God, James Madison, and the Constitution walk into a bar…

Reality TV star Phil Robertson stumped for Ted Cruz today in Iowa. While working the Cruz crowd into a lather, Robertson launched into the now familiar conservative evangelical Christian refrain that America is plagued by ‘evil gays’ and that our salvation can only be found through a return to the original intent of the Constitution and our Biblical traditions. I’d love to brush this off as the pandering nonsense that it is, but this notion that the US has fallen from grace, abandoned its Christian roots, and ignored the holy text of the Constitution has become so deeply embedded in our political discourse that I hear educated people make foolish claims like this one from the Duck commander:

“Ted Cruz loves God, he loves James Madison and he’s a strict constitutionalist. You know what Ted Cruz understands,” Robertson said. “God raises these empires up. It is God who brings them down.”

I have no doubt that Ted Cruz loves God, James Madison, and a rigid understanding of the intent of the Constitution. I am also sure that there is no way one can be governed by all three of these mistresses. To follow any one of them means abandoning the others. The Constitution, as originally designed and adapted later rejects a theocracy. So your god is out. James Madison, father of the Constitution, designed the document so that it could be adapted to later needs, understanding that the world of 1789 would look different from the world of say 1865, 1968, or 2015 and thus would need different laws. So you can’t be into both a rigid view of the Constitution and the work of James Madison.

It is easy enough to get past the inconsistencies in logic behind Robertson’s holy trinity– after all, he’s just a schmuck who sells duck hunting supplies. The most damaging part of the statement is in its final sentences. The notion that the United States was divinely inspired and will fall if her wicked ways are not mended. This is the sickness plaguing the Christian right. This is where the anger, fear, and hysteria that has made men like Donald Trump– a greedy, immoral, and nasty man– and Ted Cruz– an amorphous, spiteful, and disingenuous weasel– viable candidates for President of the United States in the minds of religiously oriented Americans. All they want is someone who promises to finally follow through on the long standing GOP promise to govern based on “family-values” (long a euphemism for pro-misogynist, anti-gay beliefs) and biblical tradition. Someone who won’t back down to liberal and moderate opposition. Someone not beholden to the parties or the donor class. Someone who can stop this death spiral into a frightening, godless abyss.

Let me be clear: there was no god involved in raising up the United States or her empire. God didn’t tell Christopher Columbus to make a horrible math mistake that allowed him to comfortably sail westward for China in 1492. He was simply bad at math and lucked into finding Cuba. God didn’t kill off all the Native Americans. That was small-pox, measles, and a whole host of Old World diseases that the inhabitants of the New World had never been exposed to. God didn’t bring Africans over by the boat-load to live in perpetual bondage. God didn’t decide a host of European wars that carved up America– leaving the eastern seaboard of North America in British hands. God wasn’t involved in the French and Indian war. God didn’t win the American Revolution– France largely did. God didn’t inspire the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution– men steeped in Enlightenment philosophy wrote them. God didn’t expand our nation west of the Mississippi River– Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon did that. God didn’t use violence to remove Indians from young country– monsters like Andrew Jackson and everyday American settlers did that. God didn’t trump up reasons to march into Mexico and take what is now the southwest and California by force– James K. Polk was the madman behind that one. God didn’t fight a war to save slavery or end it. Likewise, God didn’t institute Jim Crow laws to prevent the freed slaves from living as full citizens in our country. God didn’t steal Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines from Spain. God didn’t inspire industrialization. God didn’t withhold the right for women to vote– nor did God extend it. God didn’t fight two destructive world wars, including incinerating hundreds of thousands of non-combatants in a matter of seconds in 1945. God didn’t march on Selma. God didn’t shout “Segregation Forever!” Nothing about the rise or eventual fall of this nation, or any other, has a damn bit to do with God.

This narrative, that God wills our rise and fall, comes out of the evangelical huckster movement. It centers on the premise that we are rewarded or punished by God for specific actions, but not others. Allowing gay marriage to exist? God will destroy America with tornados, hurricanes, and Muslims. Keep abortion legal? Face God’s wrath. Greedily allow wealth and privilege to belong to a select few? God rewards his favorites! Immigrants and asylum seekers are desperately trying to escape the crushing poverty and violence of their homelands? Too bad. There is no room at the inn. It makes even less sense when looked at historically. God didn’t blink at racial slavery with all the rape, murder, and violent coercion that entailed, but is deeply disturbed by our alterations of legal bureaucratic paperwork pertaining to marriage? God didn’t feel the need to punish us for our violent theft of land from Indians, Mexico, Spain, Cuba, and the Philippines? Or our persecution of various Christian sects– particularly Catholics and Mormons– in the 19th century? But allowing legal abortion (instead of turning a blind eye to abortion and allowing a whole host of seedy blackmarket providers fill the void) is a bridge too far? This god sounds like a schizophrenic. There is no coherency to this line of thought. It is simply a tool used by snake oil salesmen like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to justify what they want. And what they want is your unquestioning loyalty as the voice of God on earth. You should send them your money, your children, and your vote. This time your donation to our church will improve your personal financial fortune. This time, they have finally found the one political issue God cares most about that will save us from his wrath. This time, the people they are telling you to vote for will govern by God’s will. When have they ever let you down…

Perhaps most troublesome to me, is the desire to ascribe the actions of humans and states to the will of God. This makes all of history meaningless. No person or choice mattered. But that is not true. It mattered that Madison and Hamilton wrote the Federalist papers and pushed for stronger central government (which gave us our Constitution). It was significant that Washington pulled his Cincinnatus act and walked away from the Presidency. Lincoln’s decision to emancipate the slaves altered our world, admitting our evil and committing us to trying to correct it. Truman’s decision to nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed hundreds of thousands of people and sparked a nuclear arms race that nearly ended the world twenty years later (staved off only by some delicate diplomacy on the part of JFK and Khrushchev). These decisions, and millions of others, mattered. They were the difference between life and death; freedom and tyranny; democracy or monarchy; stability or anarchy. They were made by humans who didn’t agree on the correct course of action. And only rarely did one side truly have right on their side– and it was not always the side that won. Their words and actions were divisive. They remain so today. Their choices made our world. As our choices will make the world of tomorrow. Phil Robertson acknowledges this simply by naming James Madison. Right-wing evangelicals acknowledge it every time they throw a fit about what should or should not be in history books. We acknowledge it every time we step into the ballot box. So drop this disingenuous God-talk and discuss what is really happening. These decisions will be made by the people you vote for and the discourse we encourage. It deserves to be treated a little more seriously than the children’s message at your Sunday school.


One thought on “God, James Madison, and the Constitution walk into a bar…

  1. So good! Thank you once again! BTW,did you see the”our lady of our perpetual exemption” segment on the John Oliver show? You’d love it!


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