Americans really need to ask themselves if they want one religion’s beliefs to be legislated into law. The reason should be clear to all: if one religion’s beliefs are legislated into law, inevitably, the beliefs of some -possibly all – other religions become, as a consequence, illegal.
It is a simple proposition: do you want to see substituted in place of the secular U.S. Constitution the Christian Bible? You can’t have both – the Constitution is not compatible with the Bible. If you remember nothing else about this debate, remember that. It is as clear an either/or proposition as has ever been. A country cannot be governed both religiously and secularly.
And this issue is what lay at the heart of the 2012 presidential election – will government of the people, by the people, for the people, be replaced by government of God, for God, and by God? It is clear what answer Republicans prefer. Look at the Thanksgiving Family Forum at the First Federated Church of Des Moines last Saturday, an event attended Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum – and yes, “libertarian” hero and fellow conservative Christian, Ron Paul. Significantly, no Mormon candidates were present or wanted. (Watch the full forum here if you dare. For those desiring to be tortured by sound-bites alone, see the Daily Beast’s collection of the forum’s low-lights here)
The fundamentalist Christian focus of the forum was made clear by its organizers if its megachurch setting was not obvious enough: The Family Leader sponsored it (you remember them and their crazy marriage vow) and it was live-streamed by the political arm of Focus on the Family. Frank Luntz, a GOP pollster, was the moderator for this debate about who the Christian god wants most in the White House. This is not a debate we should even be having. Certainly nobody asked whether God wanted George Washington in the White House. It was recognized at the time that all that mattered was that the people wanted George Washington in the White House. God didn’t get a vote and that is how it was meant to be.
Significantly, our Founding Fathers chose the Constitution over the Bible in laying the groundwork of our nation. This is a plain and indisputable fact of the historical record whatever revisionists like David Barton and his disciples (including Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry) may claim. The Bible was certainly available to them; they simply chose not to use it as the cornerstone of American government. Instead, after vigorous debate, they wrote and ratified the U.S. Constitution which mentions neither God nor the Bible.
So ask yourself: do you want the Constitution or do you want the Bible. Before you answer, remember that the former is a list of rights you possess. The latter is a list of all the rights you do not have; it is a list of restrictions.
I don’t know about other voters, but I prefer the idea of rights to restrictions. The Founding Fathers agreed. They did not start the revolution with a proposition that people do not have certain rights. The proposition they advanced was that people do possess certain inalienable rights – that all people possess these rights. Everyone has the same rights; everyone is equal before the law.
It’s a strange innovation of fundamentalist Christians that the granting of rights rather than their restriction is presented to their audience as tyranny. Generally, of course, tyranny is understood to be the restriction of rights. This is the peculiar and unnatural outlook of a religion that feels rights should not be shared but limited to members of that religion. Having to tolerate the other is not in their nature.
Of course, the U.S. Constitution necessitates toleration of the other as a pre-requisite for the modern liberal democracy. If you can’t or won’t tolerate other people and other beliefs, you stand opposed to the very principles according to which this nation was established.
The Constitution promises Americans equal protection for their religious beliefs. It’s right there in the First Amendment. If this is true, how is it that prominent fundamentalists claim that the First Amendment not only does not make this promise, but actually does the opposite, by establishing Christianity as the state religion the Constitution expressly forbids? How is it that religions other than Christianity are deprived of the promised protections?
This is the threat facing Americans, the threat of a fundamentalist Christian theocracy, the repressive rule of an American Taliban.
A fundamentalist brand of Christianity takes precedence on the 2012 Republican platform; it has become essential to Republican political theology. Where the Constitution forbids religious tests, Christian fundamentalism demands them. Behind claims of religious freedom lurks the specter of one religion being privileged over all others. Look at the Family Leader’s forum – no Mormons were present; Romney and Huntsman were already out of contention on the basis of professed religion alone. Quickly following them out the door were Ron Paul (despite being a conservative Christian himself), and Herman Cain. The field was narrowed to only four would-be messiahs, all howling-mad with the Holy Spirit – Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich, the latter perhaps on the basis of his wanting to put poor kids to work cleaning up after everyone else, as Jesus intended.
This form of Christianity is embraced by only a quarter of the U.S. population. If it is legislated into law, the other 75 percent of the population finds itself disenfranchised, deprived of its constitutional rights. How is it that Americans remain so unaware of the threat? Any sensible person would run screaming into the night from the likes of the Family Leader’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Not a day goes by when one of the Republican candidates for president does not invoke God, Bible, Jesus, or Holy Spirit. Not a day goes by when we are not told that the rest of us are not real Americans at all but interlopers in a country they claim was established not by the blood and sweat of patriots of all stripes, but ordained by God for white Christians alone?
Where then is the promise of the Constitution? And why would any American hesitate even for a second between which to choose, Bible or Constitution? Remember, the idea you can have both is a lie; you can’t. Choose the Constitution and get rights, or at least the promise of rights which can later be gained, as were freedom for slaves, the civil rights movement, the vote for women, non-discrimination based on sexual orientation, and marriage equality. Chose the Bible and you get a big long list of things you cannot do and cannot believe.
And if you want a group that thinks blacks were happier as slaves to choose your president that’s your right, but I think we can do better than that. It’s up to you, and it’s an important decision, because in 2012 Americans will have to choose either the Bible or the Constitution. There is no way around it.