11/19/2011 | Share this article:By WizenedSage (Galen Rose) ~
The Age of Enlightenment, centered upon the 18th century, marked a dramatic, secular shift in Western culture from dependence on authority to an appreciation of evidence and reason. It was no longer just a matter of who said it, but whether what was said could be rationally justified or demonstrated. The Enlightenment has had far reaching effects on our modern societies, especially in science, ethics, and government. In fact, it marked the beginning of a secular approach to government in the Western World.
Image by DonkeyHotey via FlickrThe American founding fathers lived during the birth of the Enlightenment and absorbed the philosophy thoroughly. They had no patience with the authority of kings or prelates, or with that “divine right of kings” nonsense. They understood that progress and justice depended on finding the truth, not by obeying authorities, but by gathering evidence, debating ideas, and testing what worked to the benefit of the most people in the real world. They were especially wary of religious authorities, since they often had more practical power than the kings. Notice that the only mention of religion in the Constitution is in the negative sense, as in “Congress shall make NO law respecting an establishment of religion,” and “NO religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office.” This was no accident. These are Enlightenment ideas.
Fast-forward now to the current race for the US Presidency. Most of the Republican candidates, and some others not running, promote a return to Bible-based law. I suspect most of them know that this would be completely unworkable and they are just kissing-up to their less educated religio-holics, but this is still a scary development as it could get beyond anyone’s control. Are these politicians giving any real thought to the disaster they are proposing? This would involve a turning back of the clock to pre-Enlightenment days of total obeisance to authority.
A return to Bible-based law would make the Bible the bedrock legal authority. These politicians claim the Bible is revelation from god, but how can they know this? This has never been proven. Who are the authors of the Bible? Isn’t it important that we don’t even know? Because someone wrote that they had a revelation and thus-and-such is what god wants from us, should we just believe him? Should we just believe Mohammed then? How can it make sense to turn our legal system over to these anonymous writers, these primitives living in a superstitious, pre-scientific age? We don’t know who they were, or anything about their reputations. They claim revelation, but their words are still just hearsay to us, since we never got the revelation directly. So, we should just turn our legal system over to hearsay claims? And if the Gospel writers got their info from divine revelation, then how come there are so many contradictions between their stories? This claim just doesn’t stand up to reasonable scrutiny.
And who gets to be chief interpreter of this Bible? There are thousands of different Christian sects which disagree on dozens of fundamental points, and all claim to be able to defend their viewpoints with scripture. Isn’t it obvious that if the Bible is a compendium of god’s wishes and commands, then we are very poorly equipped to interpret them? If we could agree on just what the Bible means, would there be so many sects? You see, the Bible can never be the final authority because someone else must have the ultimate authority to determine the “proper” interpretation. This is how the Catholic Church essentially ruled the Western World for a thousand years or so and gave rise to the Inquisitions. You may recall that this period is often termed the “Dark Ages,” when social and scientific progress came to a screeching halt.
Look at what some of these politicians are saying.
Mitt Romney: "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone." Did you get that? He’s saying we can’t have freedom without religion, so we sure as hell can’t have freedom FROM religion.
Mike Huckabee: "But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that's what we need to do -- to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view."
Newt Gingrich: “I think what every listener needs to understand is that in the minds of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and the people who wrote that document [Declaration of Independence], they literally meant that your rights come from God, that you then loan them to the government . . . “
Michelle Bachman: “We’re in a state of crisis where our nation is literally ripping apart at the seams right now, and lawlessness is occurring from one ocean to the other. And we’re seeing the fulfillment of the Book of Judges here in our own time, where every man doing that which is right in his own eyes—in other words, anarchy.” Obviously, she thinks we should be doing what the Bible says we should be doing.
Rick Perry: “ I think in America from time to time we have to go through some difficult times — and I think we’re going through those difficult economic times for a purpose, to bring us back to those Biblical principles . . . “
Sarah Palin: “I think we should keep this clean, keep it simple, go back to what our founders and our founding documents meant. They’re quite clear that we should create law based on the God of the Bible and the Ten Commandments.”
“Quite clear?” The ignorance in this last statement is appalling. She probably isn’t even aware that only 3 of the Ten Commandments are in US law, those covering murder, theft, and perjury (lying). And those 3 are in the law books of every country in the world, including counties which are predominately Buddhist and Hindu. In would make just as much sense, then, to say the Ten Commandments are the basis of law in Japan and India.
I would love to ask these candidates - if our laws should be Bible-based - which of the following should we be campaigning for: kill disobedient sons (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), kill those who work on the Sabbath (Exodus 35:2), kill blasphemers (Leviticus), kill non-virginal brides (Deuteronomy 22:20,21), kill homosexuals (Leviticus 20:13), kill adulterers (Leviticus 20:10), kill witches (Exodus 22) (Did a god really come up with these?). And should eating shellfish and wearing blended fabrics be illegal?
But those are all from the old covenant, and Jesus changed all that? Did he really? Well, how about this: “The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever (Isaiah 40:8); and this, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill (Matt. 5:17) – where Jesus was clearly speaking of Old Testament law.
Also in the New Testament (the “new covenant”), in Acts 5:1-10, god strikes down 2 people who didn’t give enough to the church. So should not giving enough become a capital crime? And how much is enough?
And if we are going to turn Jesus’ commands into law, how about this one: “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned (John 15:16).” Should we then fear the zealot who would interpret this to mean that we heretics should be burned at the stake, as in the old days?
But maybe these folks wouldn’t want to go quite this far? Maybe they would just want to go back to banning books and movies, porno, women’s right to hold leadership positions, and shopping, selling alcohol, or playing sports games on Sundays? How about suppression of anti-religious talk or writing? Once started, where would it stop?
We must make no mistake; those who wish to push more religion into our government and our laws are the enemies of secularism. They are campaigning against the Enlightenment values of respect for evidence and the right to question authority. They are also campaigning against democracy. If our laws are based on some authority, be it the Bible or some convocation of religious leaders, then the laws will no longer be “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” The people will be without a voice. There can be no democracy where the presumed “will of god” is the benchmark for the law of the land (as it is in numerous Middle Eastern Islamic countries).
As I said, I think most of these Presidential candidates, being educated people, realize that a reversion to Biblical law would be crazy. But what if they start something that they couldn’t then control? I believe strongly in a basic principle: Never underestimate the gullibility of the American people. You want evidence of this gullibility? Well, according to a 2004 Gallup poll, over three-quarters of Americans indicated a belief in angels, and nearly three-quarters believed in the devil. And these beliefs are based almost entirely on the evidence of some lines by anonymous authors in an ancient book. Now that is some serious gullibility.
Now here’s what I believe. I believe we would be wise to fear and oppose those who wrap their candidacy in religion and the Bible, for they are a serious danger to democracy, and to a progressive, humane and secular society!