Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Secular and Sacred Authority: why we need it!

Present essay by Dr. Sam Holliday was first published on 6 Mar 2004 by the Armiger Cromwell Center entitled "Church and State". It doesn't hurt either text or content matter to read for "United States of America" any other country or nation of your choice.

We live in the best of times and the worst of times, an age of belief and incredulity, a season of light and darkness. This is as true today as it was it the time of revolutions. Then there was a shift from old regimes with the divine right of Kings, social classes, inefficiencies, inequalities, and struggles for power to new regimes with civil rights, uncertainty, liberty, inefficiencies, inequalities, and struggles for power.

Today we are moving from a God-fearing melting pot nation seeking liberty, justice, and opportunity for all, to a God-less entitlement obsessed salad, shaped by postmodern thought with factions seeking special benefits in the name of openness, tolerance and diversity.

- Caption: This may be the source behind a lot of the confusion between Secular and Sacred Authority: Pope Leo III officially crowned Charlemagne in 800 Holy Roman Emperor. "Out of this intimate co-operation of Church and State came one of the most brilliant ideas in the history of statesmanship: the transformation of Charlemagne’s realm into a Holy Roman Empire that should have behind it all the prestige, sanctity, and stability of both Imperial and papal Rome." -

We see the symptoms: Courts taking upon themselves to make the kind of decisions that the Constitution reserves for the people, and their elected representatives; public officials violating the law without hesitation or shame; a famous athlete walking free after killing his ex-wife and a waiter returning her lost eye glasses; TV filled with vulgarity, crudeness, sensationalism, and political correctness; a vivid depiction of Christ’s passion being attacked before it was seen—yet increasing the faith of many Christians when seen; the most powerful person in the Democratic party being an ex-President best known for spin (quibbling and lying with skill) and sexual dalliance; the current President hated because his core beliefs are rooted in his faith; leading politicians being hollow men (or women), opportunists, elitists, and lacking any core values; a growth of cynicism and despair among those intellectuals in Old Europe and American universities that have rejected sacred authority, yet an increasing number of common folks seeking happiness and salvation through faith and religious convictions.

America and the West are suffering from the decline and decay of our culture, and the exclusive reliance on secular authority. The decline and decay of our culture has been well recorded by Toynbee, the Durants, and Barzum. However, those that view history as Progress often dispute their conclusions; they see change leading to a new and better world. We need to diagnose the disease.

The weakness of exclusive reliance on secular authority is often ignored or misunderstood. One of the lessons of history is that polities that are growing, building and maturing have both secular and sacred authorities that mutually support each other. In those polities that are in decline one of these two authorities has lost its ability to influence the behavior of its members. It makes no difference if these authorities are united or separated—but they both must be effective and they must be mutually supportive if the polity is to remain strong, efficient, and successful.

Greek thinkers (Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle), while reflecting on the institutions of Greek city-states, defined both secular and sacred authorities. Secular authority was expressed through the structures, processes, rules and laws of governance. Sacred authority was expressed through customs, traditions, and civic virtues based on shared religious, moral, and ethical beliefs. During the Classic era (700 B.C. to 476 A.D.) the importance of having secular and sacred authorities mutually supporting each other was clearly recognized. The lesson is clear: the wisdom of a polity can only be transmitted to succeeding generations if it is internalized by the citizens of that polity, and the institutions of that polity are designed to maintain inherited beliefs, practices and knowledge. In some systems both authorities were united in a God-King, but in others they were separated—but still mutually supporting.

The state emerged out of the collapse of the feudal order in Europe, with states standing in sovereign equality to one another. The concept of sovereignty originated with John of Paris (1235-1306) in his defense of kings against the universal authority of the church. He distinguished the secular authority of the state from the sacred authority of the church; he claimed that coercion should belong to the state, while the church should determine morality and ethics.

Between 1640 and 1848 revolutions challenged the divine right of kings making the people, not a monarch, sovereign. This change required the invention of an abstraction for the people as a whole. Ideas about social contract and general will were used to create the concept of nation. While the problem of secular authority could be easily resolved by the creation of a nation-state, the problem of sacred authority was more difficult. Should morality and ethics be determined by the customs and traditions of the nation or by the church? In most cases the establishment of a national church resolved this; however, there were other solutions.

Hegel (1770-1831) proposed a non-religious solution to the sacred authority problem; morality and ethics were to be determined primarily by the customs and traditions of those with a common identity. According to Hegel a nation, integrated with a state, is the best way to create progress toward an ideal future. This united sacred and secular authorities under the leaders of nation-states, and gave such leaders great power. This led to integral nationalism (an intolerant, ethnocentric form of nationalism that glorifies the state as the highest focus of individual loyalties). With the loss of its Christian past and without a clear sense of civic virtue, the West witnessed totalitarian excess in the name of equality.

- Caption: American Declaration of Independence: "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness". President Abraham Lincoln succinctly explained in his Gettysburg Address of 1863 the central tenet: "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." -

The Founding Fathers of the United States of America had another solution. They attempted to combine four convictions:

(1) that Christian morality and ethics should be the foundation for a common identity in the United States of America,
(2) that there should be no single national church,
(3) that there should be freedom of religion as a consequence of individual sovereignty,
(4) that secular authority and sacred authority should always mutually support each other.

This solution provided for the separation of church and state, so that power would not be concentrated in a single institution. This also allowed governmental structures and processes to be subject to the moral and ethical constraints of sacred authority, yet not to be controlled by any church or the state to control any church. Also this allowed both secular authority and sacred authority to influence the behaviors of all citizens, while government remained efficient, united, and successful. The Founding Fathers knew that people can only be energized internally through goals they set for themselves and through shared morality and ethics. There has never been a better solution.

In the modern era (19th century and first half of 20th century), when many intellectuals adopted the ideas of Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche, the concept of the separation of church and state was turned upside down. The idea that “God is Dead” replaced faith and religious convictions among the intellectuals, elites, and so-called 'enlightened' throughout Europe and America.

The church (and sacred authority) was increasingly restricted to the personal salvation of individuals. Secular authority, as expressed in the Rule of Law, would become supreme in matters of behavior (including morality and ethics). In other words, secular authority became dominant, and in public affairs it had no effective counter- balance.

This resulted in many people, including many judges, thinking that the separation of church and state required the removal of all aspects of religion and morality from all institutions supported by public funds. Today the culture of the urban intelligentsia, the education establishment, and the dependent class is very different from the traditional American culture of self-reliance, independence, compassion, work, and faith.

Since the 1950s the necessity of a common moral/ethical/ religious foundation for all citizens of the American nation has been eroded as a result of political correctness in the name of multiculturalism and diversity. The domination of secular authority, the weakening of sacred authority, postmodernism, relativism, and the failure of secular and sacred authorities to mutually support each other are the causes of America’s cultural decline and decay.

Is there a solution to this cultural decline? After all, behavior is controlled by sacred authority (self-control from custom and tradition), secular authority (compliance with laws and a judicial system), and force. Yes there is a solution, but only if sacred authority is returned to a status equal to that of secular authority, and then the two again mutually support each other. This will require us to re-think our ideas, truths and habits regarding diversity, unity, equality, rights, responsibilities, duty, political correctness, roles, suffrage, laws, citizenship, justice, and standards while we adapt our institutions and accept fresh thoughts.

Sacred authority, as expressed through morality, ethics, and religion in custom and tradition defines good and bad behavior. Sacred authority rewards that which is good with respect, honor, status, and economic benefit. Sacred authority does not punish--it only denies rewards. However, sacred authority does designate behavior that is tacky, uncouth, untoward, and unacceptable; it does prescribe behavior to be avoided, isolated and shunned; it does justify outrage against that which is unacceptable. Sacred authority requires people to be judgmental—to distinguish good from bad and right from wrong.

Law is the province of governance, and thus of secular authority. Laws, rules and taxation are established and enforced by governments to both reward and punish. The advocates of the “rule of law, not the rule of men” actually favor governmental control, rather than self-control. Governments also use force to insure compliance with laws, to preserve order, and to implement foreign policy. Insurgents use force to change governments.

The solution certainty will not be easy. First, there must be those willing to step forward to accurately diagnose the disease. This is what this essay has attempted to do. Next, there must be those willing to prescribe the treatment. It is suggested that the solution presented by our Founding Fathers is such a treatment. Finally, there must be those willing to fight until the treatment overcomes the disease, and those influenced by postmodern thought have been neutralized.

This is the challenge for all of those that love the United States of America.

All publications copyright © 2008 Armiger Cromwell Center, 3750 Peachtree Road, NE, Suite 374, Atlanta, GA 30319-1322. 404-201-7374. Permission is granted to forward this article by e-mail to friends or colleagues on a fair use basis. For reprint permission, contact Armiger Cromwell Center at

More articles by Dr Sam Holliday on file at the dossier page of the Armiger Cromwell Center on Politeia Articles.

- Filed in Aricles on "The Liberal Dictatorship", cat. Neototalitarianism -


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