Thanks for the very thoughtful post. I don't have time to reply in depth right now, but....
It almost seems as if you see the Enlightenment mainly as an "improvement" on the then-prevailing "religious barbarism."
I wouldn't put it so crudely, but it's clear that between 1650 and 1750, it became (mostly) unacceptable in Western Europe to advocate the forced conversion or physical punishment of those who had a different faith.
That change is, in my opinion, crucial to the modern concept of individual liberty, since if the state can dictate how one may worship God, what can it not dictate?
And that brings to mind another question. If I am to accept the premise of some Christians that only Christianity can serve as the basis of a free society which respects liberty, why is it that during the total ascendancy of Christianity in the west from ca. 350 to ca. 1700 AD, there came into being so few "free republics"?
Yes. And it's certainly not much of a protection against oppression, as fascism arose in the heart of Christendom. But even if they were right, as you've pointed out before, this would be an argument of utility, not truth. That it's an advantageous religion. Well, sometimes it is. Occasionally. Okay, once!
That change is, in my opinion, crucial to the modern concept of individual liberty, since if the state can dictate how one may worship God, what can it not dictate?”
Excellent point - but I think it is also key to the answer of where the concepts that give rise to a Free Republic come from.
I think within Christianity there is the seed of the thought of acceptance of Christ being an individual choice - but it was hard for that seed to break through the crust of the entrenched idea of the State/Church with an official religion and official religious functionaries and the resulting forced conversion and violent suppression of any contrary theological thought.
Once the concept of ‘freedom of conscience’ arises alongside the idea of ‘natural rights of mankind’ within a populace - a free republic will become a possibility.
About “orthodox Christianity” stating that your parents would be in Hell, this isn’t true. It is Catholicism that is orthodox Christianity, actually, and the Church teaches that we cannot know someone’s final destination — not while we’re in this world, anyway. Moreover, the Church teaches that God may very well give us one last chance to repent after death.
The logic of this statement is irrefutable, dear Notary Sojac!
But if any State were so foolhardy as to conceive that it really had the "power" to command individual conscience, that state would be "illegitimate" by definition, even insane. For such a State has transgressed a firm bound of reality, which stipulates that States are creatures of men, not of Nature; thus men, being "natural-born," so to speak, cannot be "creatures of the State." (For "Nature" comes first. :^) )
Men are (to use Christian terminology comfortably familiar to the Framers), creatures of God, and such creatures! for alone of all beings in the natural (created) world, they were "made" in His Image. Which is why the Framers held as "self-evident" the proposition that such creatures are "naturally" possessed of divinely endowed, thus inalienable, sovereign, "equal" rights as unique individual persons. As to the constitutional hierarchy of power, We the People come first: Under the constitutional system the Framers gave us, We the People are the Principals; the government (i.e., the state) is our Agent.
The point is agents do not give instructions to their principals; they execute instructions received from their principals, a "higher source" which can readily be apprehended by viewing the Preamble to the U. S. Constitution.
Under the (arguably Christian) understandings that underlay the purpose and design of the U.S. Constitution, for the agent to start telling the principal what to do to "command his conscience," as it were, or at least bring it into conformity with State plans through coercive methods if need be would be living, de facto, direct evidence of profound illegitimacy in the order of the State. The nightmare of a stalking, all-powerful, wholly unprincipled Leviathan then comes to mind.... So far at least, only in my nightmares....
Thomas Hobbes, philosopher and amazingly fecund political thinker envisioned this "beast," which he named Leviathan. It is civil government at the lowest common denominator: in which human persons willingly, routinely, sacrifice their "liberty" for "safety" understood as something the State can provide them with in the first place. Little do they suspect that the State itself is a main source of disorder which leads to conditions of "un-safety" in our communities. Which dangers, of course, the State promises to remediate. :^)
Talk about a "zero-sum game" for human beings! Don't blame the Lord for making your life miserable, or even for condemning you blame your fellow man instead!
But enuf of that for now. Turning to another point you raised, the absolute dependency of the United States of America on the "separation of Church and State."
Given the above discussion, I don't think such a thing is necessary or even do-able. I don't see how it can be a "problem," since the unity of order and spirit seems so universal to the way men practically think and act. It's like a demand for the "separation" of body and psyche in man....
A problem for another time perhaps.
At this point, on this question I'd like us to remember two of the most powerful promulgators and defenders of the American "doctrine" of separation of Church and State: Thomas Jefferson (1743 1826) and Roger Williams (c. 1603 1683).
Since Roger came first, let's do him first.
Roger Williams was a Puritan minister who was banished from my home state Massachusetts, on pain of execution, should he ever return to the Commonwealth. And all this because he was absolutely, unabashedly, uncompromisingly "on political record" as opposing any consolidation of Church and State. Above all, he was concerned about the primacy and dignity of individual conscience in discerning man's relations to God, man (self and other), world, and society....
Of course, the folks of Massachusetts at that time were engaged in doing precisely that: Winthrop's "shining city on a hill" would be instantiated in an established State Church in Massachusetts.
Probably Williams would have died on the Cross before his conscience would have approved/permitted such a thing as a "consolidation" of Church and State. And his reasoning on this topic is most instructive: He as much as said (paraphrasing), we know that states, being human constructions, are bound to "err," to "fall off the tracks" of the Good as if they were subject to some law of "inverted moral gravity."
AND SO there should never, ever be any consolidation of Church and State, on grounds that the State could only "corrupt" the Church!!!
In short, Roger Williams envisioned the separation of Church and State as a profound moral problem, which recognizes that one can't get to Truth if one is following an immoral path....
Thomas Jefferson probably the truest exemplar of Enlightenment thinking of all the Framers was (I think) trying to get around the "moral problem" by "reducing" its resolution to more comprehensive, abstract principles that did not depend on direct human experience for their verification. Which is to say, the "separation of Church and State" was, for Jefferson, a matter of political policy, on "technical" and mass "social" grounds.
Well, whatever you think about these problems, dear Notary Sojac and I'd love to hear more I've got to stop for now, and simply wish you and all your dear ones:
A very merry and blessed Christmas, and a happy, healthy, prosperous New Year!!!