Sociologist Grace Davie has famously described churches in Europe as “public utilities,” state-supported institutions that people assume will be there for them when the occasion demands — weddings and funerals, for example. She contrasts this with the American idea of churches as “firms,” that is, private associations that members support through voluntary contributions. From La Stampa this week, a fascinating piece addressing attempts by the Catholic Church in Europe to move to the American model, so far without success. State budgetary shortfalls and church scandals have made public funding much less certain, and the Church is encouraging European Catholics to see themselves as “stewards” who must support their local parishes financially. The long tradition of state funding makes Europeans reluctant to accept this new responsibility, however.
From Penguin, a new biography of Roger Williams, Roger Williams and The Creation of the American Soul (2012), by John M. Barry. Barry usefully situates Williams in the legal and political struggles of Jacobean and Caroline England — I did not know, for example, that Williams once served as an apprentice to Sir Edward Coke, the famous Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, and thought of Coke as a surrogate father — and follows him to Massachusetts, from which his fellow Puritans banished him when he denied civil government’s authority to punish offenses against God. Barry discusses the evolution of Williams’s ideas about church and state, including his most famous contribution, the metaphor of the “wall of Separation between the Garden of the Church and the Wildernes of the world.” The publisher’s description follows.
For four hundred years, Americans have wrestled with and fought over two concepts that define the nature of the nation: the proper relation between church and state and between a free individual and the state. These debates began with the extraordinary thought and struggles of Roger Williams, who had an unparalleled understanding of the conflict between a government that justified itself by “reason of state”-i.e. national security-and its perceived “will of God” and the “ancient rights and liberties” of individuals.
This is a story of power, set against Puritan America and the English Civil War. Williams’s interactions with King James, Francis Bacon, Oliver Cromwell, and his mentor Edward Coke set his course, but his fundamental ideas came to fruition in America, as Williams, though a Puritan, collided with John Winthrop’s vision of his “City upon a Hill.”
Acclaimed historian John M. Barry explores the development of these fundamental ideas through the story of the man who was the first to link religious freedom to individual liberty, and who created in America the first government and society on earth informed by those beliefs. The story is essential to the continuing debate over how we define the role of religion and political power in modern American life.
It is increasingly difficult to get an accurate sense from the media of what the Muslim Brotherhood, which has won the largest portion of the vote in Egypt, actually believes about the relationship of religion and politics. The NY Times tends to make comparative assessments only — more moderate than the Salafis (who won roughly 30% of the vote), less democratic than the protesters in Tahrir Square, and so on — leading a reader to believe that the Brotherhood stands in a kind of moderate position.
Here is another data point about the beliefs of the Muslim Brotherhood — taken in large measure from a translation of a book, “Jihad is the Way,” by the former leader of the Brotherhood in Egypt (until 2002), Mustafa Mashhur. The story reports that the organizing principles of the book are these:
- Muslims are “masters of the world”
- Islamic nation’s “rightful position… the teachers of humanity”
- “There is no other option but Jihad for Allah”
- Fighting Israel is “Jihad against the criminal, thieving gangs of Zion”
- Has the [Muslim] Brotherhood grown weary of the challenges, thrown down their guns and abandoned Jihad?!! No!”