The Strange Persistence of R. Scott Clark — II

Thus, there were long and bloody wars in the 16thand 17thcenturies for religious supremacy.  Most of the time it was Rome, as in the French Wars of Religion (1562–98), the Eighty-Years War (1568–1648), and the Thirty-Years War (1618–48) are outstanding examples. When the American Republic was founded, the Reformation and post-Reformation wars were relatively fresh wounds which the founders sought to avoid.

R. Scott Clark
Article – The Strange Persistence Of Theocracy In America (2)

I single out this from Scott’s article because even though it is not something that Scott spends a great deal of time on, I suspect it serves as one of the key foundations for why Scott thinks that Theocracies are evil. So I am going to spend just a wee bit of time dismissing the idea that by the founding of “secular” America the long and bloody wars in the 16th & 17th centuries for religious supremacy were solved. Now, keep in mind, that I have demonstrated that theocracy is an inescapable category and so there is one sense in which Scott is correct when he references religious wars, but not in the way he might think. Now, certainly, all wars are religious wars but Scott thinks he can solve these types of wars by the glories of the “secular” state. The problem here though is, as argued by William Cavanaugh in his book, “The Myth of Religious Violence,” is that what Scott thinks is solved by the dismissal of Theocracy (as if that were possible) is not solved by the so-called secular state.

Cavanaugh admits that states can commit violence in God’s name, however, he also goes on to insist that the stronger claim that somehow religion is more likely to cause war than a putatively secular state is just not so. Scott has a myth going here that Cavanaugh slays in his work. “Secular” states are not more prone to peace than what Scott is designating as Theocratic states. (One would think that any time spent considering the 20th century would forever dismiss that theory.) Cavanagh offers three reasons why so-called theocratic states are not more prone to religious violence than secular states.

1.) Consistent with what we have argued in our response to Scott, Cavanaugh argues that the distinction between what is characterized as religious and what is characterized as secular is too unstable. Cavanaugh demonstrates that it is just not true that religious and secular can be easily distinguished. Cavanaugh notes that religion is given a black eye because it alone is supposedly absolutist, divisive, and non-rational and yet when counter-examples are offered that demonstrate that secular states are every bit as absolutist, divisive and non-rational suddenly the critics re-categorize the secular state’s actions as now becoming religious in its violence. Supposedly the otherwise secular state has suddenly fallen into religious behavior. It’s almost as if because a secular state is secular it can’t be violent and because a religious state is religious it can’t be not violent.

Of course, the fact that the distinction between religious state (theocracy) and secular states is unstable fits with what I’ve been arguing thus far. Indeed, I would go even further to say that the distinction between religious and secular is a complete myth.

2.) Cavanaugh offers that the religious/secular distinction is not one to be found throughout history. Historians, for example, do not find “religion” as distinct from non-religion in ancient Greek, Egyptian, Roman, Indian, Chinese, or Japanese societies. That probably is because the ancients were smart enough to not fall for the myth of secularism. The ancient world did not create a public vs. private realm. These ancients admitted what guys like Scott deny and that is that all of life is religious. By the late 1600s in Europe, the terms “religious” and “secular” are used in European nation-states, in Cavanaugh’s words to “exclude ecclesiastical authorities from certain types of public power. Religion … was invented as a universal and essentially interior impulse, completely distinct from the mundane business of politics and economics.” Once these European states colonized the globe, they took the distinction that they had created and forced it upon the third world cultures they had colonized – none to the liking of many of these peoples. Cavanaugh notes that in India for example, “to make Hinduism a religion was to take everything it meant to be Indian and confine it to a non-public sphere; to be public meant to be British.” This is not inconsistent with what R2K tries to do with its “theology” as for R2K everything it means to be Christian is confined to the non-public square (Church) while to be public means to operate as one dwelling in the common realm.

3.) The distinction between religious and secular allows the “secular” to push Christianity to the edges of the culture. Cavanaugh notes, “Until 1940 the Supreme Court invoked ‘religion’ as a unifying force in American society. Since 1940, however, the Supreme Court has repeatedly raised the specter of religious violence in banning school prayer, banning optional religious education from public school buildings, banning public aid to religious schools, and so on.” Clearly, what is happening here is that a new religion is operating under the guise of “secular” to the end of overturning Christianity as the public faith of the social order, all in the name of “secularization.” And R2K theology applauds this de-Christianization process.

The answer to what Cavanaugh identifies as a distinction that is too unstable is to realize that the distinction is a complete myth. R2K by supporting this mythic distinction is trying to provide theological support for the continuance of the Supreme Court’s creation of a post-1940 America where Christianity more and more slipped into public square abeyance so that different public square expressions of humanism are allowed to be the new public faith.

Further, none of this solves Scott’s seeming fears of the return of wars driven by theocracies that will fight for religious supremacy and it doesn’t solve it because theocracy never goes away. All wars are religious wars. Scott will just have to live with the idea that if Christianity isn’t willing to fight it will die, or it will commit R2K suicide.

In the next installment in this series, I will look at Scott’s interpretation of American History.

Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Familialist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture. Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *