Friday, December 01, 2006

State and Church

Someone -- I can't seem to find out who -- said that the state is the one institution that is only judged by what it promises to do, never by what it accomplishes.

Here is a literally frightening document: The CATO Interactive Map of Botched Paramilitary Police Raids in the US. All these horrors seem to have been drug raids (surprise, surprise!).

The reason the War on Drugs is renewed every year is not the results it is having: it's that what it is meant to do is so important. People respond to that. The program isn't going so well? We must need more of it!

Actually, there is another human institution, other than the state, that gets just this sort of free ride: the church. Two thousand years of sermons have failed to cause Christians to -- well, to act like Christians. What conclusion do we draw? We must need more sermons!

The greatest faith-based initiative of the twenty first century so far is, of course, the 9/11 attacks. But most of us will not draw any conclusions from that about whether religion is a good thing.

What else do these two institutions, state and church, have in common?

Here's a pretty obvious answer: Both are institutions that are regarded as authorities -- that is, as agents that may tell other agents what to do, or what to believe. We have an ages-old habit of accepting the say-so of these agents as a reason to do or believe what they say.

This could explain a certain irrational tendency to give them the benefit of every possible doubt!

One characteristic all such vested authorities seem to have, is something that might be called "the sacred." The sacred is that whose value is so fundamental that to deny this value, to question it, or even to privately doubt it, are all treated as sins. Sacred beings are unique repositories of value. To attack them is to attack Goodness itself.

Hence, things that would be evidence of failure in other institutions -- onces that are mere means to good things, rather than embodiments of The Good Itself -- are not taken that way here. Bungled police raids? Pedophile priests? Suicide bombers? They are simply evidence that we need more of ... The Good.

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