Editorial - Body and Spirit

Way back in the wobbly days before the operation to free Iraq from Saddam Hussein I read a rather confident essay by a nationally syndicated columnist: a man who has written for Liberty on more than one occasion.

Agreeing with his characterization of the Iraqi regime but a little taken aback at the readiness to send in the troops, I sent him a teasing e-mail warning that Crusaders might soon be marching in downtown Baghdad.

His answer shot back almost immediately: "Not Crusaders, Liberators." To which I rejoined that "we need to make sure that we do not liberate the Iraqis from a secular tyranny and leave them to a fundamentalist one."

Some of the post-Saddam news seems to suggest just such a possibility. I pray that people now free to think for themselves will establish a society that allows all religions to coexist, even as the spiritual energy of that long-repressed society regenerates.

We are living in amazing times. Cruise missiles, GPX-guided weaponry creating the illusion that even war is a sanitized, logical, even surgically precise enterprise. Then the statues fall, the human tide floods in a frenzy of acquisition, and suddenly we are face-to-face with an auto-da-f̩ of mass flagellation.

Here at home some of us try to breathe life into the historically rich construct of a separation of church and state. But on the level of human behavior we know that it is even more difficult to pin down. Is the body an empty vessel that obeys its secular needs while the mind ranges above and dreams of immortality?

John Milton, known for long-winded but matchless expression, put into the mouth of his antihero Lucifer, just cast out from heaven, the following words: "The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven" (Paradise Lost).

And it matters not what I think of your practice of religion, your hologram of the infinite. Within that spiritual reality you will find the parameters to define your interaction with the physical reality of the body—the secular state. It does matter, though, that we each allow the other to seek God—without reaching down into the physical realm and, like Saddam, forcing a confession of sameness.

So we know from real experience that the spiritual state of mind cannot be hidden away from the body of the mechanical. In fact, we know too well that the fabric of the mind cannot exist without the body it directs. There is no separation of body and spirit.

Pursuing this rather esoteric exercise it might be possible to acknowledge that on the personal, organic level there is no separation of church and state. In fact, "where there is no vision the people perish" (Proverbs 29:18). But my deduction is that precisely because these two elements of existence intertwine in a powerful way, we must ensure that in our social structure we protect each from the fire of another's certainty. And in a sense we must set a priority: the spiritual life transcendent for the individual—and therefore removed from the control of the state; the state ensuring that the individual is protected both physically and spiritually. And in this manner a true functional separation of church and state will naturally result.

Can this happen even as the state projects its power in ways that resonate with religious agenda? Are we simply freeing from tyranny? Will we allow a resurgence of a religious expression whose very vehemence we might fear? Will we require of these newly empowered people that they respect the faith of others—even as they suspect that some of us might see them as actors on some unique religious tableau that we might want to construct in their backyard? Tolerance, religious freedom, separation of church and state are as needful there as here, and we must model them on this universal level.

Here at home we seem not willing to allow a public figure to speak of inner values if it crosses another's agenda. Senator Rick Santorum spoke a moral truism when he commented that laws against bigamy and adultery are inconsistent with a laissez-faire attitude to any homosexual behavior. I would not want anyone to presume to force him to change his moral view. His view will either resonate with a constituency and work its way through constitutional means to regulate our secular interaction—or it will be swept away as his own very legitimate opinion. This should be allowed to flourish under a legal separation of church and state, because we cannot divide the man. But we can regulate the laws to consciously honor and protect the spiritual journey of all.

We have come a long way. The United States may have blustered a little, and dissembled a little on official motives, but I think the majority of its citizens have a bright-eyed optimism for what they can do to free others from any tyranny—statism or religious fanaticism.

Fundamentalism may yet wither in a nascent Iraq. Christian missions may yet find open minds who can weigh all forms of spirituality before choosing a path. I know that if there is any substance to a Crusade, it lies in this manner. But conducted on the open cultural exchange of spiritual vision, why should anyone, anywhere object? Unless they fear that we have united church and state, that we have joined sword to Holy Book and brought the spiritual down to the level of dictum. Never let that be said. It was wrong in the past, whether by the sword of Islam, the bloody cross of the Crusader, the imperial use of conversion to subjugate, the stocks for religious independents, or blue laws to placate the doctrinaire.

Heaven will come in Heaven's own time. Let us never confuse the realm of body and spirit to such an extent that we only allow or even require another's "own place" to be like ours. Religious freedom is not mechanical; it is the unleashing of the human potential.

Article Author: Lincoln E. Steed

Lincoln E. Steed is the editor of Liberty magazine, a 200,000 circulation religious liberty journal which is distributed to political leaders, judiciary, lawyers and other thought leaders in North America. He is additionally the host of the weekly 3ABN television show "The Liberty Insider," and the radio program "Lifequest Liberty."