Why should non-Christians support a Christian state?

I recently wrote about why Christians should support the idea of a Christian state – by which I mean not a theocracy but a state based on a Christian vision of the human person as bearing the divine image and possessing the dignity, rights, freedoms and responsibilities befitting that status. A Christian state has a special concern for freedom of conscience and religion, because of the surpassing and eternal significance of the sanctity of the individual’s conscience as he or she stands before the Creator. Such a state is also concerned to express and support a Christian culture, in order to be transparent about its cultural and philosophical foundations, to ensure it is being constructive in sustaining and not undermining its own legitimacy, and to secure the various benefits of a Christian society – not least freedom of conscience and religion.

But why should non-Christians support such a state? After all, it is based on (and sustains a culture rooted in) religious ideas which they may well regard as false. What reason could they have to support something which they consider to be grounded in falsehood? Well, they might support it for purely pragmatic reasons, because it gives them freedom to believe in their own ideas and express them and act on them. Or perhaps because they appreciate its social and cultural effects – the way it fosters good citizens, inspires art and architecture, and promotes other elements of the public good. These are reasons that a person might give some measure of support to any political outlook, including a Christian one. However, for as long as underneath these essentially pragmatic reasons lurks a fundamental belief that the outlook is false it remains an unstable support, lacking in conviction, and liable to collapse should the opportunity to press for an alternative kind of state, such as a secularist one, present itself.

The question, then, is why should non-Christians support a Christian state, not as a stopgap while waiting for a secularist state (or some other kind), but out of conviction, even in preference to a secularist state?

This may seem like an impossible ask, but in fact there is a solid reason that non-Christians should support a Christian state, at least for a Christian country, and it is this: out of respect for the transcendent dimension to human existence and the role of religion in relating to it. For the most important point to grasp about religion is that it is that aspect of human culture which addresses itself directly to the transcendent dimension of human life. This transcendent dimension is the aspect of the universe which accounts for its order and intelligibility, its origin, purpose and destiny, for human consciousness and free will, and in which ideas of goodness and morality as universal ideals are anchored. It has been recognised to be a necessary part of any coherent account of reality by philosophers since Plato and Aristotle, and is by no means the preserve of any one religious or philosophical tradition. It is this transcendent dimension which gives all people, of all faiths and none, a clear reason to affirm the irreducible place of religion in human society, whatever their personal beliefs on the matter.

How does this acknowledgement of the reality of transcendence and the role of religion in relating to it lead to support for a Christian state in particular? First of all, it suggests that no one, whether Christian or non-Christian, atheist or theist, would be justified in seeking to eliminate the role of religion in public life, since that would fail to do justice to the reality of transcendence and the irreducible place of religion in relating to it.

Secondly, there is a key prudential judgement to be made to the effect that it is much better for civic unity and coherence, social cohesion, solidarity, and so on, that the state adopts one religion in particular (usually that favoured by the larger part of its population or with the greatest historical links) rather than a mixture of a number of religions, which can quickly become unwieldy.

Thirdly, the idea of a Christian state is further commended to all by the substantial contribution such a state and the culture it fosters make to the common good, through public benefits such as freedom of conscience and expression, the formation of good and free citizens, inspiration for art and architecture, and so on.

Taken together, these amount to a compelling case addressed to all citizens of all religious beliefs or none for why they have good reason to support a Christian state, at least for a historically or predominantly Christian country. The reality of transcendence, the irreducible role of religion in relating to it, the importance of civic unity, and the public and social benefits of Christianity mean that Christians are on firm ground as they present to society their defences of Christian political and social ideals, not merely for sectarian reasons, but for the benefit of all.

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