The State and Religion

Updated: May 29

Pp. 149-152 Gentile, Giovanni. Genesis and Structure of Society. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1966.

The Essential Connection Between the Two Terms

There is no State that does not concern itself in one way or another, positively or negatively, with religion, oscillating between theocracy and a State religion on the one hand, and complete separation of church and State in an agnostic pseudo-liberal democracy on the other. Even this latter attitude is polemical in a way that is inconsistent with its pretended agnosticism. No State can ignore the religion of its people, any more than it can be indifferent about their customs, or their moral attitudes, or anything else so closely connected with their political life. The reason for this necessary connection between the State and religion must be sought in the very nature of the former. The purpose of the State is to achieve peace, and the rule of law which is its outward manifestation; or in other words, it seeks to achieve unity in the popular consciousness because of its immanent tendency to realize the will of the people. But the will of the people is the universal will of man; and the universal will of man is religion, or more precisely it contains religion. The will is self-concept; and as such it is religion both in the moment of subjective immediacy (the divine spark that we all feel within us) and again in the moment of objective immediacy when reality seems complete seems complete and leaves no place for man, who therefore bows the knee before it and adores it.

In the dialectic of the will, God is the moment of law, the moment of past decision. The rigidity of the law has something of the ineluctable necessity of the divine nature. Think for instance of what Pindar says about Law that is sovereign alike over mortals and immortals. "Religion is the moment of immediacy." Hence the alliance between throne and altar is natural and when the Emperor set himself up against the Pope, it was because the Empire itself claimed a divine origin. The King is 'King by the Grace of God'; and the law is only law if its rigorous, unimpeachable, fixed - the will of God. Such is the character of the State as a legal institution.

So, that the State could not be the fulfillment of man’s humanity if it did not contain religion. A completely secular consciousness, or a completely secular State, is a figment of the imagination

As an ethical institution in the full sense, the State returns again from objective divinity to the infinte divine spark in the heart of the subject, the point at which the universe has its center.


We must distinguish between negative and positive secularism: on the one hand the secularism that ignores religion or renounces it, on the other secularism that recognizes and accepts religion, but transcends it. This last is the higher kind of secularism typical of the individual (or the State) who knows that religion is an essential element of his (or its) own personality, and is therefore concerned about its development, promotes religious education, supports the national religion, etc.; but strives to resolve the immediacy of religious dogma through the critical mediation of the self-concept (reflective thought). The other lower kind of secularism is typical of the ignorant and the weak. But God, even when He is unrecognized or ignored, is always present in the depths of our hearts. He goads and torments and disturbs us as long as He remains undiscovered or unconfessed. And He exists immediately, always there before our eyes, in the iron logic of the system of nature with all its necessary laws.

Religio instrumentum regni

Religion, then is not a cunning invention of politicians, it is not an instrument of government. Campanella was right in his opposition to Machiavellianism considered as a work of the devil, or as Achitophelism. The religion of the State is not something external to its ethical will, but rather the constitutive element of it. And if, in order to represent successfully the perfect antinomy of the State, we pretend to recognize a Church that is subservient to its earthly ends, we can indeed make use of the fiction as a trap for the credulous, but only up to a point. Then, when our deceit is discovered, this art of political trickery becomes worthless. For a religion that is merely a useful tool for purposes quite extrinsic to its nature is no religion. And anyone who wishes to obtain from religion the power that it can in fact bestow must above all else respect it as religion; he must hold it in high honor, believe it in himself, and in short take it seriously for what it is-just as when one wants to cure a disease by using a drug, one must begin by getting hold of the right drug. Neither religion no any other form of spiritual life can ever have a merely instrumental value, since this would be inconsistent with its character as an end in itself, and with the freedom and infinity of all spiritual activity.

The Immanence of Religion in the State

An instrument is something external to the action in which is is used, and to the subject who performs the action. When any instrument comes to be viewed as essential to an action, and when the action itself is recognized as the determinate expression of the agent's personality, the instrument ceases to be something arbitrary or accidental like any other instrument, and becomes a constitutive attribute of the subject's essential nature. Consider for example the sculptor's chisel, the painter's brush or the writers' pen: in every case the instrument is a complement of the agent's personality on a par with his own body. In the actual process of creation (while he is carving or painting or writing, it is internal to his spirit: he does not feel that it is an extraneous thing that must be bent to this will and used as a means to his own ends, except where it offers resistance to his free activity, and becomes an embarrassment and a nuisance, something that has to be dealt with as a limit or an impediment rather than as an instrument.

The truth is that consciousness is always an organic whole. And religion, like art and morality, is never completely absent from it, whatever form it takes. If politics were deprived of all religious import it would become an artificial, brute mechanical activity lacking all spiritual inspiration; there are signs of this in the political career of any person or group dominated by a spirit that Is poorly endowed with religious feeling. For whenever the human spirit is not whole and healthy, whenever its nature is not clearly expressed in the fullness of its life, it is infected by this sort of impotence. This impotence is apparent for example in the words of an insincere man, a pedant of any kind, who does not say, because, as a result of his education and his artificial way of life, he no longer knows how to express the feelings that he shares with all other men; or in the actions of a man who has no sure aims but only daydreams. A daydream is a failure of will caused by weakness of character; strength of character involves wholehearted commitment to action.

But what then is the religious element that is immanent in serious political action? It is the religion of a man who in one way or another believes in God, and at every moment feels the presence of God in his own conscience as a judge who calls him to account for every thought and feeling; a judge of whatever he does as a free and responsible agent, so that his every word or thought or feeling is a voluntary act for which he must answer. He cannot escape judgement in this court without hurling himself into the abyss of nullity. For even this human justice presents itself to him as something that transcends his mortal human nature, as a supreme authority that he cannot rebel against without becoming a brute and completely blacking out his own moral consciousness.

It is this same religious sense that constitutes the moral earnestness of every man, even if in abstraction we consider him merely as a private citizen; and it has its place in every aspect of his activity, scientific, artistic, etc. it gives to all moral obligation an absolute character that sets a limit to liberty. The absoluteness is at first an immediate element in the dialectic of consciousness which must be canceled and transcended in the mediation of the synthesis; but it is essential to the synthesis precisely as a limit to be canceled and transcended - an eternal limit that forever inhibits the force of selfish inclination in the subject's free activity of self-positing. An eternal object, which, considered in itself, coincides with the subject in itself, setting the bounds of past and future for the spiritual act which is the concrete expression of human individuality. In thus marking the boundary of the Ego, it has always the form of a pure infinite object which annihilates the subjectivity of the Ego by positing an Absolute which is not the Ego itself.

This religious sense is a moment of the self-concept, an element of the will and therefore morality. Thus, religion is not properly something to be added to morality; it is immanent in it and without it there could be no morality. Nor could there be any State.

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