In an earlier post on the Member Feed, one of the more thoughtful (albeit cryptic and esoteric-minded) members, Pseudodionysius, posted the video below, in which Archbishop Chaput tells his faithful that "we're even Catholics before we are Americans," that "Catholic identity takes precedence over everything," and instructs them to act accordingly with regard to issues such as abortion, which "requires abosolute adherence."
On Pseudo's thread, I posted a comment observing that the formulation placing church before country is problematic and discomfiting for many non-Catholics:
It's one thing to put God before country. But to put church before country is more problematic. When the Archbisop says, "We are Catholics before we are Americans," that makes many non-Catholics worry about allegiance. Imagine someone saying, "I am Muslim before I am American." (Ryan's response to the debate question on abortion was discomfiting to everyone and awkward for him. Protestants, perhaps because they require no intermediation of a church or a priest, do not have as much of a problem reconciling the interaction of their faith and their politics.)
In response, several others, KC Mulville for example, asserted that allegiance to church creates no necessary conflict with allegiance to country:
Obviously, the two allegiances don't need to conflict. And, until Obamacare, my citizenship and religious affiliation were never in conflict. The United States never asked me to do anything that interfered with my duties to my church, and my church never asked the reverse. In fact, both institutions supported one another.
KC Mulville is definitely onto something. But to me the absence of a natural tension between church and state is not quite so obvious, and that is of course precisely why we have our First Amendment. Religion is the realm of faith. Politics is the realm of reason--at least the modern project, beginning with Bacon and Machiavelli, and advanced by Locke and our own founders, attempted to make politics subject to reason. However, both faith and reason--in their practical manifestations as church and country--assert claims about truth. They do not merely assert truth claims, they impose truth claims with threats of serious punishments either now or hereafter. And those claims often conflict . . . unless church and state are the same thing.
(To the good Catholics who assert that there is no tension between faith and reason, one observes that any such claim assumes that one's own faith is the one true religion and one's own reasoning is the only reasonable reasoning.)
I'm old enough to remember when JFK, amid accusations that he would put allegiance to Pope above allegiance to country, gave this apologia:
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President -- should he be Catholic -- how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him.
I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accept instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials, and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.
To fend off the accusation of divided allegiance, JFK resorted to the extreme view that in America "the separation of church and state is absolute." In some ways JFK's overstatement is not surprising.
If one wanted to be especialy provocative, one might suggest that JFK's confusion illustrates why something like the American Constitution could never have been first written in a country of Catholics, for the same reasons that Modernity could not have come about before the Reformation. (In that regard, compare the current condition of New World countries colonized by England with the current condition of those colonized by the French and the Spanish.)
The Framers understood that the difficulties (a too-mild word) arising from the tensions between faith and reason were permanent--permanent, but not beyond recourse. However, they did not think the traditional arrangement unifying church and state was a good solution to the permanent problem. Nor did they think that our contemporary seeming solution excising religion from public life was beneficial or even possible.
Instead, consistent with their healthy appreciation of the moderating effects of blended or mixed arrangements, the Founders and Framers sought a mixed and middling sort of compromise, in which church and state might influence each other without one dominating the other. They even thought that the two might influence each other in ways beneficial to both. (Elsewise, why did they speak of sacred honor and rights endowed from the Creator?) Some would be shocked by the idea that the wise Framers intended, or at least expected, that religion should influence state and that state should influence religion. Whoever is shocked forgets that the First Amendment, as written, applied only to the federal Congress, not to individual States or to local governments: "Congress shall make no law . . . "
The continued success of the Framers' mixed and middling arrangement very much depended upon preservation of a federal system that reduced (and dissipated down to the states) the occasions for conflict between church and state by carefully limiting the matters over which the central government would exercise power.
By destroying those limits, by expanding the occasions for conflict into the details of daily life, ObamaCare makes mutualy destructive zero-sum warfare between churches and the federal government inevitable. (KC Mulvile was right about that much.) By undoing the Framers' practical middling and mixed arrangement, ObamaCare propels us toward a time when one or the other of two apparent alternatives must supplant it: either the traditional arrangement of unified state and religion or the contemporary alternative that would extirpate religion from public life. The latter will prove to be untenable--religion cannot be removed from public life. Moreover, the notion of godless religion is an oxymoron. It seems the only remaining questions are: Who shall be our gods? And will our new arrangement leave us without the strength and will to resist other, historically more durable, alternatives?