I recently read a post by Travis about how social conservatives differ from his brand of libertarians. I agree with much of what he wrote. Travis proclaims to not be a member of any organized religion, which is fine with me, but as a practicing Catholic, I want to add a few of my thoughts on the subject.
Sadly, most social conservatives do not realize that by using the powers of government to enact God’s will they themselves commit a sin on their own terms. As most social conservatives are Christian, a quote from the bible is certainly appropriate:
Then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. The devil said to him, "I shall give to you all this power and their glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me." Jesus said to him in reply, "It is written: 'You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.'" Luke 4:5-8
Where many looked for a Messiah to conquer and achieve temporal power, Jesus specifically rejected that option and equated it with worshiping false gods. A government, even a Christian government, cannot achieve good. Only individuals can achieve good when they freely choose to do so. The best we can hope for from government is to provide order and security so that individuals are free to choose good or choose evil.
At that point, it is up to the faithful to try to convince others to choose good, with the understanding that as humans many will in fact choose evil. The emphasis must be on individual choice. Without the opportunity to choose evil there can be no opportunity to truly respond to God’s grace.
For this reason, I think that Travis correctly differentiated between the nature of religious organizations and governments. Religious organizations call people to choose to worship God in response to his grace. Governments offer no such choice. Governments will enforce their laws, forcibly if necessary. This contrast between choice and power is why the separation of church and state is necessary not only to provide individuals a choice of religions, but even more importantly to avoid the corruption of the religion that happens to be ascendant.
Andrew Sullivan has been popularizing the term Christianist to describe social conservatives who hope to use government power to achieve Christian ends. This mingling of faith and government can only end up hurting both.