Tuesday, February 08, 2005

God and the Constitution

Whether the 2004 election was determined by the reactionary religious right in this country is still up for serious debate. What is not up for debate, I think, is the power that the religious right weilds in our current federal government. Most of the Republican leadership, including the President, are born-again Christians of one variety or another, and reactionary evangelicals like James Dobson or Albert Mohler have the ear of the White House.

In this climate, it is pretty common to hear the assertion that America is a "Christian Nation". Now, statistically speaking, that is absolutely correct. A recent ABC/BeliefNet poll shows 83% of respondents self-identifying as Christian. However, the people who assert that we are a Christian Nation do not do so in reference to our religious make-up. Rather, these people seek to assert that our historical, legal and political background is fundamentally Christian. In other words, our Founding Fathers and the charter documents they drafted are explicitly Christian in nature. At least some of these people, including Tom Delay, assert that our Nation is (or should be) governed by their God's law. They embrace the idea of theonomy and envision America as a theocratic republic, in which only the "godly" will be able to vote and "non-believers" will be punished according to biblical mandate (i.e. stoning homosexuals).

In any case, it occurred to me the other day that most self-described evangelicals and religious conservatives also purport to be strict constructionists. Though these folks rarely make the distinction between the different forms of strict constructionism (i.e. structural, historical, or textual), most tend to argue from the textual standpoint. In light of that fact, any discussion about the constitution of our governing system must begin with the Constitution itself. A quick read (or even better control-F word search) of the text shows one and only one reference to God, Christian or otherwise, in the Constitution. That one mention appears at the very end in reference to the date of its signing:

...done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven...

That's it. One mention. The Declaration of Indpendence, of course, has multiple references to "Nature's God" or "the Creator". But, as any strict constructionist will tell you, the Declaration has no substantive weight. Like the preamble to the Constitution, it's basically windowdressing. This might seem like a silly and inconsequential question, but if our Founding Fathers had, indeed, intended to establish a nation ruled by God's law instead of the laws of men, wouldn't they have atleast made some reference to him in that Nation's founding charter?