The biggest problem with Separation of Church and State is not that it is wrong, but that it does not and cannot exist. So long as every living man is made up of body and soul, God and Caesar will both have legitimate claims upon him — and these claims, at the best of times, may conflict. Moreover, he himself will often look to his religion for temporal benefits, and will — often unconsciously — expect Caesar to have some sort of Divine backing if the Emperor wants his full allegiance. Church and State are inextricably bound together: every religious question has a political side, and every political question has a religious side.
No human society can escape this fact, and to function, each needs an animating philosophy, a sort of State Church, to function properly and mobilise popular support. Some historical examples are obvious: the Church of England did so for the British Empire, as the various continental protestant established churches did for their respective kings and princes. The Eastern Orthodox Churches did so to a great degree for the Byzantine Empire and later Russia, Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania, although this was somewhat mitigated among them by consciousness of belonging to a great whole beyond national borders — nor must it be denied that certain Catholic monarchs, governments, or thinkers envisaged a similar role for the Church within their bounds, although the Papacy served as a constant supranational reminder of reality. In the non-Christian world, Islamic states abound and to be a Hindu or Shintoist is or has been seen as essential to being a good Indian or Japanese — in all those places, being a Catholic is/was tantamount to a sort of treason. The rules were clear: belong to the dominant religion, or else abdicate your rights and privileges in society. So universal is this rule that it even applies to avowedly Atheist regimes: Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy elevated the race or the State to quasi-divinity; in the old Soviet Bloc, the Communist Party functioned as a quasi-church, dedicated to the creed “there is no God, and Lenin is His prophet.”
When the United States were aborning, it was necessary, especially as they no longer had the unitive force of a King, to come up with some sort of spiritual backing for the new union that transcended the many religious, cultural, and ethnic divisions with which the thirteen original states were riven. In part consciously, but also through mere natural progression, a sort of ersatz “religion of the nation” was born — a religion important to understand, if we are to grasp how a similar process is at work with and for the UN. From the fast expiring Calvinism of New England came the unconscious belief that Americans are a people set apart, the “Shining City on a Hill,” in a sense, the successors of the children of Israel (an unconscious attitude erected into dogma by the Mormons, our largest and most American home-grown religion) — indeed, a messianic people. Unitarianism and Freemasonry contributed the notion of conduct over creed. The Episcopalians gave us a certain sense of ritual, and such shrines as the National Cathedral, the “Church of the Presidents,” and the Valley Forge Memorial Chapel. Our shared history gave us holy places like Plymouth Rock, Independence Hall, the Freedom Trail, Arlington National Cemetery, and of course the White House and Capitol — as well as the culti of Washington and Lincoln. Sacred holidays (Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, what became Presidents’ Day, Veterans Day, Memorial Day, etc.) and venerated objects (the flag, the Liberty Bell, and original copies of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution) added their bit to the whole. The Civil War created, in the Confederate tradition, a sort of minor schism in the national faith. What made this entire process possible, of course, was a shared moral vision beyond denominational boundaries — which vision, in turn, would allow the national faith to accommodate Catholics and Jews within its fold.
In return, the United States Government has collaborated with religions as necessary to promote unity and loyalty. Although the Federal Constitution does not mention the Almighty, He is invoked in all of the preambles to those of the States, as He was in the Confederate. Presidential and Gubernatorial inaugurations are generally accompanied by religious services, and the addresses themselves drip with God references; there is an interdenominational chapel at Camp David. Mr. Obama happily received as a legacy from Mr. Bush the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Often, successive Presidents have joined the Supreme Court in asking for Divine Guidance at the annual Red Mass in St Matthew’s Cathedral (apparently they do their best to ignore whatever advice He deigns to give them). Many State and lesser courts across the land follow their lead in this ceremony, and in having each day’s work begin with the pious expression, “God save the United States [or whatever jurisdiction] and this honorable court.” The President joins with Congress at the National Prayer Breakfast, and the Senate and House of Representatives, as well as most State Legislatures, have their chaplains. The army, navy and air force do so as well. Fire and policemen have them too.
Of course, the effect of all of this “ceremonial deism” on the behavior of its rulers seems, at least since the 1960s, to be minimal — although it has had great success in the form of often heroic chaplains bringing essential solace to those charged with defending us at home and abroad. Catholic reaction to it has been problematic, since the days when Archbishop Carroll wrote his prayer for government. The heresy of Americanism aside, even the most orthodox Catholic knew that patriotism — a religious virtue — required some participation in the country’s civil religion. But how far? What was acceptable for Catholics, and what bled off into indifferentism? It was and is a dilemma reminiscent of those of the Chinese and Malabar rites.
