The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Our Godless U.S. Constitution

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 4, 2011

Okay, for some weird reason, I’m on a religion kick this evening, so I’m going to be publishing three (count ‘em: THREE) blog posts that are pretty much explicitly about religion.  The first one has to do with a really good article I read on the Slacktivist blog (?) about the United States Constitution.  These days you’ll hear all manner of nonsense coming from various members of the religious right – you know, the in-your-face, fundamentalist Bible-thumping types who think that everyone in the country should cater to their particular whackadoodle interpretation of Christianity… because they say it’s in the Constitution.

Except, according to Slacktivist, it’s NOT in the Constitution; and I know that is correct, because I’ve checked it for myself.  If you read through the entire U.S. Constitution – which I have done, TWICE – you will not find one single mention of God, the Ten Commandments, Jesus, Christianity, or the Bible.  Nothing, zilch, nada! (You hear that, Glenn Beck?)  If you don’t believe me, read it for yourself!

So… that kind of makes it hard to argue that our laws should be based upon the various nutball interpretations of Christianity coming from some loons in the religious right; you know, seeing as how the Constitution is the very basis for all of U.S. law – duh!

In any case, I mentioned the really good Slacktivist article previously, so I should probably point out some of my favorite excerpts…

Reading the Godless Constitution

… What I’m most interested in watching for during this stunt, however, is to see if any of the more theocratically minded members of Congress notice what the Constitution does not say. Unlike these pious politicians, the Constitution never mentions God. At all.

The intellectual ancestors of the evangelical religious right once regarded this as the most glaring and dangerous supposed flaw in America’s governing document. But the godlessness of the U.S. Constitution was not an oversight, it was a matter of deliberate design — a principled choice for which the framers fought passionately. …

The bottom line is that when our Constitution was being hammered out way back in the late 18th century, there was a fundamental philosophical battle between the secularists and the ancestors of the religious right; the secularists won that fight – hence our Godless Constitution…

… But what is most valuable to me in this unfailingly interesting book is the collection of voices from the opponents of America’s “Godless Constitution.” I had read most of the other side of this argument — the side that won the argument because it was right. But I hadn’t previously read the vehement objections of the losing side.

The viewpoint of that side is echoed today in the voices of the evangelical right calling for religious hegemony. Then, as now, the argument was that such hegemony was necessary to provide social order and a basis for morality without which the nation would be ungovernable. Then, as now, the advocates of a sectarian Constitution believed that only sectarian religion could provide a basis for such morality. And only their own sectarian religion at that.

So for the sectarian opponents of the Godless Constitution, then as now, the stakes were enormously high. The Constitution proposed by the framers in 1789, they said, was a form of national suicide. That Godless document — with its separation of church and state, its disregard for the overarching sovereignty of God, its absolute prohibition against religious tests for public office and against the establishment or privileging of any official sect — would bring rapid calamity and doom. Their warnings of the consequences of such a Constitution were dire, apocalyptic and unambiguous. If the Constitution did not establish an official sectarian Christian religion, they believed, then Christians would find themselves subjugated to some other established sect. …

But I think the most interesting part is the analysis of historical accounts whereby the extreme religionists who wanted to “Christianize” the Constitution made all manner of goofy claims about how the country would fall into ruin for dissing God so blatantly :)

… The Anti-Federalists, and especially those who argued for a sectarian Constitution with religious tests and established religion, were wrong. Demonstrably wrong. More than 200 years later, the Constitution still stands as the guiding document of a free and democratic nation and none of the calamities and apocalyptic consequences that they prophesied have come to pass. “If X, then Y,” they said, without reservation or qualification. If the godless Constitution is ratified, then America will break apart into ungovernable anarchy, or it will be subjected to the tyranny of Jews or pagans or some other established official religion. That is what will happen, they said, what will certainly and inevitably happen.

And it did not happen. They were wrong. They were proven wrong. And their heirs, the hegemonic evangelicals of the religious right, are just as wrong today.

Yup, the end did not come for the United States upon ratifying our Godless Constitution, much to the chagrin of those religious doomsayers who insisted that God’s wrath would surely rain down upon us.  Of course, there are those who keep on claiming that “any day now”, God’s gonna smack us good – more on that in my next post.

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3 Responses to “Our Godless U.S. Constitution”

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