The Subordination of
Church to State

Rejecting the Enlightenment, the philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau argued for the imposition of a “civil religion”: a statist, secular dogma citizens are compelled to believe above all else. Where one’s religious beliefs did not impact the civil religion, Rousseau would deign to allow these subordinated beliefs. As a result, a person’s freedom of conscience is not respected; and those who dissent from the civil religion are subject to reeducation and other punishments, including death—i.e., “forced to be free” (i.e., punished and/or killed). 

The totalitarian regimes spawned by Rousseau’s anti-Enlightenment ideology have not always been so permissive regarding the freedom of conscience or religion. Murderous regimes, like the former Soviet Union, sought not only to subordinate religion to the state, but also to exterminate religious belief altogether. Today, even where religion is “permitted,” it is under attack, as in Nicaragua; or, worse, controlled by the state, such as in the communist nations of China and Cuba. In all such regimes, the end goal is abject secularization through the ultimate destruction of religious belief. There can be no belief in anything but the government; no faith in anything but the regime. 

Ever the leader in refining repression, Communist China is adapting the communications revolution not to expand liberty but to crush it, and to further the subordination of church to state. As Jonah McKeown of the Catholic New Agency reports

ChinaAid, a U.S.-based Christian charity, reported March 6 that the religious department of the provincial government of Henan is rolling out a system whereby all believers must make online reservations before they can attend services in churches, mosques, or Buddhist temples.

The reservations are to be made through an app called ‘Smart Religion’ developed by the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Commission of Henan Province. According to ChinaAid, applicants must fill in personal information, including their name, phone number, government ID number, permanent residence, occupation, and date of birth before they can make a reservation.

Only God needs to see if you’ve been to church, and He doesn’t need an app to know. The problem is that Xi Jinping and his Communist cadres do not believe in God, only in their Communist civil religion. And, in case there is any confusion as to the Communist regime’s rationale for developing and implementing their ironically named Smart Religion app, it is not for expanding the free exercise of religion or protecting the freedom of conscience: 

China’s Henan Daily reported that on Feb. 24 this year, Zhang Leiming, member of the Standing Committee of the Henan Provincial Party Committee and head of the United Front Work Department, went to the Provincial Ethnic and Religious Committee to investigate and pointed out that it is necessary to strictly manage religion in a comprehensive way, unite and guide the majority of religious believers to follow the Chinese Communist Party unswervingly.

Zhang makes it sound as if the Chinese Communist Party’s totalitarian war on faith and the freedom of conscience was not already oppressive enough, despite the fact that even state-approved churches’ doctrines are censored and believers watched. Now, people of faith will have to abet their own surveillance or face punishment by the regime. Download the app—or else! Worse, as the communist regime ultimately intends, believers can discard their religious faith and wholly submit to the CCP’s civil religion.    

To religious believers and all who believe in human rights, dignity, and democracy, Communist China is a cautionary tale of what could happen in the free world. But for the Left, Communist China is a roadmap.

The reason is obvious: the Left rightly regards freedom of conscience and religion as the primary obstacles to the imposition of its radical, statist agenda. If not wholly secularized already, the Left has accommodated its religious beliefs to the dictates of its radical political ideology. They insist everyone must do the same, demanding that those who disagree must subordinate conscience, faith, and action to the Left’s civil religion (and/or, in the interim, a revisionist leftist religious interpretation).

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Daily, incessantly, and inveterately the Left seeks to impose its civil religion upon believers and every dissenter. If any dissent and/or resist, the Left’s cancel culture will punish them; and, further, already in some instances both in Europe and the United States, one will face civil and criminal sanctions. 

This is especially concerning here in the United States, where the God-given right of the free exercise of religion is explicitly—and the freedom of conscience implicitly—recognized, respected, and protected by the U.S. Constitution. Yes, the government is also prohibited from establishing a religion. Yet, refraining from naming a specific religion as the official state religion is not the same as permitting—let alone mandating—the rejection of religious belief and practice in public life. It is the distinction and difference between atheism and ecumenicalism—and it is lost upon the Left. Or is it? This distorted view of the establishment clause has furthered not only the “separation of church and state,” but the subordination of church to state

Why this dogged commitment by the Left to impose their civil religion? Because leftists have already subordinated themselves to their secular ideological dictates. Their religion gives their lives meaning, including a deluded sense of superiority that rationalizes away their totalitarian actions in the self-anointed pursuit of an alleged “liberation” for themselves and others. Ultimately and tragically for the Left, their civil religion is really their only religion. Thus, they seek the subordination of revealed religion to their secular religion, never realizing their compulsive quest for “liberation” is what seals their subordination to disorder.

As of yet, we haven’t crossed the religious Rubicon into a Leviathan world of atheism, totalitarianism, and barbarism. But we are on the bridge, being propelled forward by a secular Left that, with torches in hand, is determined to subordinate religion and the freedom of conscience to the ideological dictates of their statist civil religion; and to eradicate the religious foundation of Western Civilization with a virulence that would please Diocletian. 

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About Thaddeus G. McCotter

An American Greatness contributor, the Hon. Thaddeus G. McCotter (M.C., Ret.) represented Michigan’s 11th Congressional district from 2003 to 2012 and served as Chair of the Republican House Policy Committee. Not a lobbyist, he is a frequent public speaker and moderator for public policy seminars, and a Monday co-host of the "John Batchelor Show" among sundry media appearances.

Photo: NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images

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