The Relationship Between the State and Religion

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Thomas More, Niccolo Machiavelli, and John Calvin are three theorists who share and justify their views on the relationship between the state and religion. More, the Catholic, Machiavelli, a critic of the Catholic Church, and Calvin, the Protestant, all believe that religion is a very important element of the state. However, More and Calvin also believe that religion can constrain rulers as well as support them, which ultimately leads to their conclusion that the arbitrary use of power by the state should have a limit. In the book Utopia, Thomas More describes what he believes an ideal society’s characteristics are by creating a fictional state, a Utopia. He builds the new world on paper. One of the more significant points in More’s piece is that religion is a solid source of social glue that will give the state a strong foundation for support. More believes that religion brings about morality in a society, which will guide it towards a better environment. More pushes this by discussing how when religion is present in a society, the fear of punishment in the afterlife will drive everyone to maintaining virtuous and just behavior. For instance, he describes how Utopians “all believe that after we die our vices will be severely punished and our vices will be generously rewarded.” (More, 147) As a result of the fear that the thought of God’s punishment brings about, the majority of Utopians will choose the moral path, which will maintain societal order. Those who choose not to recognize and conform to this kind of societal behavior will face repercussions will still living on Earth. Utopians who fear punishment, will ultimately avoid having “noting but contempt for the laws and customs of society.” (More 147) This will unfortunately lead to punishments such as being “barred from receiving any honors, is condemned never to be promoted to any positions where others would depend on them” and “everyone will treat them as if they were congenitally worthless and good for nothing.” (More 148) These punishments should alienate Utopians from engaging in behavior that is considered and viewed as being socially out of place. To enforce this claim, More describes how the Utopian “children and adolescents are educated by the priests.” (More 151) In other words, More believes that if people are exposed to the natural morality of religion early, then the stability of society will be carried over into future generations. “For once such opinions have lodged in the minds of the young, they accompany the adult throughout his life and are of tremendous value, in that they place the social order on a sound footing.” (More 151) In fact, he even points out “reading and writing are not given priority over good behavior and morality.” (More 151) More is perhaps right to claim that the education that religion gives to society is more useful and significant than what the lessons of academics can provide. Ultimately, due to the fact that religion creates order in society it plays a big role in More’s theory, which is why he puts a stress on corporatism. Like Aristotle, More believes that the state should do everything in its power to protect the church and religion should be involved in politics. Both economics and politics should be catered towards the people. However, this is includes the fact that More does not care what religion one is, as long as “they all agree that there is one supreme power responsible for the construction of the universe and its fate.” (More, 145) This excludes atheists from his ideas, which is why More thinks every one should believe in something, as it does not lead to crazy behavior. What is most important is that all religions believe that the “supreme being whose absolute authority over all creation is recognized by the common consent of every nation.” (More 145) Overall, the morality that religion brings to a society is why it is important to More’s political theory. In the piece Conversion and Call to Geneva, John Calvin...
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