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Church versus State: Antigone and Modern States Research Paper


Sophocles’ Greek play ‘Antigone’ presents a conflict between the god and man’s law. Antigone, the protagonist, believes that one’s conscience and divine law should prevail over the human’s one. She is proud and stubborn, qualities that make her uncompromising even in the face of adversity. Yet, others view her as an embodiment of resistance against unjust laws (Humphrey and Edith 23). Creon, the king of Thebes and Antigone’s uncle, has the duty to protect and enforce the state laws.

Their blood relationship notwithstanding, Creon and Antigone are involved in a protracted conflict over the burial of Polyneices, Antigone’s brother (Sophocles 12). As this paper will demonstrate, the tension between Antigone and Creon symbolizes a higher conflict between the state and god laws. Additionally, this paper will delve into the modern day conflict between the church and the state as seen in contentious issues such as abortion and same sex marriage.

Sophocles’ Antigone starts with an intense argument between Antigone and her sister, Ismene, over the burial of their brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices. Eteocles dies a hero fighting for his kingdom. Polyneices, on the other hand, is seen as a traitor because he dies fighting against Thebes. According to the laws of the land, Eteocles deserves an honorable burial while his brother should rot unburied on the spot where he has died.

Those who go against this law risk death by mob justice. Antigone, however, is ready to violate the law and bury her slain brother. This sets the first stage for a conflict with her uncle. Religion decrees that a dead man ought to be buried in order to save the society against a bad omen. In spite of this, Antigone decides to take this path. Creon insists on enforcing the laws of the land that prohibit the burial of traitors. Sophocles maintains his play by escalating the tension between the king and his niece.

A fear of reprisal, or a promise of reward, underpins the choice to obey or disobey a law (Phoebe 23). In Sophocles’ Antigone, Ismene is afraid to participate in her brother’s burial for fear of death by mob justice. Antigone, on the other hand, is driven by love for her slain brother.

She also wants to uphold the laws of gods, as she fears that failure to do so will attract their wrath against the people. Creon shares Antigone’s stubbornness and hubris. He is afraid that such acts of impunity, as demonstrated by Antigone, will hurt his legacy. Besides, it is the fear that forces him to seek counsel from Teiresias, the blind village priest, on the controversy surrounding the burial of his nephew.

Ultimately, the king succumbs to gods’ laws and ignores the human law. He decides to follow the law of gods albeit too late because he had already lost his son. Eventually, Antigone commits suicide. By the tragedy between Creon and Antigone, Sophocles suggests that the practice of religion should be tempered by reason (Spender 23). It is foolhardy to follow laws blindly without being mindful of realities of the world. Antigone demonstrates that should tyrannical laws conflict with divine law, it is more prudent to follow the latter.

The conflicts between the church and a state are not confined to Sophocles’ era. In the modern world, the church is at loggerheads with the state on many issues. These conflicts sometimes escalate to full blown wars. In the interest of stability and fair treatment before the law, many states have legal provisions separating the church from the state.

Humphrey and Edith, however, argue that such separations are theoretical and hardly realizable (34). During the civil rights protests in the United States of America, Martin Luther King Junior, a clergy and young leader, lambasted the church for its silence and indifference in times of oppression.

In Britain, the church played a leading role in abolition of the slave trade. In South Africa, Bishop Desmond Tutu led his followers to demonstrate against the state perpetrated apartheid. History is replete with many conflicts involving the church and the state. This section will discuss some of these conflicts vis-à-vis the conflict between Antigone and Creon in Sophocles’ Antigone.

The first area of the conflict between the church and the state is on the issue of abortion. The Bible categorically forbids termination of pregnancy. Many states, however, have realized the inevitability of abortion in some situations. The pro-life argument is deeply rooted in biblical and other religious texts.

To most Christians, life begins at conception and only God has the right to take it away. However, logic and science dictate that in the best interest of the mother, it is sometimes necessary to terminate a pregnancy. In cases of pregnancy through an incest, for instance, such a child, if born, will be a constant source of shame to the mother. The same case applies to a pregnancy from rape.

In some cases, doctors may prescribe an abortion if the birth of a child will put the mother’s life at risk. According to the United States laws and laws of many other liberal nations of the world, abortion is allowed if it is in the best interest of the mother and the child. This is a classic case where the church conflicts with the state. Some fundamental Christians are strongly against the termination of pregnancies irrespective of the circumstances. In some Northern states of the USA, Christian fundamentalists ostracize and kill the women who abort.

The other conflict area between the church and the state is the same sex marriage. God created the Universe and a man and then created a woman to give the man company. The Bible is emphatic that a man should marry only a woman. Same sex marriages are, however, becoming common in the modern times. In the UK and USA, the members of the same sex marry publicly with blessings from their parents.

As much as it is against Christianity, many states in the United States of America have legalized gay marriages. The first amendment of the U.S. constitution allows for liberty and pursuit of happiness without undue restriction. The government role is to protect and enforce this law. Through its bodies and agencies, the government must protect the rights of gay people to marry without any discrimination. In the USA, President Obama has come under a scathing attack from the church for endorsing same sex marriages, especially in the military.

The tension between the church and the state in the modern times evokes the irreconcilable conflict between Antigone and Creon. Phoebe claims that personal traits, rather than the interpretation of the law and Bible, fuel most of church versus state conflicts (11). In Sophocles’ Antigone, the protagonists are too proud and stubborn to reconsider their positions and make a compromise. In the modern times, the church listens to the state to respond, not to understand (Spender 23). This explains why the church and the state will conflict even when they agree fundamentally. Even in absence of any ground for discord, the church and the state will perpetually be in conflict.

Works Cited

Humphrey, D., and Edith, H. Antigone: Book review, Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2008. Print.

Phoebe, P. “On Poetry: Rebels with a Cause.” The New Leader 2.1 (2004): 1-4. Print.

Sophocles. Antigone, Arlington: Richer Resources Publications, 2007. Print.

Spender, Stephen. “Desperately Seeking Sophocles: Oedipus Trilogy.” The New Republic 2.1 (2006): 1-5. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2019, February 6). Church versus State: Antigone and Modern States. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/church-versus-state-antigone-and-modern-states/

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"Church versus State: Antigone and Modern States." IvyPanda, 6 Feb. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/church-versus-state-antigone-and-modern-states/.

1. IvyPanda. "Church versus State: Antigone and Modern States." February 6, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/church-versus-state-antigone-and-modern-states/.


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IvyPanda. "Church versus State: Antigone and Modern States." February 6, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/church-versus-state-antigone-and-modern-states/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Church versus State: Antigone and Modern States." February 6, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/church-versus-state-antigone-and-modern-states/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Church versus State: Antigone and Modern States'. 6 February.

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