IS IT A CHRISTIAN OR SECULAR CONSTITUTION?

constitution1.pngDuring one of my recent journeys through the blogosphere, I encountered this lovely post at the Daily Whackjob, Awwwwwwwwwww, look how bat shit crazy Huckabee is! Well, anything with such an imaginative title had to be interesting, so I went ahead and read it.

As it turned out, Phriendlyjaime was going batty over this quote from Mike Huckabee.

“I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution,” Huckabee told a Michigan audience on Monday. “But I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that’s what we need to do — to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view.”

What did Huckabee say wrong? Well, obviously Huckabee committed the mortal sin of connecting religion with politics. Of course, this most distressing quote got wide play over the Internet. Oddly, however, only Liberals seem hugely distressed over the matter. And for some reason, few of these people seemed the least bit concerned about the context of the quote. In fact, I did not have much luck finding the entire text of the speech from where this quote was taken.

So what exactly was Huckabee talking about? Well, here is how he responded when the question was put him him on Fox News.

COLMES: All right, Governor, you made a statement at a rally in Michigan within the last 24 hours. You said, I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution. You said, I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it’d be to change the word of the living God, and that’s what we need to do.”

That makes people a little worried. It sounds like you’re looking to have a theocratic state when you make statements like that…

HUCKABEE: Oh, no, Alan.

COLMES: … going to make change in Constitution…

HUCKABEE: Not at all.

COLMES: … in keeping with your view of God.

HUCKABEE: On two things. The context is two things, human life amendment, which I support and which has been in the Republican platform since 1980. And by the way, Fred Thompson doesn’t support it, nor does John McCain. And yet it’s part of our platform. And it’s a very important part of our platform to say that human life is something we’re going to stand for. And the second thing is traditional marriage.

So those are the two areas which I’m talking about. I’m not suggesting that we rewrite the Constitution to reflect tithing or Sunday school attendance. I want to make that very clear. (from here)

When does life begin? What defines marriage? Don’t these two questions involve religious issues? One side of the debate says government must be entirely secular and “rational.” The other side says religion has an appropriate and rational place in our public lives. What this place is is in and of itself a religious debate. How do we live out our religious beliefs in our public lives?

Because the Founders believed in religious freedom, they wrote our Constitution as a secular document. They intended that government leave the religious beliefs of the People in peace. As the Founders themselves were doing when they wrote the Constitution, they intended that the People live their lives in accordance their religious beliefs.

Consider the nature of religious freedom. Historically, the belief in religious freedom has not been particularly common. When someone disagrees with us, most of us instinctively take it as some kind of personal affront. Because religious beliefs are so important to each of us, religion, like politics, tends to be a dangerous subject. Yet the Bible describes salvation as an individual choice. Because such is the case, Christians eventually arrived at the conclusion that God gave us each of us the right to believe what we choose about Religion.

So like it or not, the Constitution is an expression of the Founders religious beliefs. Because the Constitution expresses values based upon religious beliefs, the Constitution is essentially a religious document. That is why democracy as know it today first arose in Christian nations.

And yes, I know about ancient Athens (here) and the Roman Republic (here). What would you call the philosophical underpinnings that allowed democracy to form in these city states? Why did Athenian democracy fail? Why was the Roman Republic unable to survive?

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I am just an average citizen interested in promoting informed participation in the political process.
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11 Responses to IS IT A CHRISTIAN OR SECULAR CONSTITUTION?

  1. hoobie says:

    You are completely wrong in your conclusion that the Constitution is a religious document. It is a secular document which serves as the blueprint for our secular nation. You are just another Christian extremist a peddling revisionist history.

    What defines life is a scientific/philosophical question. What defines marriage is a legal question.

  2. Citizen Tom says:

    hoobie – Science and philosophy cannot resolve moral issues. Based upon our religious beliefs, traditional modes of western science and philosophy are simply principles we have adopted for investigating the world and dealing with moral issues without resorting directly to religion — when we can.

    Because we share a similar heritage, we can agree upon many things without reference to religion. Science (essentially natural philosophy) and philosophy merely provide logical constructs whereby we do this. Neither discipline, not science nor religion, answers ultimate questions with resorting to religion. When does life begin? What is a soul? Does the soul exist? When does the soul enter the body? When does the soul leave the body?

    Consider what this link says about philosophy. Moral philosophy, ethics, ultimately delves into Theology. Wisdom, what the wise should do and believe, is the object of religion.

    Consider this example. In modern western societies, the testimony of a men and women have equal weight. That is not true in many Islamic nations. Islam teaches that the testimony of a woman is worth only half that of a man. Based upon their religious beliefs, these people have adopted a moral philosophy which we sometimes find disagreeable.

  3. hoobie says:

    Nice try, but your blind spot regarding religion is huge. It is never necessary to give up and fall back on religious dogma to answer the ulimate questions.

  4. Citizen Tom says:

    hoobie – Not necessary to fall back on religious dogma? I suppose the choice of words and phrasing is intended to be insulting, but the fact is that I do “fall back on religious dogma.” I have faith that the Bible is true. When my life is difficult, I have come to depend upon that faith.

