Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. (Matthew 22:21)
Back in Roman times, Caesar did sometimes want what belongs to God. Over the course of 2 ½ centuries, some of the emperors saw Christ and His heavenly Father as rivals. These emperors wanted not just political power—not even just absolute political power. Consumed with self-righteous narcissism, they wanted to control not only the political life of their empire, but to define what their people could think and not think. [español]
Now, one of the most important ideas that has ever dawned on mankind is: This world, and the way it operates, is not perfect, and never will be. In the beginning, God set everything up, all for our benefit. But He never had in mind that we would find true happiness on the earth as we know it. This pilgrim life is temporary. It serves solely as a means to an end. Our true life is with God in His Kingdom.
This puts Caesar into perspective. It puts politics—and political agendas—into perspective. It opens up our minds to the idea that we can constructively criticize the government of any earthly institution, without failing in loyalty.
God alone is God. God reigns perfectly over everything and governs all things well. We believe that. Sometimes we might want to tell God His business and try to improve His skills in managing the universe. But we know in our calm moments that we’re wrong to do that. To give God what is God’s means: Submission. Abandonment of control. Accepting that He knows better. Cause He does.
But: back to Caesar. Let’s consider a widespread contemporary slogan. Namely, that real free-thinking people always resist the influence of religion in politics. Even if I believe abortion is immoral, for example, I’m not supposed to imagine that the law should prohibit it. So the slogan goes.
The problem here of course is that the Christian religion involves a comprehensive view of reality, not an escape from reality. So if everything that Christianity teaches us about right and wrong has to be eliminated from politics, then there wouldn’t be much of anything left for legislatures and town councils to make laws about.
The slogan about keeping religion out of politics is actually not a principle of free thinking at all. It is, in fact, a tenet of a different religion. Let’s call that other religion technocratism.
The adherent of technocratism believes that the human race has arrived at a point in history when we must judge all the generations before us, and condemn them for all their many sins. Sins which we have now, thanks to our enlightened state, supposedly eliminated, or are in the process of eliminating.
After all, technocratism has a program to make the world perfect. Economists will finally tinker so expertly with interest rates, and corporate law, and international trade agreements that everything will become perfectly wonderful for everyone. Modern medicine will make it so that nobody dies. We will all enjoy lovely happiness, because we will have the internet, and facebook, and cable tv, and Netflix. And everyone will have cute kids, even without having to take the risk of actually getting married.
Technocratism promises all this. And it holds that people like us, who have strange interests—like in Almighty God, and in the meaning of life, and in making sacrifices for the sake of true love—people like us can continue our strange old-fashioned pursuits, just so long as we do not interfere with the technocrat program.
“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” Now, I would not want to run this country, or this state, or even this town. Let’s give our public servants their due. They offer their labor to serve the common good. They make many noble sacrifices, and they deserve our basic good will.
But God alone deserves our full submission. Technocratism is a dangerous false religion because it excludes a truly humane way of life. We human beings cannot come into our own if everything gets reduced to economics and empty-headed creature comforts. Our souls need to roam free and seek true religion.
The cult of technocratism holds that Christianity is one of many antique religions, none of which are exactly “true,” all of which are interesting museum pieces. Technocratism tries to replace our hope in the triumph of Christ with a false hope for a comfortable life in this world, punctuated by short-term sentimental pleasures.
Now, I’m not saying that modern medicine is evil, or modern communication, or modern technology. The Church certainly has no argument with science. But science does not try to control the horizons of peoples’ minds. Science just seeks facts.
And the fact is: This world is not perfect and never will be. And we will all die, just like all the generations before us did. We know some things that our grandparents didn’t know. But our grandparents’ grandparents knew plenty of things that we don’t know. The people running the show in this world always have more to learn; they never govern perfectly. We all need, above all, to pray.
Caesar deserves his due, in this veil of tears. But we will never give to Caesar what belongs to God. We will give to God what is God’s.