Thursday, February 16, 2006

USS and Composite Societies – Part I: Definitions and Description

In seminary, my history professor, Dr. Kenneth Davis, taught us to recognize the significance of our Western, Composite Societies. The Great Experiment of the government of the USA was unique in the history of the world, though the seeds of this system were planted in Europe centuries earlier. Other Western and developing nations around the world have followed this experiment in democracy, though there are variations in detail in different countries.

Christians need to recognize the wisdom of Composite Societies. History teaches us that this form of society will not continue unless people fight for it. I am launching a five part series on this important worldview issue with this post.


  1. Definitions and Description

  2. The Biblical Development and Christian origins of the Composite society

  3. Anabaptists, Baptists and the Reformation

  4. The Enlightenment – Borrowed Capital of the Christian Worldview.

  5. The USS, Secularism and Islam – Understanding the Times.
A Composite Society means that the people governed by a common political system, living under a common flag have many expressions of religion and culture. A democratic government is essential to a Composite Society. The phrase ‘separation of church and state’ is an indicator of this system, however misunderstood and misapplied that phrase is these days (that’s another story altogether).

There are differences in composite societies. For instance, Canada is more of a ‘Multicultural Mosaic’ – at least since the Trudeau era (1968 and following). The Mosaic model says, be a Canadian – embrace ‘da Canadian values’ – but hold onto your distinct culture and religion on Canadian soil. Historically, the United States has been more of a ‘Melting Pot’ (though it is much more multicultural than it used to be). The melting pot model says, yes, hold onto your religion and culture privately, but learn English and adapt to and embrace the American culture. In modern, liberal democratic societies, multiculturalism is winning the day (that, too, is another story for a later post).

Freedom of religion and freedom of expression in composite societies means that the description of a ‘Christian country’ under this system is not accurate. Composite societies cannot be defined by one particular religion. Of course, the dominant religious and/or cultural group will have significant influence. For the Western world, the dominant religion is secular humanism. Not by numbers, perhaps, but by influence in the power centers of media, education and government.

Living as we do in a Composite society, it is easy to forget that throughout history and around the world, most societies have considered the religious and the civil branches of government to be one system – The Unitary Sacral Society (USS). This means that it has combined a single, religion (the sacred = sacral) with the government system. Thus, the king and the highest religious official are either the same person or the king pulls rank over the highest religious officials.

In the most primitive tribes, the chief and the witch doctor / priest preside over the same system. Which one has the most power is irrelevant for this model – they are both in the same system.

In more sophisticated systems, such as the Roman Catholic Church in Medieval Europe, the Emperor and the Pope presided over the same system. During some periods, the Emperor had more power. Other times, like the ‘Golden Age’ of the 13th Century, the Pope and the Church had supreme power.

In secular systems, like Communism, the USS model still fits. Have you seen the religious fervour of Communist rallies and propoganda? The religion and civil government are uniformly applied in Communist countries.

Even in the Ancient Roman Empire – an apparently Composite Society – the Unitary Sacral Society won the day. This was true under pagan Emperors and under the ‘Christian’ Emperors alike. Even though ‘The Peace of Rome’ allowed conquered religions to keep their religion and culture, they were coerced to bow to Roman gods – including the Emperor – first.

In the post-Constantine Roman Empire, toleration of Christians (313) soon became intolerance of any other religion (c. 380, officially). History teaches us that politics of expediency inevitably swallows up religion and culture into the USS system.

As evangelical Christians in a Composite society, we need to understand and defend our freedom to be Christians – to worship as local churches, to evangelize and do Christian service. We need to be thankful for our inheritance of freedom and take note of the warning signs in the world. The instinct of human society runs towards an oppressive, pragmatic USS model. If we want to keep our Composite Society, we’re going to have to learn what we have to lose and fight to hold onto the vision of our founding fathers from Europe, the USA and Canada.

Next Time: Part II: The Biblical Development and Christian origins of the Composite society

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey Terry, some great reading, light years beyond the Glory Days at NBTC. You´ve become quite the intellectual character . . . I really enjoyed the mental gymnastics. When I started into my Masters 3 years ago I revived long dormant brain cells and honestly relished it.

What have you read of late on missions? I´d love to see your take on the role of a local church interacting with the GLOCAL (Global AND Local) God.
Geordon

stauf46 said...

Hey, Geordon! You found my little ol' blog! Thanks for the comment. I'll post on missions - sometime. This blogging thing has been hit and miss.

Terry