The first acknowledged division of power between State and Church in Europe was probably in the 4th century AD when Imperial Rome recognised the Christian Church as representative of its state religion. Over the centuries this symbiotic relationship has survived in variagated forms up to the 20th century until now, in the 21st century, the power and influence of the Church has become so weakened, vis-a-vis the State that its replacement, particularly in European countries, requires either a renewal or an alternative ideology.

The outcome for such a societal transformation is likely to take some considerable time and already several attempted alternatives have been found to be wanting. Communism has been tried in Russia, Fascism in Germany, Italy and Spain and Free Market Capitalism in many English speaking countries. All these experiments for filling the growing ideological vacuum have been tried but have self-destructed.

Without some durable replacement ideology to share power with the political wing the West is in danger of becoming the mirror image of Islam. The first being a dominant political power without a secure ideological partner the other a dominant ideology with no secure political partner. This would leave Western countries as unstable as the Islamic ones are at present because both political and ideological structures are, in themselves, incomplete without having a balancing alternative sharing some of the power.

The division of power in Europe between State and Religion has enabled rulers to consolidate their rule by parcelling out different categories of control. The political wing assumed responsibility for security of borders, law and order, a structured hierarchy, taxation, declaring war – while the religious wing took responsibility for education, health, charity, morality codes, religious ceremonials for the state such as crowning the monarch or for individuals’ births, marriage and deaths. It also had freedom to preach a message of morality conducive to the religion so long as it did not infringe on the areas controlled by the temporal power.

Most governments did not wish to get involved in such areas as morality, education, health etc. and were content to leave these areas to the Church under the protection of Canon Law. However, once one state began involving itself in the welfare of its citizens such as Prussia in the late 19th century, it was followed by others and once educational laws were passed, medical health care support enacted these welfare reforms that were once the responsibility of the church resulted in a decline of its influence and authority. The recently revealed abuses by priests of young people in their care has destroyed any hope of the church retaining any autonomy again in public welfare.

But what is to take its place? The state welfare approach is now monolithic and in danger of sapping the energy and progress of the society it aspires to help. There are many examples to illustrate this point. The free market capitalist model was ruthless in dealing with the human worker and the church was on hand with moral or charitable support although always insufficient. With industrialisation fully developed there became no hope, ever again, of having full employment within the capitalist system so certain benefit allowances were introduced. These are now a mockery, indulging some, preventing others from working, detested by those in work and resented or exploited by those receiving the benefits. But without them and with no work available, the alternative would be homelessness, family break-up even starvation. Another, under the guise of morality, is when an unmarried woman or girl became pregnant. The church saw this as their area of concern and made sure that the mother and even her family would be shamed and ostracised by public opinion. Even the baby would be stigmatised. With church influence gone in such areas the state now ensures thast the single mother and her baby are given accommodation, furniture, benefits. No shame is involved and the event is accepted socially on a par with a married couple’s baby. The churches strictures were unbearably harsh but the state solution is to take away from the individual a necessary ingredient of independence, short-circuiting the positive aspect of ¬†working hard in a partnership to build a family structure which is ¬†the foundation of a healthy society.

We now have over-centralised governments over-seeing every aspect of our lives with a rigidity that does not allow for the human factor to flourish in a socially harmonious climate. This negative development can only be relieved by the growth of a counter-balancing ideology that people can believe in; one that caters for those aspects of our lives that governments should have no rights to intrude into. There is possibly no going back to religious organisations although this is not to say that there is not a spiritual dimension in most humans that needs expression.

Time will produce some form of ideology to fill the vacuum such is the ingenuity and willingness and need of people to engage in some sort of belief and expression above and beyond the political dimension.

JULY 2012