the paradox of church and state in the u.k. versus the u.s.

another interesting point alain de botton made in his recent on being interview was about church and state in the u.s. versus in the u.k. there is a quite a curious paradox when you take a step back and really analyze what’s going on. 

in legal terms, the u.k., church and state are literally joined. every citizen of england is a member of the national church of england. in america, church and state are cleaved.

in practice, churches and religion in england are miniscule. few people are religious and never do politicians discuss or invoke their faith. in america, it’s hard to imagine a politician not being explicit about their religion. religion is a major social and political issue.

now here’s the irony.

in impact, the u.k., the public services are amazing. they actually care for their poor. for example, check out this data discussing how the number of poor households is going down in england. or here’s an interesting snippet taken from an actual u.k. government website:

Poverty, as measured by a household’s income relative to the national average, is often a symptom of deeper, more complex problems. Many of these problems are passed on from one generation to the next… We want to make a real and lasting difference, to help people change the course of their lives. To do this, we need to deal with the problems that cause people to end up living in poverty, rather than dealing with people’s incomes in isolation.

in america, in spite of our individually “strong” religious piety, our public services are terrible. our economic inequality is rising. we hardly have any services to truly take care of the poor. in fact, more often than not, we discriminate against and penalize the poor just for being poor.

so what does this mean? does the atomization of faith in america actually weaken it (something i’ve written about before)? does this have to do with the age of the countries? maybe england has just had more time to develop socially just services and such. or maybe it’s random?

who knows, but it’s definitely interesting. especially from an institution-building perspective… maybe embedded religion/faith/spirituality in the bones of an institution is better than leaving it up to the individuals in the system to implement on their own. and in the case of england, that can happen while not forcing the religion on the individual people.