    However, you are welcome to demonstrate how one does not need to depend upon religious dogma. Thanks to Christianity, this is a free country.

  5. Brother Tony says:

    It’s interesting to me that the question of when someone becomes a human, deserving of the legal protections that we afford all citizens, is necessarily a “religious” question. Lots of stuff in the Old Testament is no longer followed by Christians (the ban on pork, for example) or is open to many interpretations, and I can’t recall a single quote from Jesus on conception being the beginning of life — I don’t think that his audience at the time would have had the scientific background to understand Him even if he had. Some Christian sects have extrapolated sacred religious teachings to come to the conclusion that humanity begins at the moment when the first sperm crosses the finish line, and some religious sects have had the humility to plead ignorance of God’s supreme knowledge on such things. Looking at Onan’s sin from the Old Testament, one might even believe that old Monty Python song that “Every Sperm is Sacred and when a Sperm is Wasted, God gets quite irate”.

    Taken to its extreme, I guess anything can be a religious question from how you dress to what you eat to hygene to sex to the treatment of women. However, when we consider whether or not to make something a legal question, capable of criminalizing certain actions or omisions, then different criteria have to apply. What is the latest science? How does the question conflict with other individual rights (such as Fourth Amendment rights to be secure in your own body)? What are the legal traditions? How does a given law serve to protect individuals? How does it serve to protect society? How does the law serve to keep the peace?

    I don’t claim to know when someone becomes human and deserving of the protections of the law given to all citizens. I am also very suspicious of theologians who serve up arbitrary bright lines and claim the grace to know the mind of God on such matters. It seems silly to afford a blob of cells, no matter how unique, protections that trump the right of a woman not to be a life support system for that blob if she choses not to. On the other hand, if a child has all the qualities of a baby once that child is born, then it seems callous and inhuman to destroy that person simply because he/she still lives inside the mother.

    Like most legal decisions on complex matters, Rowe v. Wade is far from perfect. The law has to answer certain questions and it will evolve using the rules that it always has. Rowe v. Wade is evolving as science and social mores change and it will continue to do so. God may be perfect but the human theology on this matter is far from perfect. If I don’t trust all theologians to always know the mind of God, then I sure don’t trust politicians, lawyers or judges either. I certainly don’t want my civil authorities deciding these matters using their particular religion as their guide. You could say that we should follow the religious beliefs of the majority, but who is to say that the minority religion doesn’t have the better grace of God’s knowledge. Many religions believe that only a few believers will get to heaven, so why would they want a majority rule on religious matters.

    The history of our culture is proof that when religion controls the law and civil government, then both religion and civil government suffer. Let’s render unto termporal governement what is due to government and render unto God what is God’s, and let’s have the grace to know the difference.

  6. Citizen Tom says:

    The “grace” to know the difference. When you use the term “grace,” are you using it in the secular or the religious sense? There are two points to this question. The first is to remind you of the degree that religion is a part of our culture. The second is to remind you of the source of “grace.” We receive “grace” from God.

    Each of us has differing religious beliefs. From our differing religious beliefs stem different values. Based upon our values, we assume moral obligations to each other. Those obligations such that we all can are necessary we enshrine in Law. To resolve the differences in our religious beliefs, we have rendered our legal system secular or neutral.

    By turning the means into an end in and of itself, secularism stands the entire purpose for rendering our legal system secular upon its head. When the Founding Fathers rendered our legal system secular, they did so out of respect for the religious rights of their fellow citizens. Modern secularists, on the other hand, have no such respect. Instead, secularists arrogantly impose their religious belief in “science” on others. Secularists shout down, ridicule, and stifle anything they do not qualify as science; secularists make theologians out of scientists.

    When science does not have the answer, we resort to religion and beg our consciences for an answer. In fact, if we believe in God, then we put our scientific knowledge at His service. Science then serves merely as a tool for fulfilling His will.

    When does human life begin? When is a “blob of cells” invested with a soul? I do not pretend to know. All we know from science is when that “blob of cells” forms and begins the process of becoming human.

    So we are stuck with a purely religious question. What obligations do we owe a “blob of cells,” and when do those obligations begin? Some of us will decide the issue cautiously, and some of us much less so. But science cannot and does not decide what is right and what is wrong. All science will tell us is that a “blob of cells” is dead.

  7. Brother Tony says:

    No, I was talking about a girl named “grace” and hoping that she would be around to tell us the difference. Just kidding. I’m just not all that hung up on semantic distractions. I think my inference was clear.

    Your sylogism above implies that religious beliefs lead to values and those values lead to laws which in turn implies that laws must be ultimately religious. I think that this is flawed reasoning. I’m somewhat religious myself, but I know plenty of nonreligious folks, some who were never even raised in any religion, who I know have perfectly good value systems (and I know more than a few religious folks who seem to lack values). Most of Europe these days is nonreligious, and yet they still appear to have values.

