By Rev. R.J. Rushdoony
Hegel did not create the idea of the state as the source of morality and moral order. It was the faith of ancient paganism, revived by the medieval monarchs, stressed by the Enlightenment, and then formulated by modern philosophy. Jacob Burckhardt traces the independence of morality from religion back to the Renaissance.1 Certainly the Catholic monarchs since the Council of Constance saw the church as under them rather than vice versa. The English Church was separate from Rome after Henry VIII, but not unlike the major Catholic states in ruling the church. Queen Elizabeth saw herself as head of the church, and it was unwise to question this. As W. P. M. Kennedy writes, “She was in a very real sense what Lord North described her, ‘Our God on earth.'”2 Such language was not unusual. Much earlier, the Borgia pope, Alexander VI, was hailed in Rome on his elevation to the papacy with the banner, “Rome was great under Caesar. Now she is even greater. Caesar was a man. Alexander is a God!”3
The state as a moral agent, as the ministry of justice in the civil order, is a Biblical doctrine, very clearly set forth in Romans 13:1ff. What was alien to Christianity was the growing detachment of the state from Christianity and its pagan claim to be itself the source of moral order.
As Richard Weaver makes clear, ideas have consequences, and the moral autonomy of the state led steadily to the paganization of society and the rise of the state to the ostensible rank of both god and church.
Previously, the church had been the source of health care, education, and charity. These areas of concern went back to God’s law, the law given through Moses to Israel. The early church carried on these duties as God’s new Israel. The Christian community had an unavoidable duty under God to meet the many urgent needs of society. The state was a ministry of justice. The church was a ministry of grace. The Christian community had a duty: “[W]e are members one of another” (Eph. 4:25), says Paul, and God requires faithfulness to this by His people, by persons essentially and primarily. Morality is first and last a personal fact and duty.
Because ideas do have consequences, the state as the moral agent has moved into health, education, and welfare, in fact into all spheres of life, as man’s hope and savior.
Thus, the state now seeks to educate children and youth about the danger of drugs. As the moral agent, it seeks to enlist family, school, and church in its great crusade. It complains that parents are not sufficiently interested, and it acts as the primary agent of moral reform. Similarly, “family” education in the schools, state mandated, is sex education on premises which are alien to Christianity but are basic to the state’s premise of man’s moral autonomy from God.
Adolf Hitler and National Socialism led this movement into open moral autonomy from God. Abortion, sexual license, euthanasia, and more were approved, and National Socialism was clearly a homosexual movement. Today only its anti-Jewish actions are condemned as its other practices are adopted.
In the process of this enthronement of the state as the moral agent, the part of the church and the Christian community has been altered. Antinomianism is now well nigh universal, and statist law prevails. The church’s role has been dramatically altered. Instead of being the teacher of morality, of the moral order required by God’s law, the church has become more the morale builder than the moral teacher. This shift is especially visible during wartime, when the church invokes God’s help for often evil causes.
At one time, the church’s mission meant a worldwide effort to create God’s order. Today, world order is left to all the United Nations, and the church has reduced its scope. In the modernist churches, there are commonly study groups concerned with political economic agendas derived from humanism. In Arminian and so called Reformed churches, there are prayer meetings given to small causes, not Christ’s world mandate in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20).
The state’s moral agenda is dying of cynicism and corruption. Being internally corrupt because of its separation from God, it cannot create a moral order anywhere. As the remnants of its Christianity recede, so too does its shrinking morality.
The church becomes more and more like an ancient mystery religion, trying to give some kind of hope for the afterlife while irrelevant steadily to this life. The authority of both church and state is eroding.
F. W. Bussell rightly holds that true authority is not coercive. Today law and authority are alike compulsory and coercive because they are seen as arbitrary and even unjust. Because both law and authority have a modern meaning, they have become nonmoral force. “Force has now become the most striking characteristic of the conception of Law.” Both “State utility” and the “common good” are inadequate replacements for religious sanctions.4
The modern state is morally bankrupt, but so too is the largely antinomian church. The people are well taught in their moral anarchism. Bussell calls attention to Pringle Pattison’s Mind, with its “libertarian, pelagian, arminian views” and dislike of “regimentation” by God or man. An American writer says of Pringle Pattison, “God is warned not to tread on the holy ground of the individual unless He first put off his shoes … He betrays a jealousy of God rather than for God. He is jealous of his individuality, not for human personality as personalized by God which is really Hegel’s conception.”5 Modern man normally wants only the god he himself imagines as good and none other. His stance is, “Thou shalt have none other gods before me than the god of my imagination.” Insistent on his own ultimate, man today is turning on church and state alike when they contradict his moral autonomy. Many in church and state are dedicated to satisfying this warped view of fallen man, and as a result they accelerate the decay.
What must take place is a restoration of morality to the triune God, together with placing church and state, man and society, and all of man’s agencies, institutions, arts and science, under God’s law and authority. He alone is God. ***
1. Jacob Burckhardt, Reflections on History (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Classics, 1943 reprint), 206.
2. W. P. M. Kennedy, Studies in Tudor History (Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, reprint of 1916 edition), 242.
3. Ivan Cloulas, The Borgias (New York: Franklin Watts, 1987: 1989), 70.
4. F. W. Bussell, Religious Thought and Heresy in the Middle Ages (London, England: Robert Scott, 1918), 648f.
5. Ibid., 505n.
Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916-2001) was the founder of Chalcedon and a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical Law to society.