Brookins Head Shot*Last week I said to let me know when the issue with Indiana’s new religious freedom law had run its course.

Ultimately if no one spoke up about the law, it would stay on the books and could be used to discriminate so I’m glad that it is out in the open right now and the Indiana state legislature has been forced to alter it. On the other hand by shining a light on this law, religious conservatives have taken up the banner of being the persecuted group – which I don’t think is what anybody wanted.

Looking beyond this specific law for a second let’s consider the big picture. Five years ago I wrote about the difference between theology and theocracy. Here is an excerpt:

In its most basic form theology is about understanding the nature of God and answering basic question about human existences, two of which tremendously influence our interactions with others. The question of “how ought we behave?” is the part of any religion that outlines ethics and there are many commonalities between faiths; the question of “where are we going” address what happens after death and its answer contains fewer commonalities and therefore where the potential for conflict arises.

Given enough time a group of people will eventually make contact with another group of people who do not answer the afterlife question the way they do. When this contact is made these two groups can make the ethical question most important in which case they will attempt to live peacefully harmoniously alongside their new neighbors – this is the theological. Or the two groups can make the afterlife question most important in which case both groups perceive the other as heathen and attempt to eliminate the other religious perspective by converting their adversaries if not outright killing them – this is the theocratic response.

This latest controversy in Indiana is about conservative Christians adopting the theocratic stance; in other words the society should operate according to their interpretation of their sacred book. The problem is that theocratic societies inevitably involve intolerance and violence.

That is because of the variety of religions in the world. There are numerous indigenous and traditional religions practiced in South America, Africa, and Asia; there are over 100 million Buddhists; there are over a billion Hindus and Muslims; and of course there are over 2 billion Christians. To mandate which belief system will be followed is not a good idea and probably not possible anyway. Even within Christianity there are dozens of sects, each with different details emphasized. When a society (be it a city, county, state, or country) attempts to standardize things based on religion they are setting themselves up for failure. This is especially true in the United States where there is supposed to be the free exercise of religion.

Case in point: Indiana has also recently had a new religion attempt to be established. The First Church of Cannabis has a system of belief (effectively defining it as a religion), and is attempting to secure a location for meetings. It is already being funded. And of course it identifies marijuana as a sacred substance in the religion.

If you believe this is silly and there is no way Indiana should pay any attention to an upstart religious group, then you don’t understand the history of Christianity. If you think the First Church of Cannabis can co-exist with other religious perspectives, then you also think they should be able to discriminate against all those who think marijuana should be illegal (I don’t know that this is really a principle of theirs but you get the point) – and I don’t think anybody is willing to go along with that line of reasoning.

There is a reason that the church and state are separate. When they get entangled too many things go wrong.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.