The war of ideas is a Greek invention. It is one of the most important inventions ever made. Indeed, the possibility of fighting with words and ideas instead of fighting with swords is the very basis of our civilization, and especially of all its legal and parliamentary institutions.
― Karl Popper
Death is the favorite tool of evolution. Each new generation, with its various mutations and innovations, is winnowed and pruned by contact with hard reality or by competition with its contemporaries. This holds clearly, not only in the evolution of our biology, but also in the evolution of our society. When innovation prompts the gears of progress, lives are often crushed between in their turning.
There are two hierarchies which rule the world ― the church and the state, the pen and the sword. "My kingdom is not of this world", Jesus claimed, but he did not deny dominion entirely. "Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul", and again, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God's". Between these two realms of authority, a clear line is drawn, a physical dominion of force and a spiritual dominion of ideas. The separation between these realms is deep and ancient, perhaps even stretching back to before the Bronze Age in Proto-Indo-European society.1
...it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.
― Thomas Jefferson
The state is, definitionally, a monopoly of force, a naturally jealous master whose commands are backed, always, by threat of violence.2 Revolutions of the state are bloody by nature. By default, any challenge to a monopoly of force must itself use force in return. At times a state may build into itself the capacity to willingly relinquish control, but even then such a capacity often has limitations.
Religion commands a different sphere entirely ― though occasionally backed by physical force, the vast majority of religious precepts are instead given weight by expectation of consequences outside of human purview. To withdraw from such control, it is sufficient simply to not hold those expectations. While states definitionally cannot intersect because one monopoly must always dominate, religions often do.
This inherent pluralism allows for fracture, mutation, and innovation in the world of ideas, as we see far more often than not with various sects, denominations, and, at times, heresies. From such fractures, we have seen in the world time and again bloodless advancement in the realm of ideas. It is not important for innovation's sake that these ideas be institutionalized, supported by priests of some church or of some academy, it is important only that the ideas not be forced and proceed only on the weight which they hold on each heart or mind.
I esteem it above all things necessary to distinguish exactly the business of civil government from that of religion and to settle the just bounds that lie between the one and the other. If this be not done, there can be no end put to the controversies that will be always arising between those that have, or at least pretend to have, on the one side, a concernment for the interest of men's souls, and, on the other side, a care of the commonwealth.
― John Locke
The unification of church and state critically endangers both. Tethering the state to the church exposes the state to the various fractures which naturally occur in the realm of ideas. Threats of physical force strengthen with constancy, but ideas are alive, they must be reinvented in the minds of each new generation. Though the world ideas cannot be kept entirely out of the founding of the state, each foundational idea which is incorporated is a bet against that idea ever becoming obsolete, and such bets should be made sparingly.
The church wielding the state likewise undermines its longevity. Understanding cannot be forced. Forced conversion in the realm of ideas can lead only to imitation so that, for any genuine interest in spreading ideas, the tools of force are of no use. Ensuring the propagation of ideas through force may preserve the facade of religious institutions, but the ideas are lost and all that is left for future generations is empty ritual.
Religion Born from Politics¶
It is blood which moves the wheels of history.
― Benito Mussolini
There is a murky middle ground between the church and the state. In democracies, political ideology can be morally aligned, and assume the trappings of a religion. This ground should be tread carefully.
Policies of course naturally garner ideological support or censure. When multiple ideologies come together in coalition behind a policy, there is some safety that the policy will not become identical to any one ideology. But if diversity of ideological support is lost, a set of policies can become an ideological tribe, a religion in all but name.
A religion born from politics is an even great danger than an existing religion which later aims to conquer the state ― the latter can exist apart from the state, while the former is dependent on the state for its existence, and will fight rather than relinquish its plans for domination. Danger signs should flare whenever support for a set of policies becomes associated with perceived moral good or ill, whenever nuances inherent in any policy discussion are erased in favor of professions of allegiance. Ideas which require blood to fuel them show themselves to be parasites rather than tools, as any system of ideas which was actually beneficial would not need to resort to ideological policing to spread its message.
These half-breeds, born of both worlds, are the monsters of the twentieth century whose echoes of horror still haunt our moral memory. It is a kind of pathology made possible by free expression of ideas, that some ideas might aim to hijack the system itself. It is ever the price of these freedoms that we defend against such ideological incursion, ever watchful to keep secure the wall between church and state.