Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Constitutions are NOT Created Equal (Part 1)

This is bound to piss off both Christians and Atheists, but I guarantee you this:

1) It will make you think deeply about the meaning of the United States.

2) It will convince you that in this time of peril, it is essential that Christians and Atheists put aside their differences to confront an enemy that is a greater threat to both of them than they could ever be to each other; that is, political Islam.

Enjoy, Part 2 is coming soon...

Full transcript of the video with links follows:

Many Atheists and Leftists (and I know that those two labels don’t necessarily overlap), are fond of playing a childish game of moral-equivalence in our post-9/11 geopolitical environment. They condemn al-Qaeda and other Islamic groups as violent religious extremists, of course, but in the same breath they condemn the United States, supposedly for the same reasons.

They say “Bush and Bin Laden are two sides to the same coin!” After all, Bush and many other US Presidents have openly declared their Christian faith, and many have seen the trials and tribulations of their Presidential careers through the lens of their personal religious beliefs.

In addition, our money is emblazoned with the slogan “In God We Trust.” In our pledge of allegiance we refer to “One Nation, Under God." There is a sculpture of the Ten Commandments on our Supreme Court building! The Declaration of Independence refers to the Creator!

Today I will dismantle this false perception of equivalence, by objectively comparing the laws and customs of the United States with those of the Islamic world, most importantly by evaluating their foundational documents; their Constitutions.

Superficial Vestiges

The points that Atheists bring up to support their thesis of a supposed American theocracy amount to a collection of non-binding slogans and symbolic gestures. Ironically, Christian activists often use the very same examples to bolster their case for more religion in government:

Our currency says “In God We Trust”, but it was not that way from the beginning. It first appeared on a coin in 1864. It was a direct reaction to the brutality and devastation of the Civil War, which still stands as the bloodiest war in American history. The people were deeply disturbed and shaken by the carnage. They wanted future generations to know that despite this violence, they were a humane society and didn’t take this loss of life lightly. The majority of the population being Christian, they expressed their grief over this episode in religious terms.

In the pledge of allegiance there is reference to “One Nation, Under God”. Again, this was not preordained by the founders or the constitution, but grew out of the trauma of the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln referred to the United States as a nation “Under God” is his renowned Gettysburg Address, but the words weren’t added to the pledge until 1954. Americans embraced Lincoln’s phrase during the frightening peak of the Cold War, with nuclear annihilation a constant fear. Again, the people expressed this sentiment in terms of the faith that most of them shared. It was meant to stand in sharp contrast to the principles of the Soviet Union, which banned all religion except Marxism, as a matter of law.

As for the Supreme Court Building, Moses and the 10 Commandments are indeed displayed, but not exclusively or especially prominently. The artistic features of the building depict symbolic representations of such legal themes as justice, authority and fairness. Most of these representations feature human figures representing the cultural heritage of pre-Christian Greece and Rome. They depict Moses as one of several important lawgivers, and the 10 Commandments as one of many important events in legal history. The roots of our society and legal system come from the civilizations that sprang up in Rome, Athens and Jerusalem. That is a simple undeniable fact of history. It would be just as wrong to exclude the acknowledgment of our Judeo-Christian foundations in a fit of anti-religious paranoia, as it would be wrong to explicitly endorse those Judeo-Christian foundations to the exclusion of all other sources of law.

The boundaries of this tradition were tested in 2003. A US district judge ordered the removal of a prominently displayed granite monument of the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Alabama state court, because it was considered to be bordering on the endorsement of a particular religion by government. This order was carried out in Alabama, one of the most Conservative and Christian states in the Union, despite the fact that 77% of Americans disapproved of the action. That’s called sticking to your principles.

Let’s look at our founding documents to find the root of those principles:

From the US Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Notice it does not say that rights are endowed by God or Allah or Yahweh, it uses the word “Creator”. In the context of the late 18th century, this is extraordinarily inclusive language. This would have held currency with nearly all Americans of the time, whether they were traditional Christians, or influenced by Deist thought as several of the founding fathers were. Remember that Deism conceives of the creator as a watchmaker; meaning God created the Universe and set it running, just as a human might wind a watch and let it run on its own. They contend that God has not intervened directly in the events of the Universe since the beginning. The use of the word “Creator” shows a measured, modern, and intellectual interpretation of the Judeo-Christian tradition. It is certainly not a call for the religious laws of Christianity or any other religion to be the unquestioned legal code of the land. Rather, the Creator is used as a point of reference to reinforce the rights of the individual. Empowering the individual is the primary purpose of the Declaration, as is made clear in the next sentences.

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

In other words, once the case for individual worth has been bolstered by reference to a creator, the document goes on to address the needs of individuals, nations, and governments; very down-to-earth and practical concerns. It even acknowledges the need abolish and recreate the government periodically; very far from endorsing a permanent religious mandate.

The preamble to the Constitution is a most concise and eloquent statement of the purpose of the United States of America:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

It’s clear that the priority here is the well-being of the people, not blind obedience to a deity or creed.

In summation, these artifacts and documents on the American landscape do not imply the endorsement of religious governance in any way. This is true despite the many Christians who point to certain words and symbols as proof of divine sanction; this is true despite the many Atheists who attack these words and symbols zealously as if they were a major threat to their religious freedom.

As I will explain, the situation in the Islamic world could not be more different.

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