Church and state—inseparable since the beginning of civilization, when Homo Sapiens first developed agriculture, exchanging hunter-gathering for a settled life in large communities. All of the early, great civilizations, from China to Egypt, Inca to Sumer, as well most others, were characterized by a typical organization structure. Peasants, who cultivate the crops, tended the livestock, provide the food for survival and the labor for buildings and projects. Soldiers, who collect taxes and tributes, enforce order, and protect the community from outside attack. Priests and spiritual leaders, who serve as emissaries to the sacred realm of gods and spirits, seeking their favor, divining their intentions, offering sacrifices to appease and please, and performing religious rites and ceremonies. And royalty, who rule with the authority to orchestrate, organize, and command, providing the leadership that enables a large community to cohesively function. Peasant, soldier, priest, and royalty — interlocking pieces, held together by their scared beliefs, rituals and practices.
Agrarian cultures, because they are dependent on the food provided in large, cultivated crops, and dwell in large settlements with people living in close proximity to each other and their domesticated animals, are especially vulnerable to droughts, fires, floods, earthquakes, storms, plagues, crop failure, illness, and disease, as well as attack by nomadic and warring neighbors, any of which can bring dire consequences. This chaotic, turbulent, calamitous cosmos is under the sway of the Gods and spirits. The priestly class, imbued with powers that partake of the divine, are especially important for the survival of the community. Royalty, too, are divinely touched, conferring special powers, potency, and force. Priests and royalty—united by their shared privilege of being agents and messengers of the divine.1
Religious practices and cultural beliefs, everyday life and legal order, church and state, are of a single piece, woven seamlessly into a cultural tapestry. The hierarchical social order—that some humans have higher value, possess special powers and attributes, and should be conferred special positions and privileges as their birthright—is assumed; an obvious consequence of a divinely-given hierarchical cosmic order.
Self Evident Truths
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This famous line in the Declaration of Independence is NOT self-evident, especially at the time of it being penned. Indeed, it is a manifesto of revolution and rebellion, announcing its radical intent for a new order. And in this new order, each individual, not just special privileged classes, is divinely consecrated. Hierarchy and the privilege of rank are tossed overboard, replaced by equality and unalienable individual rights.2
The rending of Church from State was an especially important outcome of the Revolution in a new country composed of immigrants of various religious sects, many fleeing persecution for their beliefs. This separation is historic, and essential to establishing a new order based on secular, civil authority and laws.
Profits and Rebellion
In 1776, the same moment as the Declaration of Independence, a revolutionary book was published: The Wealth of Nations. This is no coincidence. The Industrial Revolution was creating upheavals in every corner of British culture. The Wealth of Nations, the first systematic treatise addressing economic philosophy and practices in a market economy, provided guidance to prosperity in this bewildering time. It is still oft cited, chapter and verse, as if Biblical scripture, to justify and support contemporary economic policies.
America, and its Revolution, is a child from the loins of this new economic order; money, business, and profit shape our origins, our Revolution, our laws, our culture, our selves. The founding of New York City, the heart of the American colonies, and a place of primary influence to this day, bespeaks this history. Originally settled as New Amsterdam by the Dutch, it was not founded by the Dutch government, but by the Dutch East India Company.3 New Amsterdam was a corporate trading outpost. And a very profitable one that passed into the hands of the enterprising British, for whom the entire New World, including the New York, became an engine of imperial wealth.
The American colonists became very British, who, in very British fashion, protested when Parliament pinched their pocketbooks. The American Revolution was ignited by taxes; by injustices perceived by the merchant class, whose income was threatened by the tax levies. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were prominent, wealthy merchants and businessmen, and the Revolution was fueled by Britain’s violation of the rights of the enterprising class to earn the profit they thought their due.4
Church and state were separated after the Revolution. A new entanglement, however, perhaps as invisible to us as the Church-State entanglement was to earlier civilizations, has emerged. Money, business and profit, the DNA of this new order, accelerated post-Revolution. Individual rights, a foundational belief for our democracy, was extended to African Americans by the 14th Amendment after the Civil War. Shortly thereafter, it was extended to…corporations!
What kind of twisted logic could render an Amendment for enfranchising former slaves to include conferring rights to a fiction that derives its existence from a legal contract? Answer: A logic that is “reasonable” within the cultural DNA of money, business and profit. It is an analogous “logic” to that which gave coherence to early civilizations, whose foundations were tethered to the divine. The absurdity of our logic is less visible to us because we are less aware of our foundations.
The consequences of our cultural DNA, and its resulting “logic,” are far reaching, pervasive and profound. Corporations possess freedom of speech and religion, and have the right to refuse goods or services on religious grounds. When they break the law, nobody goes to jail—because there is no body.
Unlimited “dark money” campaign funding by corporate-backed groups now fuel a politics that is unconstrained by libel, lies or scruples. Lobbyists swarm legislators, plying them with milk and honey in exchange for legislative favors; there are 23 lobbyists for every member of congress, spending over $3 billion. Lobbyists are routinely appointed to government posts that oversee the industries they lobbied for (the current administration has appointed 187 former lobbyist to government positions). And, lobbying is the single most popular post-retirement career choice by Congress members. The revolving door spins, and the line between public and private interests fades.
Is bribery a crime if it is called lobbying?
Is extortion criminal if it is called “soliciting campaign contributions”?
Is a government auctioned to the highest bidder corrupt if it is called a democracy?
How easy the transformation from criminal to legal when meanings are reconfigured to align with axiomatic cultural logic. ‘Church and State’ has been replaced by a new, double helix entanglement: Corp. and State.
- See Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari, for an excellent account of this history, and much else.
- The assertion that it is “self-evident that all men are created equal” was also obviously not evident to the Founding Fathers, as the Declaration excludes women; refers to “merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions”; and the Constitution’s recognition of slavery and the 3/5’s rule for counting slaves. Much of our subsequent history testifies that, rather than self-evident, equality is a strived for ideal that has involved much blood and suffering. The struggle continues to this day.
- This was one the first corporations, listed on the first stock market, which was located in Holland. (See Bridges and Tide Pools for more on NYC, and Home in the Strange for more on the Dutch).
- Taxes were, indeed, the flashpoint for the Revolution, but it was also connected to displeasure at being treated, not as equal citizens of Britain, but as vassals of a subordinate colony, subject to “taxation without representation.” The imperial bearing of British policies, troops, and military strategy quickly enraged, and galvanized, the colonists of all classes (except slaves). The Declaration of Independence signaled the shift from desiring to be British citizens, to independence from the entire monarchical system; a revolutionary equality and citizenship. (For a concise and compelling account of the evolution of the American Revolution, see Whirlwind: The American Revolution and the War that Won It, by John Werling).