God Save Us from the Christian Right

If Iraq ever needed a lesson about the importance of a sound constitution, all they have to do is look to America, where the Bill of Rights is all that keeps us from descending into government sponsored medievalism.

In a constitutional democracy, the constitution limits the authority of government over the lives of its citizens; but it also sets moral constraints on ability of the majority to act as it pleases. It is ironic, perhaps, that the most perfect aspect of American democracy is its anti-democratic Constitution. Never mind that a majority of Americans might, if given the chance, decide to persecute, enslave, confine, or otherwise disadvantage one-or-another minority group for whatever ideological or fear-driven reasons happen to hold sway on the day; the Constitution says, There are certain principles (including equal protection under the law) we hold so dearly that not even the combined political action of the majority will be allowed to abridge them. Sure, the system doesn’t always work as planned, as African-American slaves, Japanese-Americans who were interred during World War II, and “enemy combatants” presently being held without access to due process of law can attest. It is, after all, administered by people who can be morally weak, politically timid, and downright venal. But generally speaking, it is the most amazing structure of self-governance ever devised. It does Plato one better, offering an ingenious half-step up from democracy toward rule by philosopher king.

And we need it now more then ever. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, the likely Republican presidential nominee in 2006, has joined President Bush in calling for US public schools to teach intelligent design, the sophistry under which biblical creationism currently hides.

I won’t pillory the willful stupidity of pretending that religious belief can be science if we’d only decide to call it science. Instead, I’ll give the honors to that arrogant, self-righteous, reactionary Charles Krautheimer, who gets things straight for once:

To teach faith as science is to undermine the very idea of science, which is the acquisition of new knowledge through hypothesis, experimentation and evidence. To teach it as science is to encourage the supercilious caricature of America as a nation in the thrall of religious authority. To teach it as science is to discredit the welcome recent advances in permitting the public expression of religion. Faith can and should be proclaimed from every mountaintop and city square. But it has no place in science class. To impose it on the teaching of evolution is not just to invite ridicule but to earn it.

It’s not particularly inappropriate for bozos like Mr. Bush and Dr. Frist to give higher priority to their parochial religious mythologies than to the noble principle of separation of church and state; but it is absolutely inappropriate for them to do so while acting under the color of their political authority. The scary thing about American democracy isn’t that so many voters share the religious extremism and idiotic educational agenda of Dr. Frist and Mr. Bush; it’s that they so poorly understand and so little respect the brilliant political tradition they have inherited, and that they would vote to undermine it.

American Christians have every right to cast their votes in ways that seek to dismantle the greatness of this country’s secular government and religious pluralism. Thank god, as the expression goes, we have the Constitution to stop them from succeeding.

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