    Secondly, I don’t think that “values” are enshrined in the law. American law is designed to “keep the public peace”, not promote anyone’s particular moral system. For example, you can make a legal contract to sell cigarettes and that may not be moral considering the damage it does to others, but it sure would be enforceable at law. In another example, I may consider it a lack of values, morals and a sin to commit adultry, but it’s not illegal.

    A society whose laws are based on values would mandate generocity, sharing, love, compassion and social service. It would also outlaw all those consumptive vices that a capitalist system depends upon so heavily upon. No, we are not a society based on values. We are a society based on laws and the institutions that make and enforce them.

    Laws for the most part are rational and scientific, not moral or religious. The problem of when human citizenship protections attach to a fetus may not be perfectly soluable, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be delt with rationally rather than religiously. It would seem to me that scientific evidence about when a fetus developes certain functions, such as brain function or awareness of surroundings, would be relevant. What are the legal precedents for affording citizenship protections in the past is relevant? How do the legal rights of the fetus conflict with the rights of the mother? All these things are rational matters, not religious ones. On the other hand, a belief that tiny angels plant a soul at the same time that the sperm hits the egg, well even though it may be true, it can’t even be discussed rational in any rational secular way and is simply not a legal question.

    You are the victim of a popular misconception about American law, and there are some historic exceptions (such as the old unconstitutional blue laws), but for the most part morals, values and religion are not the source of American law. The main basis of our law is to keep the peace so that we can all have the freedom do business and to believe whatever else we want. It’s not idealistic, but it is pretty workable.

  8. Citizen Tom says:

    Tony – The legal system of a society depends upon the prevailing culture as well as the practical needs of a society. Since the religious beliefs of a society are inextricably part of its culture, that means the laws of a society reflects its religious beliefs.

    For example, in America during colonial times, the various colonies outlawed fornication. On the other hand, some religions even today still practice temple prostitution.

    You painted a pretty picture of how a society whose laws are based on values would mandate generosity, sharing, love, compassion and social service. Let’s consider mandated generosity. In practice, mandated generosity seems to be more the product of secularist, socialist states. Consider this verse from the Bible.

    Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. — 2 Corinthians 9:7

    When the Christians landed at Plymouth Rock, they tried socialism. After starving, they decided capitalism works better. As they reconsidered the failure of the strong to work hard and share the fruits of their labor, I imagined they also recalled this verse.

    Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” — Matthew 26:41

    In America, we live at the cultural epicenter of the modern world. Since so many Peoples seem willing to adopt modern western values, we do not pay much attention to the values of the Peoples. Nonetheless, you might want to take the time to consider why the legal systems of other Peoples do not necessarily look like ours. Yes, because it is “rational,” many Peoples have adopted many western legal conventions, but often with local twists.

    We tend to arrogantly think of the People who do not adopt our “rational” ways as backwards or quaint. At the same time, the secularists amongst us adopt a similar view of their Christian neighbors. Can’t you just hear it? “How dare those bigoted Christians force their religion on us?” What secularists do not seem willing to consider is how they are forcing their own “rational” religious views on everyone else.

    Go back to your basic complaint. If it is wrong to bring religion into politics, why is it wrong? What makes your so-called nonreligious “rational” approach any less religious? Atheism is a religious belief. When you supposedly decide not to base a decision about right and wrong upon religion, have you not made a decision about the value of believing in God? Isn’t the decision that God does not matter or even exist a religious decision? If you do not base ethical rules upon a religious belief, what do you call the belief upon which these rules are based?

    Anyway, when politicians want to pay for the abortion of babies just before their mothers would give them birth, it is hard to take your nice little scheme about determining when a “fetus” has brain function seriously.

    Next week I think will post a challenge. I will ask if anyone can name a law of any significance that does not also have religious significance.

  9. Brother Tony says:

    Your basic complaint is not mine. Your demons will not be slayed by a legal sword. Perhaps it is religous enlightenment you seek, but you won’t find it in a law book or in the quixotic hope of a more religious government. It hides within the deepest caverns of your own soul, and takes a journey that doesn’t transit these cyber pages or the hall of government. But good luck, maybe you will find religion in politics, but I don’t think God’s epiphanies live comfortably there.

  10. Citizen Tom says:

    Tony – Of course my basic complaint is not yours. I thought we had a disagreement. Don’t you accept the secularization of our nation as right and proper?

    As the “demons” you refer to are misguided people, my demons can in fact be slayed with a sword. However, I think I will dispense with killing my fellow citizens. Aside from the fact that killing people is against the law, I do not think murder is something Christ, my source of religious enlightenment, supports.

    Since I have slowly and reluctantly returned to the religion of my forebears, I recognize that it is improper to tax people to spread the beliefs of others. Calling one’s own beliefs rational and the beliefs of others irrational does not excuse such behavior. Why is it so hard to understand that? Why is it so easy to pretend we are doing something we are not? But I too am human so I suppose I should know. The foul excuses and pretenses we use to justify bad behavior — aren’t those the demons that haunt our souls?

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