The Moment of Truth — May 1, 2004

Where Are The Christians?

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thing you’re trying to tell someone at the end of a nightmare about being misunderstood.

Consider the noble termite. Actually, don’t.

I would like to consider the following: Is it a conflict of interest for a Born Again Evangelical Christian to pledge to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America?

To quote from the comic strip “Pogo,” “Some says yes, some says absolutely.”

And some might add, “Not necessarily, but probably.”

Let us admit that one can believe one’s faith is the only true faith, yet still understand that the choice by others to have faith in something else is, while in error, nevertheless arrived at through the same equally fallible human means. Sadly, though, the premise that there is a “one true faith” often creates what one might call a domino effect of religious obnoxiousness. Here’s how it goes, classically speaking:

  1. When you sort through all the experiences and relevant information you think you need to understand the nature of the universe and its relation to the meaning of life, faith is the conclusion you come to that is more certain than that which can be arrived at through a purely rational accounting.
  2. After irrationally bumping your uncertain rational conclusion up to first-class certainty, you begin to consider the faith of others. A typical inner conversation on the subject might go like this: “There is no way I can show anyone else proof of what I believe. I’m just going to have to believe it anyway because I know it to be right and true, regardless of my inability to prove its rightness and truth to others.”
  3. Then comes the corollary: “It’s very sad that others have, albeit through the same process as I, come to different irrational conclusions than I. But I guess it was just the luck of the draw. I feel a little sorry for them.”
  4. Now, if you believe that NOT having the same faith as yours is going to cause these people to suffer, you might add: “Maybe if I harp on it enough, I can get some of those unfortunately mistaken people to switch to the correct faith. After all, they have all the same tools to make the uncertain rational conclusions I did. So they, like me, can make the irrational leap to my faith just as easily as they did to theirs.”
  5. “As for the people who don’t have any faith, so much the better. They have nothing taking up the space that my faith should be occupying. It’s not even a switch for them. It’s just the addition of a missing piece.”
  6. You might even come to the point where you believe it’s your moral DUTY to convert people to your faith, to save them from suffering.

Each of these steps in the progressive development of a chauvinistic faith can have qualifying factors that render them more or less obnoxious to those outside the faith. For instance, if your faith dictates that people chewing gum must be strangled, then even if your faith is at level 1 and otherwise modest in its social ambitions, you’re going to come off as abrasive to a lot of people. However, such radically eccentric exhortations don’t usually appear in the first five steps.

By the way, I don’t mean the order of the steps to be taken as chronological. They are in philosophical order. I learned this trick from some philosophers. Philosophers have some good tricks, although in the end it’s not always clear what use they are.

That’s an interesting property of philosophers’ tricks. The goodness of them doesn’t have anything to do with how useful they are. Some of the best ones aren’t useful at all. In fact, the very best one is the one that doesn’t even exist, though not the non-existent one I just referred to. And not the one you’re thinking of, either. It’s a non-existent trick that not only doesn’t exist but whose non-existence isn’t ever referred to or thought about or even vaguely sensed by even the most dormant prehistoric virus floating out in space in a dreamless insensate coma.

But, trust me, it’s great.

Anyhow, beginning with level 3, where you feel sorry for people with the wrong faith, and up to and including level 6, where it’s your duty to convert people, what we have is a steady increase in religious obnoxiousness. And I think at level 6 it could be argued that you’re about to come into conflict with pledging to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Step 7 is a fork in the road. Each branch presents its own conflicts with the Constitution. It is possible to take both branches of the fork, in a theological maneuver known as the Yogi Berra paradox. But for our purposes we will examine them separately.

Path 7b is the path where you believe that the very presence of people who don’t believe what you believe is an injury to God, and therefore God wants all unbelievers killed. I think we can agree on the obvious conflict such an outlook presents with the spirit and letter of the Constitution of the United States.

Path 7a is the one that most applies to our discussion, since the path 7b people, with a little luck, will never be in position to take an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. Path 7a is where your faith tells you that your ability to make irrational decisions, such as what faith to have, is better than that of people of other faiths, by virtue of your faith. That is, up until you had your faith, you were just like the rest of us, sorting through rational arguments and only coming to certainty through a leap of faith, which was no more persuasive than anyone else’s leap, except that you happened to land on the right spot and we didn’t. But now that you have your faith, every successive leap of faith you make is guided by your faith, which means you don’t have to struggle as hard with right and wrong anymore. Your faith makes your judgment better, regardless of the logic or rationality behind it.

