The Greeks made a bold move and removed the question of morality from the secular world and replaced that mandate with the universal ideal of ethical behavior governed by laws.  We became a people of rules and laws and ethics in the state — making us completely unique in the world — because no other competing species for our time and space is able to cognitively think, make value judgments and create a standard, equitable, criteria for living as citizens that requires we help each other instead of trying to kill each other.  We are ruled by our minds and not our emotional instincts.  We have patterns of written expectation we agree to adhere to in order to get along with each other — and the role of the historic Church in antiquity was to mediate the meticulous, and sometimes tenuous, dyad between a people and their state — and to help regulate an effervescent values system and to negotiate a context for living a moral life in a shapeshifting world.


Some believe the United States is a Christian nation when it is not.

We know — according to the Treaty of Tripoli signed on June 7, 1797 — the USA was intended to be a secular nation:

Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

If the United States is not a Christian nation — what then, is the role of the Church in modern society?

Is the mission of the Church to merely indoctrinate children into a system of beliefs and behaviors that temper the unanimity of state-drawn ethics and laws and to help enhance the equity of human governance?

Or is there a greater notion of devotion to the cathedral than just processional indoctrination?

9 Comments

  1. I can’t really speak for the role of the church but I can write this much: the Torah (written + orally transmitted) has always meant to be a completely encompassing system of living: from a business perspective, ethical perspective, government perspective, etc. Indeed, we are meant to take court cases to our own courts before even considering taking them to a city or state court.

  2. Gordon!
    I like that — try to solve the problem locally, within the faith of the community frame — before taking it to wider, secular exposure. Let the shared belief set the terms of the living, and if that fails, then seek government intervention.

  3. Perhaps the question should be … “What is the role of modern society in the Church?”
    What morality would the Greeks have replaced with governed ethical behavior?
    The history of the Greeks only confirm that they were polytheistic in their religion, which means that they acknowledged many gods and demons. Once admitted to the pantheon, a god could not be eliminated from it. He or she had gained “divine tenure.”
    Each polytheistic culture inherited religious ideas from its predecessors or acquired them in war. They in essence, actually chose what they wanted to adopt into their religious views and what they would combat against.
    The Greeks were Pagans, which means that they had the common trait of iconography. They worship idols. These idols were pictorial representations of the image of their gods., often a deceased individual that was believed to have acquired supernatural gifts in the after life. This gave them god status. Only, Israel was officially aniconic. There were no images of their god.
    The Greeks were crude with their religious behaviors. They often gathered the christians together into arenas and fed them to lions, or hung them by there extremities till death. I find no “morality” in any of these acts. They possessed no morality!
    Ethically, things are different by regions, states, cities and towns. What a much easier way to live! This would seemingly remove the necessity of morality.
    However, ethnicity does not replace the need to teach morality.

  4. Hi Kimberley!
    I don’t think the Greeks were worried about morality, per se, so they were happy to slough it off on the Church while they went “ethically” wild and setting hard boundaries for behaviors that would be punishable by laws. They were happy to entertain any Godhead as long as the people paid their taxes to the Senate…
    Values change as a culture changes, and so too, has our understanding of faith — some generations are more fearful of heavenly retribution than others, and that alone, it seems to me, led to the invention of the New Testament and a “kinder, gentler” Godhead while the Jews were perfectly happy with the Old Testament, cruel and vindictive Godhead and His harsh punishments for bad behavior.
    The argument seems to be that laws and ethics are unbending and predictable, while modern faith is more passive, less aggressive and less universally standardized that it used to be even a generation ago — and that may not be a bad thing in the contemporary mindset if one is looking for belonging and the satisfaction of an ethereal yearning for something more.

  5. So true! I know a couple from Greece and they have sat at great lengths with me and shared with me much history. I must say … intelligence is their strong point. They strive for knowledge and excel above most.
    However, the laws and the fact that they issued those laws in such a way through out history that is became in- humane and demoralizing. There was no flexibility in those laws. It was do as I say, believe as I believe, or be punished and in many cases put to death. Not necessarily our times today! The slogan on the back of the trucks state, “Go to the Church of your choice.” Are we really still given a choice?
    Obama doesn’t think that America is a “christian” nation. In some part of my mind I shamefully completely concur. We live in a time of change. Many claim faith but few abide by the ever changing laws or creeds of that particular faith. Pretty much people do as they want and believe as they want. There seems to be no guidelines. Faith has somehow been modernized.
    Yes, faith has become very passive in that no one is to offend another over religious beliefs or alternate life styles. I think maybe the whole “We do not discriminate against ” memorandum has been incorporated into the various religious facets of our society.
    Don’t discriminate another persons religion or beliefs. That would seem to be the new law on the block! However, It takes away the purpose for faith in religion in doing so. Why claim a faith if you’re not going to stand on it’s beliefs?
    One ethnic group should not decide the faith of the masses simply based on the fact that ethnically they are dominate. Can ethics and their laws that are attached truly replace morality? If so, where is that road taking us as a society?
    I think, as a society, people will always need their faith to rely upon but for most the moral aspect of it has faded and simply been dismissed or excused, especially by the church. According to most religions, you can live with many sins and still be in the good graces of their particular god.
    While, as you say, laws are unbending and predictable, which is ultimately true … where there are laws … there are always people willing to break those laws in complete defiance to obey them. Rebels at heart.

  6. Kimberley —
    I don’t think it serves any government founded in secularism to then try to define their world prowess by using the narrow niche of religious entitlements. When we hear God’s name used as a rationale for waging war on sovereign nations, then we should expect a similar response from their side which, then, proves the old adage that every war that has ever been fought in the world was created over religious jingoism: My God is better than your God.
    The problem in the last 30 years in the USA has been the politicization of religion. We have pubic litmus tests for belief when that matter used to be a private matter between individuals and their God. When we move faith into the public square, we begin to lose the rule of law and bendable behavior is its unfortunate replacement.

  7. Yes! That’s because of the religious propaganda and advertising liberties used in the media. It happens to be one of the biggest merchandizing angles ever! Kind of sad that this reveals just how low of a nation we have become. Religion is so mainstream in the lives of Americans that it doesn’t even mean to the people what it once did.
    Much like our politics … religion is presented to us in various genre in such a way that we are influenced by others views and presentations of religion rather than the actual value and basis of the religion.
    Religion has become so political! We want to believe in someone whom we deem to hold to some christian values. We tend to even vote for the candidate who’s platform is based on christian values and basic morality.
    I think bendable behavior has already made it’s presence known in our society. Whether there are laws to govern these behaviors or not … they will somehow still exist. Unfortunately, we will always have this to deal with.
    Is history really caught in a vicious circle and doomed to continue to repeat itself? Are we as a society going to continue to make the same decisions and mistakes again and again as our fore fathers did?

  8. Hi Kimberley —
    Well, that is the problem. We now have a litmus test for being a politician. You better have a Christian name, and love the baby Jesus, and go to Church on major religious holidays or the fundamentalists will come after you and tar you as a heathen.
    We need to have the freedom of faith in the USA — and that includes, as president Obama presciently said — people of zero faith:
    http://urbansemiotic.com/2009/02/06/obama-and-the-godless/
    Morality belongs in the pew and not the public square, and the sooner we can begin to realize that as a majority, the better off we will all be in the long run because we’ll be tending our own homes instead of peeping into our neighbors’ bedrooms.