April 16, 2010

Law is a secular approximation of morality. What shall be acceptable for society is legislated by the chosen leaders of that society, whose choices in turn are sanctioned by that society. (No matter the system of government, leaders who are not acceptable to those they lead do not remain leaders for long.)

Through law, morality becomes the province of government. While law exists at all, it cannot be otherwise. Whether law protects only property rights or broadly defines criminal actions, it still sketches out a codefied morality.

Yet morality is not the province of government alone. Every religion which has ever existed has been built upon a decree of morality. Even more so than the state, the morality of religion is based equally upon what is permitted and what is forbidden. And unlike government, which claims mortal human beings as its only authority: the morality of religion is based directly upon the perception of the divine, granted to human beings through rationality or revelation.

The original Lockean argument that government lacks authority in the realm of individual conscience becomes void as soon as the duties imposed by one clash with the restrictions imposed by the other. No matter how determined a wall between church and state, no matter whether the separation is intended to be friendly or hostile: where moralities differ in the slightest, religion and government will come into conflict.

The solution is simple. Either religion allows itself to be remade in a shape acceptable to the government, or the government allows itself to be remade in a shape acceptable to a dominant religion. Where this process is transparent, either the religion becomes the government, or the government becomes the religion. In any lesser form of co-existence, conflict will persist.

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