Is God Above the Constitution?
Published on: September 7, 2011
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  • Is fealty to God to be placed above fealty to the constitution? Every serious Christian, Jew, or for that matter Muslim, would answer with a resounding yes!

    If a president signed an order mandating that all Muslims live in specially designated camps, because “God thus commanded me”, then you, as a Christian, would support her?

  • Areyoukidding?

    So we should worship the mind that came up with this:

    If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her … and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid: Then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens of the damsel’s virginity unto the elders of the city in the gate: And the damsel’s father shall say … these are the tokens of my daughter’s virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city. … But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel: Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die. Deuteronomy 22:13-21

    Rather than this?:

    We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

    Isn’t being stoned to death for a prematurely burst hymen a little harsh and unworthy of praise or worship?

  • Kris

    Bill Keller: “So this season I’m paying closer attention to what the candidates say about their faith and what they have said in the past that they may have decided to play down in the quest for mainstream respectability.”

    Said candidates being Republican candidates. In the words of my religious authority the Church Lady, “How convenient!”

  • Pam

    I’m with Kris. In general, I believe that when trying to ascertain how a US leader might act, everything should be on the table. But when it comes to Dems, everything seems to be pushed under the table. Also, if ‘journalists’ wish to question candidates who profess faith, they should be careful not to let their ignorance of religion show so much. Finally, neither Bonhoeffer not MLK Jr. were elected officials, they were activists. I suspect that Americans would not give a free pass to those who break the law, even an unjust law, after they’ve taken an oath to uphold the law. There are other ways to effect changes. This is a thought-provoking article, though a bit depressing since I suspect that fewer and fewer wrestle with God/country. It’s great that the freedoms we enjoy don’t lead us into these conflicts on a personal level very often; sad that fewer and fewer see following God as a serious call.

  • Areyoukidding?

    He probably isn’t as interested in Democrat religious stances, because they are not using their religion as a platform for how moral they are and how the country should be run.

    How many Democrats make statement as insane as Newt?
    Gingrich said at Cornerstone Church here. “I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they’re my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.”

    Those things can’t even go together. A Secular Atheist country run by Radical Islamists? How is your country secular and atheist if it is run by radical Islamists? I still can’t believe people thing that dude is smart…

    How many Democrats try to push ID into science classrooms regardless of its lack of anything remotely related to evidence?

  • Kris

    Robert (#1): If a president signed into law a bill passed by congress mandating that all Muslims be sent to extermination camps, then are you saying that you would condemn Christians who out of fealty to God would refuse to cooperate?

    Areyoukidding (#5): (i) Bill Keller states he doesn’t want to allow candidates to “play down [their previous convictions] in the quest for mainstream respectability.” Well then, how much will he be pressing Obama regarding Jeremiah “God DAMN America” Wright? (ii) Keller demands an answer from GOP candidates to: “Do you agree with those religious leaders who say that America is a ‘Christian nation’ or a ‘Judeo-Christian nation?'” Would it not be of interest to know Obama’s answer to that question?

    By the way, back in the day, Bill Keller was an opinion columnist for the NYT, and I generally found him to be thoughtful and fair-minded. One of us seems to have changed…

  • Terry

    Whether we like it or not democracy is a humanistic practice. We have no right in a democracy to impose any specific religious belief on the citizens. We can believe what we want but not override what the people have voted for because we feel it offends our religious belief. In essence that is why it is called civil disobedience and citizens who practice civil disobedience can be and have been put in jail. King understood this and used his civil disobedience to affect change in the laws. As president or supreme court judge if you institute actions that have allowed your religious beliefs to override the existing rules of the land or the constitution you are wrong – you have in effect created a theocracy.

  • Philip N Cole

    Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s
    Life ain’t fair…so much BS… don’t you get tired of all the crap. Remember, in Old Jerusalem, there was a “DUNG”, gate. Nowadays we call it the White House.

  • Jim.

    “Democracy requires that there be a profane realm free of sacred law”

    Huh? Who would seriously recommend a government without laws against murder, theft, and perjury? (Commandments 5, 6, and 8, depending on your count.)