Until Roe v. Wade, what was usually done was to collaborate so far as possible without violating the letter of canon law. As noticed, the Red Mass brings together Catholics and non-Catholics alike at cathedrals across the country. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops finds its origin in the National Catholic War Council, founded in 1917 to coordinate Catholic support for America’s participation in World War I. The Military Archdiocese and the National Catholic Committee on Scouting do their best to support and educate Catholic servicemen and boy scouts in their Faith; the Knights of Columbus have “patriotism” as the hallmark of their 4th degree. All of these organisations have done sterling work in their way, but since the Supreme Court wrote infanticide into the constitution, the modus vivendi with the powers that be has become increasingly frayed. With a president who personally endorses the forcing of contraceptive-funding for their employees onto Catholic institutions and endorses same-sex marriage, it threatens to snap entirely.
Disturbing as these last developments may be, all of this background equips us well to understand the evolution of a specific religiosity and spirituality around the United Nations. We Catholic Americans have seen the same thing before.
To begin with, the challenge facing those such as the convinced Lutheran Dag Hammarskjold, the second Secretary-General, who wished to “spiritualise” the work of the UN, was to develop a sort of ceremonial deism that would not merely appeal to any sort of Protestant and most Catholics and Jews, as the American Founding Fathers had had to devise, but to adherents of virtually every religion on Earth. In pursuit of this goal, and in place of any “non-denominational” chapel, Hammarskjold sponsored a “Meditation Room.” At the opening of each General Assembly Session, and at its close, there is a “Minute of Silent Prayer,” wherein the delegates may pray to the God or gods of their choice; this is reminiscent of the opening prayers in the U.S. Congress and the British, Canadian, and many other parliaments and legislatures across the globe.
So too, as many other legislatures and judiciaries have a Red Mass or other religious service to mark their opening, the General Assembly’s annual commencement boasts a service in its honor at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in New York City. A similar event is held at the Catholic Church of the Holy Family. Even the Prayer Breakfast is mirrored at the United Nations, an observance sponsored by the self-styled Christian Embassy to the UN. The Organisation is big on annual commemorations as well: United Nations Day (remembering the founding of the UN); the International Day of Human Space Flight; World Migratory Bird Day; International Mother Language Day; International Day of UN Peacekeepers (a sort of combination Veterans and Memorial Day for the Blue Helmets, complete with a truly touching wreath-laying ceremony for the fallen by the Secretary General); and innumerable other remembrances of innumerable other things. The only religious holiday, as such, on the UN’s calendar earmarked for celebration in their own style by the organisation’s personnel is Vesak, Buddhism’s most sacred day.
Just as Washington and the state capitals thronged with the offices of various religious groups attempting to influence legislation, so too with New York and the UN. In addition to the Permanent Observer Missions (non-voting versions of those from State-Members) of the Holy See and the Sovereign Order of Malta discussed in the last instalment, the Anglican Communion, the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, and many other groups maintain non-diplomatic offices to pursue advocacy with the UN, and to mobilise their specific denominations’ membership in support of the work of the World Body.
As mentioned last time, many of the NGOs that work with the UN are “Faith Based.” These have come together to form the NGO Committee on Spirituality, Values and Global Concerns. In a real sense, this group epitomises what one might call the inner life of the UN, just as all of the previous observances and organisations show forth its exterior religious ceremonial. In a word, the work of the UN in spreading peace, medicine, nutrition, and education across the globe — coupled with its work in uniting the nations into one family of man — is seen to a greater or lesser degree by the constituent groups as an essentially religious or spiritual work; for many, of course, this also includes the current views on gender equality, the environment, and population control held by so many across the developed world. As might be guessed, the odious United Nations Population Fund has become quite concerned to engage religious groups in its work, and promotes such colourful outfits as “Catholics for Choice” as NGOs with as good a right to speak for Catholics as any approved by the Holy See. In return, each NGO seeks to find what it can out of its own religious tradition to bolster the efforts of the UN. Added to this is the attempt to “bring the religions together in harmony.”
Outside the actual UN structure and its accredited NGOs and observer offices, there are many private organisations, far too many to list. Among the more prominent (and interesting — not to say bizarre) are the United Religions Initiative at the United Nations, the Spiritual Caucus at the United Nations, the Aquarian Age Foundation, the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, Global Education Associates, and the Temple of Understanding. As one wanders through the writings and watches the videos on the websites, he may well come away feeling tolerant, hopeful, and, well, rather vague — as though he had just been to a Christian Scientist tea. But it is important to remember that this stuff, whether it strikes one as silly, woolly-minded, or horrible, is deeply believed by many thoughtful, concerned people.
