Separation Of The Church, The State And The Army
Source: Open Talk Magazine 04/02/2011 01:59:00
A long time ago, western countries learnt the hard way, how dangerous it was to mix up affairs of the state with those of the Church. The excesses of the clergy during the medieval period led to a counter reaction that led to the reformation movement and a separation of the Church from the state. This principle of separating religion from state affairs has been the hall mark of modern democracy that has served the West well as it allowed the state and its people to prosper economically and consolidate their power over the rest of the world. In fact, countries where religion and politics are integral to the functioning of the state have without fail been hobbled and dysfunctional. The examples of such a dissonance are evident in Islamic countries such as Iran where religion is stunting the country’s growth and its relations with the wider world.
In this successful model of separation of the Church from the state, what often gets less emphasized has been the fact that there is one more separation, extremely crucial for the health of a nation-state—the separation of the army from the state and the Church. What is meant by this statement is that all western democratic states have raised professional armies that have been structured; ground up to be apolitical and religion neutral. These two qualities are considered extremely vital for any army to retain its professional standing as armies unlike any other governmental organization have a fine tuned structure which has the philosophy and physical force that if not channelized correctly can create havoc.
Examples of armies losing political and religious neutrality and then plunging a nation-state into chaos are many. Prime examples are Pakistan and Myanmar. In both these states, the armies have constantly interfered in the political affairs of their countries and the results are there for everyone to see.
An even more dangerous phenomenon that can tear apart a nation can happen when an army loses its religious neutrality. This is a recipe for disaster in any democracy. The reason is clear; armies in a democracy consist of people of every faith and to maintain fighting efficiency and morale; it becomes absolutely essential that every faith gets equal treatment. It is for this reason that in every major army facility, a church, a mosque, a synagogue or a small prayer room for every major denomination is usually available. Where it is not possible, none are built to apply the concept of equality.
As a matter of service ethos, armies of democratic nations do not discuss politics and religion in open forums and such topics are frowned upon in informal gatherings too as being too divisive and beyond the brief of the forces. As a matter of policy, armies in democratic nations have their fundamental rights such as freedom of expression curtailed for some very good reasons.
All these checks and balances have been put into place to ensure the centrality of civilian control of the army and preserve the professional character of its men and women. It is for these reasons that evangelical discourse in whatever form, even if it be in a popular ‘rock concert’ format, have the potential of breaking the unity of an army and destroying their essential secular character.
The last thing that the United States Army needs is dissensions in its ranks with its overstretched forces working hard and sacrificing lives in far off theaters of operation. It is for this reason the army’s bosses at the Pentagon must hold fast the centrality of separation of the Church from the State and its army.