    Anyway. Glad to see Bonhoeffer referenced. In a somewhat longer piece, you should also reference von Braun.

    Atheists like to say, “Science sends rockets to the moon, religion sends planes into buildings”. This is a vast oversimplification. Strictly speaking, Islamists send planes into buildings. *Lutherans* send rockets to the moon. Unless those Lutherans were subject to a government where the State was uber alles — above religion, specifically — in which case they send rockets slamming into London.

    There’s a reason Eisenhower put the words “under God” into the pledge. The two destructive ideologies that he fought — Fascism and Communism — sought to get God out of the way of the State.

    We must not let that happen. The consequences are too dire.

    (By the way– please give the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. his proper title.)

  • Doug King

    Certainly God is above the Constitution, but ours should be a nation ruled by laws — rationally administered — not by the religious beliefs or conscience of others. I believe God is pleased when we accord others the same freedoms we demand for ourselves. The only way we can accomplish that is through secular government.

    How can we know whether any candidate (religious or not) will honor the law when it violates their conscience? If we put theology which we don’t understand under a microscope and extrapolate what it might mean to a candidate, then we are making wild guesses. If we scrutinize a politician’s past words too closely, then we forget that people can and sometimes should change their minds (even Abraham Lincoln’s views of blacks and slavery evolved). And let’s not forget that politicians are notorious for crafting words to give one impression while leaving themselves wiggle room (even the founding fathers excelled at this art).

    I think the most reliable predictor by far of future behavior is past behavior. Sure, I want to know if someone thinks God gives them exclusive insight and license on how to solve the problems of government. But I doubt any of the current crop of candidates thinks this way.

    I think most of the attention paid to theology is a red herring. Although done in the name of character investigation, religious backgrounds are usually vetted to appeal to the prejudices (for or against) of voters. What I find more revealing is how candidates faced tough choices in the past. What mistakes have they learned from? When the law and official duty conflicted with personal values, what did they do?

    For example, if the candidate is personally pro-life, what did she do when the court ruled pro-choice? Or if the candidate favors gay-marriage, what did he do when the people vote for traditional marriage? I wish journalists would investigate those types of situations.

  • Bob

    How about the question of whether the candidate’s political philosophy [political religion] trumps the Constitution. It’s quite obvious that many on the left and some on the right feel that the Constitution is an inconvenience to be ignored when ever possible. That might be an interesting area to explore.

  • Kris asked,

    If a president signed into law a bill passed by congress mandating that all Muslims be sent to extermination camps, then are you saying that you would condemn Christians who out of fealty to God would refuse to cooperate?

    Nope, because as long as their actions accord with the Constitution, I don’t care how they justify them.

    Still waiting for Dr. Berger to answer my question. Perhaps you could take a crack at it?

  • DonM

    First, never believe someone who asserts G-d told them to do something.

    My experience of G-d is he doesn’t do phone calls. He doesn’t write letters. Not even an e-mail. I don’t think He has a blog.

    The Constitution also doesn’t do phone calls, write letters, send e-mail, or contribute to a blog.

    Rather, people do these things.

  • A Berman

    And what about people who make it quite clear that they place fealty to secular values above the Constitution? Of course, they choose a different route to their ends– they state that the Constitution is “Living,” which gives them the freedom to make changes in it without the amendment process.

  • Sue

    [email protected], should we choose Dred Scott over this?:

    “If slaves should escape from their masters and take refuge with you, you must not hand them over to their masters. Let them live among you in any town they choose, and do not oppress them.”
    Deuteronomy 23:15-16

  • Kris

    Robert (#12):

    [Eyeroll.] Fine. Tomorrow, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of 9/11, Al-Qaeda manages to pull off an even greater mass terrorist attack in the US. The country is swept up in panic and rage, and despite heroic efforts by all right-thinking people, passes a constitutional amendment causing my previous scenario to become 100% constitutional. What now?