Moreover, just as the specifically American religious indifferentism with which we were all brought up has its roots in reality — the sacrifices of men and women who fought and died for what they sincerely believed to be glorious causes; the ability of anyone with sufficient luck, pluck, and dedication to better himself economically — often far beyond the wildest dreams of those left back in the far-off homeland; the right to spread freely any kind of propaganda one chose — sometimes even the Truth; and, as time went on, the graves of one’s nearest and dearest — so too with that of the United Nations. For wars have been stopped, and peace secured at its hand; the starving fed, the sick cured, and the ignorant educated; archives, museums, natural parks, and heritage sites — all the best that Mankind has been able to assemble or to protect, have been safeguarded; and men and women have given their lives in the cause of what they consider peace — hence the Day of World Peacekeepers. Both visions are compelling, and indeed, interconnected; for at bottom, despite the many (undoubtedly sincere) references to spirituality, the US and the UN have this in common: the idea that Mankind can build a world of justice and peace without real reference to the transcendent God who did not merely create this planet, but continues by His Divine Will to sustain it, and Whose Second Person became Incarnate upon it, died upon it to redeem its fallen peoples, and continues to reappear on a daily basis upon countless altars the world over to truly divinise its inhabitants. Neither the wise men of Philadelphia in 1776 and 1783, nor those of San Francisco in 1945 included those truly awe-ful facts in their calculations, nor could most of them had they tried, given their backgrounds and beliefs.
But both sets managed to create visions sufficiently compelling — and containing enough goodly dollops of truth — to unconsciously convince innumerable Catholics under their respective jurisdictions that these visions were salvific within themselves; that evangelisation was needed for neither the Country nor the World. Of Americanism, sufficient has been said and written for the immediate purpose; of Globalism, something similar must be pointed out, beyond merely the standard (and accurate) cautions.
The late Passionist priest, Fr. Luis Dolan, was in many ways a remarkable man. He had a way with bringing unbelievers in his native Argentina to confession, and bravely withstood Peron’s secret police during that caudillo’s period of strife with the Church. But he was also “Emeritus UN Representative for the Temple of Understanding; Special Advisor to the Center for World Thanksgiving on 2000, International Year of Thanksgiving; and the United Religions Initiative coordinator for Latin America.” His paper, “Development and Spirituality: Personal Reflections of a Catholic” needs to be read completely by those interested in what many Catholics (though, to be very sure, by no means all) involved professionally in UN work believe. Quite apart from any dark tales of vast occult conspiracies, I find the following words quite chilling:
Coming to a religious perspective on the UN, I will make the general comment that, theologically, the UN has given the world new insights into what in several religions is called the Kingdom of God. These new insights come from the fact that in the UN all nations have a “home”; and even though it is a political “home” to formulate laws and propose forms of legal cooperation, the UN still offers a view of what is possible if there are united nations. This information can provide what is called by some Christian theologians a view of “the signs of the times”, i.e., how God is working in the world today. If this material were compiled in a treatise on spirituality and development as seen at work in UN documents, conferences, committee meetings, etc., it would lead to new insight into “the Kingdom of God.”
I believe that the UN offers us the first scripture written by communities rather than by a single inspired author. This scripture is the composite of all the basic documents of the UN, starting with the Charter and including the relatively recent Agenda for Development; all the plans of action, declarations, and conventions agreed on through fifty-one years; the frequent conferences; the unique symposia or consultations of UNESCO, UNDP, UNITAR, etc. It is a scripture because beyond all politics — and perhaps even because of all politics — we have for the first time a compilation of inspired documents dealing with nearly all the problems that affect living organisms. It does this through a painful, tedious, and long consensual process among representatives from over 180 countries. It does this to offer national governments, as well as regional political bodies, a background and a context from which can be enacted new laws for the good of people. All documents are couched in UN jargon, i.e. legal terms for an international political audience, but the voices of the people are there, and these are “signs of the times” for all who believe that God is continuing to speak to us today.
When first I read them, I was reminded of the words of the Reverend Mr. Straik in C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength: “Neither a historical fact nor a fable, young man, but a prophecy. All the miracles — shadows of things to come. Get rid of false spirituality. It is all going to happen, here in this world, in the only world there is. What did the Master tell us? Heal the sick, cast out devils, raise the dead. We shall. The Son of Man — that is, Man himself, full grown — has power to judge the world — to distribute life without end, and punishment without end. You shall see. Here and now.”
Yet, I do not mean to cast aspersions upon Fr. Dolan, whom I pray died a happy and holy death. But as with the Americanists (many of whom — such as Archbishop Ireland, who had served as a chaplain in the Union Army during the War between the States — also had reasons to believe what they did), Catholic Globalists of Fr. Dolan’s stripe fail to realise — and lead many others into the same failure — that the mission of Catholics is not to conform to their nation or their world, but to convert it, however they can, to an explicit acceptance of Christ as King. Whether or not the current Pope’s strategy shall be effective at forwarding this goal, we cannot now say. But we do know that he has renewed the call to every Catholic to exercise charity; but charity in truth. This is true for all of us — at the United Nations, in the District of Columbia, the State Capitol, the County Courthouse, City Hall, our places of work, and of course, our homes and hearts.