If politics and economics did not interfere with religion, they argued, why should religion interfere with politics and economics? Religious liberty was thus purchased on the understanding that it would refrain from the secular order. Religion became a circumscribed area of life, insulated from all contact with the secular, and any attempt on the part of religion to inject ethical and moral consideration into business was looked upon as meddling, as if the virtue of justice were something to be preached in a pulpit on Sunday, but not to be practiced in a factory on Monday. The world was willing to admit that religion could tell man about his final end, but it refused to allow religion to tell him the right means to attain that end.
Religion came to stand in the same relation to world affairs as God did to Newton’s astronomy. As Newton brought the universe under law, Newtonians assumed that God was no longer necessary to account for the order and harmony of the spheres, as if the discovery of a law did away with the necessity of the Lawgiver. Newton dragged God into his universe to account for two irregularities which he could not fit into his law; namely, why certain fixed stars did not fall and why certain orbs revolving in different orbits did not collide. God thus became a handy explanation to account for irregularities which science could not yet describe, a dignified cosmic plumber going about mending the leaks in a Newtonian universe. In like manner God was permitted to take care of the irregularities of the political and economic universe, i.e., He and His believers could do ambulance work for the poor, the dependents, and defectives which the political and economic order could not yet absorb. Later on with progress and science even these social irregularities would disappear and religion would no more be needed. In this way religion was relegated to a place of retreat from the world; a catacomb into which men might go for a rest but only after they had washed their hands of business. One would almost think that the man who went to church was different than the man who went to work, or that man as a political and economic creature had escaped in some miraculous way the fall of man. The result of this separation of religion and public affairs was to drive religion into a position of increasing irrelevance to public affairs. “I don’t bother the Church, why should the Church bother me” became the fallacious catchword to justify the divorce of two things which were meant to be as inseparable as head and body.
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen – Freedom Under God (Copyright, 1940)