Your faith has endowed you with supernatural powers, the power to make irrational leaps of faith that are more reliable than the leaps of faith of people who haven’t been changed the way you have. You have extra luck. You have favor in the eyes of God, and are guided by God’s hand to do his will.

Let’s say God has given you a magic book, a book you believe to be superior to any other written document; a much better rule book for society than the Constitution of the United States, if it’s interpreted correctly. And when it comes to questions of whether or not it’s interpreted correctly, you of course have the upper hand because your faith gives you special interpretive powers. In fact, you are able to perceive the way God wove his secret desires into the Constitution and is working through you to make them manifest in society. Your belief is that, when the Constitution and the magic book are in conflict, God clearly intended you to go by what’s said in the magic book.

And right there, there’s your conflict of interest. Because the Constitution doesn’t say anything about the superiority of the magic book. In fact, there’s good reason to believe the Constitution was designed to keep magic books and supernaturally-powered people away from the helm of state.

There’s also a conflict with the egalitarian spirit of the Constitution. The Constitution makes no reference to people with privileged knowledge of what happens after death. The Constitution never says, “Even though both poor and rich will be judged by God after death, we should try to judge them equally before the law while they’re alive.” The Constitution says that all people are entitled to due process in criminal proceedings. It fails to add, “except in cases where someone with supernatural powers knows the will of God.” It protects us from unreasonable search and seizure. It doesn’t say, “A person with knowledge of God’s ultimate plan shall be the judge of what is reasonable.” The Constitution assumes that Heaven and God are not going to be taken into consideration. The Constitution assumes a secular discussion. The Constitution assumes that we are all equally ignorant in our knowledge of God’s will and the ultimate destiny of the universe.

So, by swearing to God to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America, you are swearing not to value the Bible over the Constitution in matters of law and policy. If you believe in the superiority of the Bible over all other documents, you have no business swearing to uphold the Constitution.

There are, of course, all kinds of Christians. And it would be nice to believe that most of them are patriotic enough to want a President to uphold the Constitution as it is, and not turn it into merely the default mode when the Bible can’t do a better job. I mean, personally I think Moby Dick is a far superior document to the Constitution of the United States. But I would understand the conflict of interest, and the inappropriateness, if someone believed that such a book should supercede the Constitution in determining law and policy and then took an oath to uphold, etc.

Let’s lay it on the line: how many people would rather live in a country guided by the desire for equality; and how many people would rather live in a country where public servants are beyond the law if they have faith in Jesus Christ?

Because we don’t have to live in the USA if you don’t want to. We can live in Medieval Europe, if that’s what you want.

We know that George Bush believes God tells him what to do. We also have ample evidence that he values the Constitution less than he does his own privileges, and that he thwarts it at every turn in order to get his way, which is, of course, God’s way, too.

Now, I believe that there are throngs of Christians who find themselves anywhere between levels three and six in their faith. There are probably plenty of twos as well. What I want to know is, where are the Christians who will speak out against George W. Bush, speak out AS CHRISTIANS, against his self-sanctifying, undemocratic kind of Christianity? Where are the CHRISTIANS AGAINST BUSH? There should be MILLIONS of you. Because Christians seem like patriotic people. And I don’t see how someone who’s patriotic can support a President whose very sense of himself is counter to the principles on which US society is founded. I don’t know how a patriot can support a man who, in the name of Jesus, is willing to violate his pledge to uphold the Constitution and subvert our philosophical fabric of freedom and justice and the public accountability of government.

Do we have to wait until they take away our right to vote before we see the erosion of democracy? Is voting all that makes a democracy?

Some says no, some says absolutely not. The right to vote, alone, does not a democracy make. Just ask Mr. Putin.

If Bush is elected this year, I will have grave doubts about the American people’s desire to live in the America I thought until recently I was living in.

Won’t the Christians stand up for the Republic?

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