Term Paper: Place of Religion in Our Society

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¶ … Religion in Our Society

The history of many states includes the relations of secular and church powers, of state and religious organizations. In order to understand the core the place of religion in state it's important to have a closer look on the origins of these two institutions. There is no doubt that religion or religious beliefs (mythology in its early forms) had appeared before the first state institutions were formed. With the establishment of first states there appeared a question, how will those institutions coexist together, if they have a great influence and power over people even though the nature of power and their character is different.

Historians and philosophers of ancient times said that a state, which wants to appropriate the power and dignity of church, commits a sin, and if the church wants to appropriate the power and the "sword" of the state it looses its dignity and betrays its very principles.

It's not a secret that church on the sunrise of the state era had a bigger power, which later began to be concentrated in the hands of secular government.

Nowadays there have been established and approved two systems that characterize the position of church in the state:

state church, which has a favorable position in comparison to other confessions;

And a regime of separation of church from state.

When making a primary research its important to refer to the origins of the religions and to the religious scriptures to have a closer look on this question from the side of religion, not religious leaders and representatives of different confessions. None will argue that Bible mentions anything about dominance of religion over state. Jesus Christ said: "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." These primary scriptures make to think over, and determine the role of the religion as the Lord wanted it to be. Religious beliefs have to live in the consciousness of the person, in his ethical and moral principles. St. Paul said, that people have to "obey the state law not because of the fear of punishment, but because of conscience and sense of duty." St. John as well considered the state law to the greatest secular virtue for a person.

In the theory of state and law there is a lot of definitions for the term "state." Ancient philosophers consider a state to be a "concentration of all moral and mental interest of citizens" (Aristotle) or a "union of people united by common origins of law and general good" (Cicerone).

Today the most popular definitions contain the following about state: state is a social union, which represents independent mandatory reign over the free people on a definite territory, which is naturally established for the protection of the civil order.

The question about state's essence is a question about the state power owner and about its "audience" or people for whose interests it was established.

The majority of democratic doctrine supporters explain their views that the original source and original keeper of power is people, that state's power by its essence has to be people's and has to be realized by the people's control and according to its interests.

One of the main features of a state is its close and organic connection with law, which expresses economically and spiritually established normative and legal expression of a state's will, state regulator of social relations and processes in the society.

At the same time it's easy to find out that law being a regulator of social relations, tightly interacts with religious norms that execute nearly the same functions.

Religion has a unique social value as it supplements the law in the sphere of social regulation. Let's have a closer look on two aspects: regulative function of religion in general and interaction with juridical norms.

Regulative function of religion in social relations is achieved by its hierarchical structure of norms that divide life on "what is allowed" and "what is prohibited," on moral duties. To the basement of normative regulation there were added primary Bible commandments, where the tendency on making mutual concessions, which are expressed in not violating the rights of another person is clearly observed.

There were and there remain lots of examples of states with official religion. For example England recognized the Church of England (or Anglican Church) to be the official religion. English monarch is the head of the church, and what really makes it official religion and shows its integration into the state is the fact that church changes have to be ratified by the House of Lords.

19th century Russia is another good example of a state with official religion- Russian Orthodox Church. All attempts made by Peter the Great in the 18th century to separate church from state failed, as church penetrated into education and public institutions. In Communist Russia, Russian Orthodox Church was substituted by a new religion: "atheism."

Another example of modern official religion in state is Germany, where the nation is taxied for the favor of Protestant churches (in northern lands) and Catholic Church (in the south). Governments also subsidize churches.

The history of our country was directly connected with issues referred to religion, to freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. it's enough to remember the Pilgrims, who left England searching for religious freedoms, and place where they will not be persecuted. Multi-confessional system in the U.S.A. is one of the oldest in the world, oldest in the sense of a relative tolerance and peaceful coexistence. Still cases of religious intolerance and attempts to include Church into secular affairs took place. it's enough to remember witch trials at Salem and all over Massachusetts, persecution of heresies, etc. The influence of different protestant churches on society was more than great as they regulated not only social relations but family and personal life as well.

The penetration of church to state affairs of colonies in early years of American nation took place and was considered to be a common thing. The works of John Winthrop and others even though do not claim to theocratize the state, still argue about key role of religion and religious morality in life of society, telling that colonies were God's blessed land and that those who lived in them had to be submitted to god's orders equally as to existing laws:

We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies; when he shall make us a praise and a glory, that men shall say of succeeding plantations, 'The Lord make it likely that of New England.... Therefore let us choose life that we, and our seed may live, by obeying His voice and cleaving to Him, for He is our life and our prosperity." (Winthrop, John a Model of Christian Charity, 1630)

John Winthrop compared God's power to the power of state and God's laws and morality to the civil duties and civil laws, as he considered civil liberties to be given by Holly order:

This liberty is maintained and exercised in a way of subjection to authority; it is of the same kind of liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.

We must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us

If you stand for your natural corrupt liberties, and will do what is good in your own eyes, you will not endure the least weight of authority, but will murmur, and oppose, and be always striving to shake off that yoke; but if you will be satisfied to enjoy such civil and lawful liberties, such as Christ allows you, then will you quietly and cheerfully submit unto that authority which is set over you, in all the administrations of it, for your good."(Little Speech on Liberty)

Ministers and governors like him had an idea of creating holly communities in the colonies, which would live by the laws of Bible and which would practice God's word. Puritan societies were spread all over the colonies, as they seeked for religious freedom. But there was quite a difference between religious freedom and religious tolerance. The cases of religious intolerance and discrimination were quite often until the union was established.

As Nathaniel Ward notes in the Simple Cobbler of Aggawam 1645:

First, such as have given or taken any unfriendly reports of us New English, should do well to recollect themselves. We have been reputed a collective a wild opinionists, swarmed into a remote wilderness to find elbow-room for our phanatick Doctines and practices:....

I take it upon me, to be the Herald of New England so farre, as to procalime to the world, in the name of our Colony, that all Familists, Antinomians, Anabaptists, and other Enthusiasts, shall have free Liberty to keep away from us, and such as will come to be gone as fast as they can, the sooner the better."(Ward, Nathaniel the Simple Cobbler of Aggawam,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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