempting to reform and some even contest

church dominance. Dante in his imaginative work "Inferno" writes of

hell which he envision is the pope’s final destination. Machiavelli takes a more

direct role classifying the actions of a prince to be above morality and

ultimately above the Church. He continues the affront by classifying a human

character of "virtu" as being completely centered around man

(humanism). The Raison D’ Tat is supreme especially in terms of the church

belligerence. In the middle of the Renaissance, the Church was dealt a deadly

blow from which it would never recover. This assault came via Martin Luther. His

work, "95 Thesis", marked the beginning of the Reformation. This

movement split the church into Catholic and Protestant sects. It marked the

beginning of a bloody period which virtually split Europe in half. Examples of

the conflict raged between Protestants and Catholics from the great slaughter of

Protestants in Paris 1572 A.D. (7000 dead) to the Thirty Years War. With the

Church in disarray, freedom was given to the "state" to begin to

develop. During this period of Renaissance the political identity was going

through a tremendous transformation. This transformation took form in what is

called Absolutism. "Princes" began to tolerate less and less

manipulation from the church. The political entity in the form of monarchy began

to wean itself from the Church for its legitimacy and looked toward its own

power. Other writers began to rise and discuss issues of sovereignty and the

state. Thomas Hobbes discusses the state and refers to it as

"Leviathan" which is the concurring title of his work. Believing man

to be evil, Hobbes fashions his description of the state as the mechanism to

control and harness the capabilities of man. There can be no peace as long as

there is not absolute surrender to reason. The state’s interest is supreme, as

well as, its authority. These ideas were written in direct opposition to the

church and its history. Hobbes desired a complete refutation of the Church’s

influence in government. Hobbes portrays a state as sovereign. The sovereignty

of the state is in direct relation to its longevity and basic existence. State

sovereignty must be perpetual and supreme. The authority of this described state

would over-shadow the authority of the church. Continuing historically, the

development of the thirty years war was significant in its unique result. The

treaty of Westphelia was the agreement which not only settled the war, but gave

absolute authority to the sovereign of each individual state. This was

accomplished by granting the sovereign the right to choose which religion he/she

desired and that in turn transferred down to the people. Thus, once again the

authority of the church was restricted, however this time by the emergence of an

institution called the state. During this period states begin to develop

colonies and exploration of the new world. The discoveries and travel further

challenged church authority. An example of this is the well founded

"scientific" fact that the earth was flat. After such journeys by

Columbus and Magellan, the concept of church’s monopoly on truth was attacked

once again. The third period in history starts with the age of reason. Its

intellectual basis of the time period is science and natural law. Empiricism

plays a fundamental role in church legitimacy. Factual concrete proof of God and

his work is not provided by science. States begin to mature politically as

colonial powers. The Church or rather the concept of religion is still strong

but begins a transformation during the Enlightenment. From Religion ideas of

morality and natural law arise. Locke addresses the role of the government of a

state. He portrays the ideas of a social contract between the people and its

government. He continued by pointing out that the government has a commitment

with the people it must with hold. Locke’s writings also contained concepts

concerning of natural rights which are inherent to human beings. This developed

and identified that power now comes from the people. These people from which the

government is derived and power (legitimacy) have rights and will be

safe-guarded by the people. The French and American Revolutions harnessed the

ideas which the enlightenment wrote and discussed. The French Revolution

exemplified the early stages of nationalism. Nationalism derives from a grouping

of people who share common cultural and social experiences. *From nationalism

the concept of self-determination is derived. Phrases like," We the People.

. ." began to show up in constitutions and declarations, which showed

consensus among people with like-minded purposes. The inception of positive law

was the last and final blow to the concept of religion. Positive law is

fashioned and codified by man. The law has replaced the concept of morality. The

framework which laws create make the state and its sovereign powers legitimate

and legal. States no longer operate in terms of what is just but on whether the

legality for the action or jurisdiction have application. The evolution of the

state and its sovereignty is clear. The Church once being a dominant political

factor has been reduced to a mere whisper of advice. The influence of religion

in instituting or in the elective process of choosing a representative ruler has

been severely minimized. Sovereignty and the institution of the State has

surpassed predestination and Divine Right of Kings.

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