Church and State

Separation of church and state. It’s cool because it keeps the church out of the state. But it’s also cool because it keeps the state out of the church.

I was thinking about this because I was learning about Buddhism in Tokugawa Japan (1603-1868). Buddhism had been tight with the government since it arrived in Japan. ( I say ‘had been’ because I don’t know anything about the state’s relationship with Buddhism after the 1800s.) Imperial acceptance came along with imperial land, support, and regulation.

Of course, how much control the state had over Buddhism varied by time, place, and kind of Buddhism. The state didn’t have it all it’s own way, either. Armed warrior monks loaded with portable shrines were known to march into Kyoto and demand various things until at least the 900s. But that’s off topic. Sorry. We’re here to talk about the Tokugawa.

Well, in the Tokugawa the state got itself back together after some nice wars and clamped down on the whole ‘Buddhism’ thing. Ieyasu Tokugawa was the guy who founded the Tokugawa bakufu1. As part of the process of doing that he, and his son and grandson, selected various Buddhist groups to be ‘official’. They got licenses. And, along with that, and tax exemptions, and stipends, and a new official hierarchy, and assigned parishioners, they got some regulations. Now, these regulations were designed by the heads of the sects, and the stated goal of them was to get the Buddhist groups back in line, make them appropriately Buddhist, according to these selected groups.

But who was approving the regs and then enforcing them?

Well, the dude in charge of the military dictatorship: Ieyasu Tokugawa.

Why is that as bad as all that, you ask? (Only you don’t, because you’re super clever and you’ve already figured it out.)

1. People who disagree with these approved sects, whether over sect doctrine or because they aren’t Buddhist or whatever, are unapproved and they can face serious consequences, and certainly won’t be allowed to build a temple or have big group meetings or celebrate their holidays where anyone can see them.

2. Who preaches and what they preach, who serves and how they serve, if there’s charity, what kind it should be, who gets it, what priest wear, who is allowed to get married, what values are important, all of that is controlled by the government.

So even if the sect wanted to make changes to their doctrine, or to their priorities, the government would have to approve!

And I hadn’t thought about that.

1That means ‘Military Government’.

2 thoughts on “Church and State

    1. I think because I think of a relationship where both parties as working for the good of the other as more cooperative/less coercive. I also tend to think of the goals of ‘the religion’ as being religious goals, as opposed to institutional ones.
      So, no particular reason.


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