A metaphoric journey to the land between church and state

By Gary Flanagan

The separation of church and state. Has there ever been a metaphor so misunderstood?

There must be five requirements for a metaphor to be effective: simplicity, concreteness, visual appeal, creativeness and concision. Is it true to the Greek origin of “metaphor,” namely to transfer word meaning from one thought to another? A metaphor may be either accurate or inaccurate, representative or unrepresentative. Does it make one feel something they know differently? When you meet a metaphor can you see the world through its eyes? The separation of church and state certainly qualifies on all items. And there lies the intrigue, mystery and confusion.

It was the first Saturday of March 2013. I was awakened with the thought of how to fit the separation of church and state into the theme of a road trip to all 51 U.S. capitols. With a fresh cup of coffee and Google as my companion, I began a journey that morphed into an education no college could teach. Within four months, I visited each of the 51 capitals and located the closest church to each capitol. Using my personal techniques to solve the traveling salesperson problem, I navigated all 50 states in 33 travel days.

Simple. Go to each capital and find the closest church. Concrete. I certainly drove and walked over lots of it. Visual. Pictures galore of capitols and churches. Creative. To my knowledge, this type of research has not been done. Concise. Summarized on a three page spreadsheet.

I saw the world through this metaphor’s eyes. I felt something that I thought I knew differently. I can honestly say that the truth of the statement is an Illusion. My concept of the separation of church and state was and is being transferred.

Please follow along as we learn about Roger Williams, Thomas Jefferson, the state capitols, various churches and the danger of metaphors. Once the reality of the separation of church and state is seen through the metaphor, nothing is quite the same.

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