There’s an old quote from the Christian author and apologist C.S. Lewis that a lot of folks–Christians and conservatives, sure, but others as well–seem to like. I think it’s this one:
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
I wonder, though, if Mr. Lewis ever thought more deeply about this. If he had, he might have concluded that a theocracy, or even any form of governance without strict separation of church and state, would be more nightmarish than any other. If a man blessed by his own conscience is a cruel tyrant, would not a man blessed by God be the cruelest yet? He would inflict upon us the most exquisite torments–the rack, the stake, the cat o’ nine tails–all with the blessing of not only his conscience but his God as well.
After all, would not the misery our theocrat spreads be justified in the name of faith? Would not burning an “infidel” alive be worth saving the faithless from an eternity of hellfire? Would not the destruction of books and the burning of libraries be excused if it stopped a seed of doubt from growing in even one innocent heart? Would not the slaughter of entire populations, the spilling of oceans of blood, leave only the faintest trace on the conscience of a ‘Godly’ ruler, if committed in the name of the Greater Good–everyone’s Good, in fact–called evangelization?
If Mr. Lewis ever gave this some consideration, I wonder if he might have understood why many people–religious and non-religious alike–have viewed even minor extensions of religion into public life with such a jaundiced eye.
Now, don’t go thinking I’m hardcore anti-religion or anything. And it’d be simplistic to condemn *too* much the ‘extension of religion into public life’–the role of the black church in the Civil Rights movement was one such extension, and that worked out pretty well. But at the same time, I hope you can see why many (including Baptists, by the by) have been so enthusiastic about the separation of church and state.