Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Rendering Unto Caesar

Separation of Church and State is a doctrine enshrined in the first amendment to the constitution and penned by James Madison. There are many today among the religious right in the United States who bristle against this doctrine and insist that the United States is a "Christian Nation."

But did you know that separation of Church and State is actually a Christian doctrine that predates the first amendment? Matthew 22:21 states:

 "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's" (Ἀπόδοτε οὖν τὰ Καίσαρος Καίσαρι καὶ τὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ τῷ Θεῷ).
 This quote is attributed to Jesus and is in the context of the question of whether it is proper for Judeans to pay taxes to their Roman overlords. One of the ironies of the New Testament was that Jesus purported to be the Messiah, which means the anointed King of Israel and the head of its secular authority, and that it was because of the hope of being freed from the Romans and their oppressive taxation system that many Judeans followed him. It was also for this reason that he was crucified.

It was the disciples in their gospels who then enshrined a view of religion as divorced from politics and national identity.

In the history of religion, this is a turning point, because up till then  each nation had its own gods, who were believed to intercede for that nation in divine battles, and the success of a conqueror was seen as the success of that nation's god in his battle with the defeated nation's god. To separate religion from patriotism seemed unthinkable.

In time, the Christian religion gained ascendancy in the Roman Empire, so much so that it became the official religion, quite in contravention of the doctrine of "Render Unto Caesar", and by the Middle Ages, all traces of separation of Church and State had pretty much disappeared in Europe. Of course, between the Renaissance and the emergence of the modern nation state a lot of changes did occur. One of the most interesting ones is the founding of the independent Vatican City State.

The Gardens from atop St. Peter's Baslica
Source: Wikipedia

Vatican City became a sovereign nation on February 11, 1929 under the Lateran Treaty signed by Benito Mussolini on behalf of King Victor Emmanuel the Third and by Cardinal Pietro Gaspari for Pope Pius XI.

The fact that the Pope is a foreign prince had been a problem for Catholic Americans for some time, especially when they wanted to run for public office, as people accused them of violating their citizenship by swearing their allegiance to the Pope. But this was also a very great boon to American nuns and priests imprisoned by the Japanese in China during World War II. In August of 1943 all American Catholic nuns and priests imprisoned at Weihsien Internment camp were released to be repatriated, because the Emperor of Japan accepted the argument advanced by the the Papal legate to Tokyo that they were citizens of a neutral sovereign: Vatican City. One has to wonder: when they returned to America, were they still allowed to vote?

Dual Citizenship is still a tricky topic today. In current American passports the following standard warning is printed:

LOSS OF U.S. CITIZENSHIP. Under certain circumstances, you may lose your U.S. citizenship by performing voluntarily and with intention to relinquish U.S. citizenship, any of the following acts: 1) Being naturalized in a foreign state; 2) taking an oath or making a declaration to a foreign state; 3) serving in the armed forces of a foreign state; 4) accepting employment with a foreign government; or 5) formally renouncing U.S. citizenship before a U.S. consular officer overseas.
Separating Church and State becomes very tricky once the Church you belong to is also a State. One can argue that this is only a problem if you are a Catholic. But dual citizenship is not strictly a Catholic problem. Many Americans are faced with this issue. A repeal of the Neutrality Act and related laws would resolve the problem  and would leave the constitutional rights of all Americans intact, regardless of their country of origin or religious affiliation.


  1. Interesting post, Aya. The argument on part of the nuns interned during World War II is quite ingenious.

    1. Yes, it was an ingenious argument, Julia. The problem it presents, though, is whether those advancing this argument were willing to apply it convincingly and consistently on the American side of the ocean, too. Are Catholic nuns and clerics citizens of Vatican City only when it gets them out of a pickle with the Japanese, or are they always citizens of Vatican City? Integrity would demand that they decide the question once and for all and apply the same rules no matter where they are. Otherwise, it's just a loophole they used.

      To contrast this choice by American Catholic clergy and nuns, we have only to see what Japanese Americans did when faced with the same dilemma. President Roosevelt had people of Japanese descent from the West Coast, even if they were born in America and thus American citizens, shipped en masse to internment camps as early as 1942. There they were asked to "forswear allegiance to the Emperor of Japan." Most refused to do so, even if they had always considered themselves American. For one thing, forswearing seems to imply you had that allegiance in the first place. And secondly, what if the American government still decided to eject them, and having forsworn allegiance to Japan they would then not have anywhere to go? The Japanese Americans had integrity and asked themselves how their answers would affect them on either side of the ocean, if applied consistently.

    2. Have you read their accounts. The Japanese Internment camps were deplorable. Farewell to Manzanar is actually a biography about a Japanese woman sent to the Internment Camps. Another movie See The Paradise also deals with this dark part of history.

    3. Also, anyone who was only a quarter Japanese could be sent to those camps. A lot of the younger people born in America did not feel any duty to the emperor, and considered themselves true Americans. They were among the first to enlist when they got the opportunity to leave the camps. I think Ronald Reagan did one good thing to said they deserved reparations for being in those camps. FDR was not the only person who wanted Japanese in those camps, though. There was a lot of bigotry on the West Coast at that top, and many top officials in Washington simply used this as an opportunity to take over those people's businesses. Many were always envious of Asian Americans who could come here with nothing and do well for themselves. Chinese Americans were considered the heroes during the war, but up until the war they were treated deplorably. For instance, after the San Francisco earth quake of 1905 when many Americans had their homes destroyed, they realized that Chinatown had been untouched, and was on a prime piece of real estate. They forced the Chinese to relocate Chinatown to another part of San Francisco for this reason.

    4. Hi, Julia. I have not read Farwell to Manzanar, but I will try to find an inexpensive copy.

      Yes, it was deplorable, and I am sure there were not a few bigots who supported FDR's racist policy, but that's kind of like the Germans who supported Hitler. We should hold the President responsible for his actions, and we cannot go after every person who voted for him or supported his actions. What gets me is that after all this time, there are some people who still worship FDR and his policies.

    5. I think that is was a racist policy on the part of FDR. Some of his other policies are ones I support, but not the way he treated Japanese Americans.Most of the president of years past had racial policies I find deplorable. Like Woodrow Wilson.

    6. You could probably read part of Farwell to Manzanar on Google books.