Religion and Civil Government

 

Charles B. Galloway

 


 

Now, as introductory to this study of our earlier American history, and in order to get a vantage point from which to take the most satisfactory observations, I shall speak to-day on the general subject of religion and civil government. My contention will be that the governments and civilizations of all people are typed and determined by the character of their religions. And this proposition will hold good whether the religion be true or false. The deepest and mightiest thing in any nation's heart is its religion; therefore as is the religion so is the nation. "The kingdom of heaven is within you," some one once quoted to Frederick Maurice. "Yes," he replied, "and so is the kingdom of England." And to every true American we may say, "And so is the republic of the United States." Now if this discussion shall prove to be a demonstration, the application of these clearly ascertained principles to our American commonwealth will account for the history and reveal the true philosophy of our social and civil institutions.

There is an intimate, a vital connection between the spiritual and political faiths of a people. As God hath joined them together, they can not be put asunder. So intimate indeed is this relation that the dominance of the one determines the characteer of the other. The heavens and the earth are in immediate and vital relation. And no people can have politically a new earth until they have first had spiritually a new heaven. On this point the distinguished Dr. Fairbairn has thus spoken:

"Political thought is the religious idea applied to the state and the conduct of its public affairs, while religious thought is but our view of the polity of the universe, and man's relation to it. It follows that as man thinks in the one field he comes to think also in the other."

But I should go farther, and say that a man's thinking in the political field is invariably, if not necessarily, determined by his convictions in the spiritual field. In the realm of the civil, as in the ecclesiastical, the old aphorism holds good: "Like priest, like people." The state is a true reflex of the Church; the civil law is a faithful rescript of the canon law. And, as in the days of the Hebrew theocracy, so in all lands and under all religions, there is a close connection between the sanctuary and the seat of judgment. The altar shapes the throne, the character of the crozier measures the strength of the scepter. Out of religious doctrines are developed political principles; and, therefore, the purer the religion the broader a nation's constitution and the wiser its civil polity. Religion is a political force as well as a spiritual influence; both a social dynamic and a celestial inspiration. With a slight modification I accept the statement of Prof. Seeley:

"From history we learn that the great function of religion has been the founding and sustaining of states."

And in language quite as emphatic that accomplished student on another occasion expressed the same critical judgment as follows:

"Look almost where you will in the wide field of history, you find religion, wherever it works freely and mightily, either giving birth to and sustaining states, or else raising them up to a second life after their destruction."

And even the skeptical but philosophically acute and observant Rousseau, himself a political leader and social reformer, gives assent to the same great doctrine in these strong words: "Never was a state founded that did not have religion for its basis."

 


Christianity and the American Commonwealth. Charles B. Galloway, [Originally published in 1898] American Vision, PO Box 220, Powder Springs, GA 30127. 2005. pg 8-10.