    In response to your question, I would have just one hesitation: should I do all I can to get her impeached because of her act, or because of her stated motivation?

  • Il vero problema è la sacralizzazione di tutta la dimensione politica, il valore simbolico che essa assurge. L’idea che il candidato, chiunque esso sia, possa assumere una dimensione salvifica per una comunità, getta le premesse per l’ascesa di improbabili “eroi”. Persone sicuramente qualificate (?), ma altrettanto certamente portate all’ordinaria amministrazione e non ai miracoli. La laicità di una società, che si vede nel rispetto della pluriconfessionalità come elemento costitutivo di una democrazia, non può fornire un pretesto per un’invasione illegittima di campo nella vita dei singoli individui, altrimenti si trasforma in arbitrio tirannico a scapito dei fedeli. La fede non è un elemento che si può conculcare aprioristicamente: è, nell’ipotesi più agnostica, uno dei pilastri culturali della formazione dell’individuo. Ecco perché la costituzione non può avere la stessa presa né sulle coscienze né nella vita pubblica.

  • Robert

    Kris wrote,

    a constitutional amendment causing my previous scenario [that all Muslims be sent to extermination camps] to become 100% constitutional. What now?

    Given that such an amendment would in effect invalidate the purpose of the Constitution, it’s non-sensical to claim it to be “100% constitutional”.

    In response to your question, I would have just one hesitation: should I do all I can to get her impeached because of her act, or because of her stated motivation?

    But, as a Christian, how would you know that God didn’t command the president to put all Muslims in camps? On what basis do you seek her impeachment, if you regard fealty to God as trumping your fealty to the Constitution?

  • Peter

    People should read MLK’s Letter from A Birmingham Jail. There is a higher law. How can we criticize corrupt corporations if we remove a moral standard, one that is constant, not a modern shifting sense of goodness. Do religious people get it wrong from time to time. Yes, and there is a high bar upon which to judge them. People without a religious standard have a very low bar, one they are willing to set over or lower constantly. The nations of the the 20th century who did the greatest harm to humanity, to their own citizens, are the one’s who denied God in the search of a perfectible heaven on earth. And they failed. Upon reading Engle v. Vitale, I see that Justice, the old KKK member, got it wrong and did harm. Justice Brennan in his dissent was correct.

  • Kris

    First off, who said I’m Christian? But in answer to your question, a Christian would repudiate that president just as you would repudiate the amended Constitution.

  • bobby b

    “It seems quite clear that a democracy, which guarantees freedom of religion, will have to accept this answer and its open expression, unless it is used to legitimate actions (not just speech) which violate the law.”

    Of course, the law can be changed at any time so that no religious act or value will ever break a law.

    Which works fine, as long as the dominant religion values what you value and abhors what you abhor. But what do you do when a newly elected Islamic state government prohibits homosexuality, and the new appointees on the Supreme Court rule that since homosexuality lacks the immutability of race or gender, it is not protected?

    Our current Constitution meshes neatly with traditional Christian morality as set out in the Ten Commandments, because codifies what we’ve come to think of as Western Values. Thus, we’ve had no real conflict between religious and nonreligious morality here in America as long as Christianity has been the dominant religion. This has made it easy to say things such as “civic law will always have to give way to religious values.”

    But non-western thought is a rising influence, and contradicts our Constitutional themes in many significant ways. I, for one, will never concede a duty to religious belief over duty to our Constitution, because of these contradictions.

  • Robert

    Kris wrote,

    First off, who said I’m Christian?

    My question presumes you to be a Christian. If you’re not, or don’t want to answer it as a Christian, then you shouldn’t have answered it.

    But in answer to your question, a Christian would repudiate that president just as you would repudiate the amended Constitution.

    As I continue to inquire, on what basis does the Christian repudiate that hypothetical president, if the Christian has placed fealty to God above the Constitution?

  • Kris

    To repeat myself, Robert, I as a hypothetical Christian would repudiate her for violating what I consider to be the True and Ideal religious standards, just as you would repudiate what you see as a violation of the True and Ideal Constitution. (And for being a dangerous idiot, but I’d consider that to be a sin too.)

