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In France the separation of church and state was designed to protect the Republic.
In the United States its purpose was to preserve freedom of religion.
Some years ago in Mozambique, a Portuguese settler who had decided to stay on after independence was showing me around Luanda. We came to a particularly handsome, newly restored church, and he explained that as part of the recently launched reform policy to enhance people's confidence, the Marxist government had decided to end its compaign against the church. "The trouble", he said, "was that both promised heaven, but we promised to deliver it on earth. We haven't succeeded."
That is the straightforward fact which led to the collapse of communism--an attempt to provide an all-encompassing secular faith to regulate all aspects of man's relation to man, making the idea of man's relation to God not only superfluous but subversive. It has failed, and where it was imposed there has been a robust revival of the traditional religion, a testimony of the deeply felt need of all kinds of people with differing cultures for something to believe in beyond the evidence of everyday life. One way or another, people do seek meaning, a sense of purpose, that politics cannot adequately provide.
But seldom does religion, by itself, provide the organizing mechanisms through which societies can deal with the perennial issues of power and the need to adapt to changing circumstances. That is why there is always an element of politics, even in the most fundamentalist states, even in the most totalitarian dictatorships, though it may be hidden in religious …