"The structure of nature may eventually be such that
our processes of thought do not correspond to it sufficiently to
permit us to think about it at all."-P. W. Bridgeman

"For, if one does not exist, he can by no means be mistaken.
Therefore I am, if I am mistaken. Because, therefore, I am if I am
mistaken, how can I be mistaken that I am, since it is certain that
I am, if I am mistaken? And because, if I could be mistaken,
I would have to be the one who is mistaken, therefore, I am most
certainly not mistaken in knowing that I am."-Augustine

"To compare our worldview with others is not to set light
against shadow. It is to compare twilight zones."-Houston Smith


If anything exists-be it extension, or even only thought-then truth (the explanation, purpose, and meaning of that thought or extension) must exist as well. In fact, even if there were only "nothingness," truth (why this "nothingness" instead of something?) would still have to exist. To deny the reality of truth is, a priori, self-contradictory: the denial itself refutes its own assertion. Thus the problem is not with truth, or even with reality. Whatever is, i.e., the noumenon, the thing in itself, has an absolute, perfect explanation. Objective truth and objective reality are just that, objective truth and reality, with no contingencies, paradoxes, or mysteries. Contingencies, paradoxes, and mysteries, of course, exist, but only in our fallen minds, in the hopelessly tainted and stilted subjectivity with which we confront perfect objectivity.

"Life," wrote Reinhold Niebuhr, "is so full of contradictions and incongruities. We live our lives in various realms of meaning which do not cohere rationally." True, but those contradictions and incongruities aren't part of reality itself; they're created, instead, by the fuzzy, vague, and vacillating notions through which we process that reality. In fact, the symbol of blind people feeling different parts of the elephant presumes too much: unaided by divine revelation, but left to reason and experience alone, they never even touch the elephant itself; all they really do is run their probing fingers over a blurry picture of it instead.

Though a presupposition of all dogmatic philosophy is that the real is rational, that doesn't mean that the whole of reality can be rationalized by us. Obviously it can't, because the real often appears irrational. And that's the gist of the paradoxes and contradictions that make life so complicated and difficult: the perfect, objective, rational noumenon, created by a perfect, objective, and rational God, is beyond us; instead, all we know is the phenomena, which are as subjective, elastic, and irrational as our moods, hormones, and cultures.

Therefore, if the objective world itself, directly from the hand of the Creator, comes to us skewed by our own subjectivity, how much more so will subjective objects themselves-those first created by us in our subjectivity and then filtered by that same subjectivity-appear? Government, laws, institutions, political theories, constitutions-all these are, even at their most basic metaphysical level, subjective, phenomenal-from Houston Smith's "twilight zone," as it were. Grounded, not in the Ding an sich, not in reality itself, but only in our obtuse fleeting notions of that reality-these constructions are, indeed (to use Plato) like art, standing "thrice removed" from reality.

The analogy works. First, according to Platonic theory, there's pure, unfiltered reality itself, the Form; then there's the hazy human conception of it, the phenomenon; and finally the human attempt to imitate the phenomenon, the painting itself. "The art of representation," he wrote in The Republic, "is therefore a long way removed from truth, and it is able to produce everything because it has little grasp of anything, and that little is of a mere phenomenal appearance."

And that's what law, government, even our Constitution, are, "thrice removed" from truth, which explains the "bloomin' buzzing confusion" that abounds about them, particularly in so artificial a construct as church-state separation, which-as does every other human artifice-attempts to impose upon objectivity a fuzzy subjectivity that doesn't quite fit. It fits, of course, better than any other attempted artificial balance between church and state, but that's like saying Ted Kennedy's sexual mores were better than the Marquis de Sade's.

So Lemon has internal inconsistencies? So the "wall of separation" isn't a perfect metaphor? So the Free Exercise and Establishment clauses sometimes clash? So U.S. Supreme Court rulings don't always exemplify the logical precision of Frege? What do you expect? When it's possible (in quantum mathematics) to prove that a x b _ b x a, we're not going to get absolute precision, logic, and consistency in something as artificial and subjective as church-state jurisprudence, and to replace church-state separation with some other artificial construct would be simply to exchange one set of inconsistencies, imprecisions, and irrationalities for another, with no guarantee that it will work any better. In fact, we have thousands of years of human history to show that it will be worse.

Church-state separation has flaws. But so do the Brandenberg Concerto, the Mona Lisa, and Hamlet. No one, of course, is talking about replacing them.

We should take the cue.
- Clifford R. Goldstein


Article Author: Clifford R. Goldstein

Clifford Goldstein writes from Mt. Airy, Maryland. A previous editor of Liberty, he now edits Bible study lessons for the Seventh-day Adventist Church.