  • R.C.

    The worst part of the original piece was the “Dominionist” claptrap, which as serious investigation has already shown, was fabricated almost entirely out of vapor.

    There is no “Dominionist” movement in Evangelical Christianity; the term is unknown to nearly all Evangelicals and is considered obscure and off-the-reservation by those few who are aware of it, and the influential teachers with whom the article associated it and the relevant candidates (e.g. Francis Schaeffer) actually believed nothing of the kind.

    It was, in short, an unusually shameless bit of propaganda intending, so far as was possible, to equate evangelical Christianity with jihadist Islam.

  • R.C.


    In response to…

    If a president signed an order mandating that all Muslims live in specially designated camps, because “God thus commanded me”, then you, as a Christian, would support her?

    …the obvious answer is, “Sure, assuming she can show me chapter and verse in the Bible where it says that God commanded her to do it…and it was beyond interpretative question that the passage meant exactly that.”

    Actually, even then, the answer would be “No.” Because that would be wrong, and God does not command wrongdoing; ergo, such a command would designate her a false prophet.

    The point is: It’s an impossible scenario. There is no new private revelation in Christianity; everything from this point onward is a matter of living out the faith as defined by “the faith once for all delivered to the apostles,” as the Apostle Paul himself notes.

    I don’t mean that God is silent in the sense of being uninvolved today. Sure, miracles still happen, albeit rarely and mostly discreetly (I know someone who was miraculously healed of MS, but in general, the frequency of such obvious miracles is so rare that no reasonable person expects to see more than one such event in a lifetime). And, “locutions” (commands received from God or an angel directly) still occur on rare occasions, too. (A family member had one, though I certainly never have. In fact God periodically has to remind me not to feel jealous of that person for the experience…which goes to show how shallow some of us can be in spiritual matters, even when we know better.)

    But miracles always have a point in keeping with the love of God (the person with MS no longer had strength to teach Sunday School; her healing allowed her to return to that), and locutions always command something in keeping with the commands of Jesus to “love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength, and one’s neighbor as oneself.” They are encouragement, they push us out of laxity in doing what we already knew we were supposed to be doing; but they never change the rules.

    So the premise of the question is ridiculous. It is as implausible to a Christian as a sudden reversal of gravity is to a structural engineer. One doesn’t, y’know, spend any time worrying about it.

    The problem with folk who are contemptuous of Christianity is that they’re so deeply ignorant of that of which they’re contemptuous.

    There’s not a snake-handling high-school dropout Freewill Baptist preacher in the mountains of Kentucky who’d say such groaners about the Bible as the casual atheist wise-ass, who seems under the impression that after 2,000 years, and more prior to that in Judaism, they’re somehow going to come up with a Bible passage that no Christian has ever noticed before, and use it to demonstrate that Christianity is absurd.

    It isn’t going to happen. There isn’t some surprise Bible verse to be used in this capacity. Such arguments are weak, not least because they are ancient. They deal with topics first wondered about, and then answered, by rabbis, even before the coming of Christ. And of course Irenaeus and Cyril and Athanasius and Augustine clarified anything that wasn’t already clear.

    Now Christians usually know the atheists’ arguments pretty well. Dr. Peter Kreeft, who teaches philosophy at Boston College, likes to have theists and atheists in his class debate, but with the theists arguing for atheism and the atheists arguing for theism. The theists, arguing for atheism, always win: Not because the theist position is any weaker (or you’d see them all becoming atheists after they won), but because the theists, having long thought about such things, are able to raise really good arguments for atheism, whereas the oblivious atheists, who never think about the topic at all, always raise boneheaded and flimsy arguments for what they think theism is, and that is usually a clownish caricature of the real thing.

    Get it straight: Very nearly all of the most brilliant minds of the last 2,000 years were Christians or Jews, and most of them reasonably orthodox ones, and they were aware of all the possible challenges to their faith, and nevertheless still believed, because the objections are always answerable (and the answers are usually centuries old), and the reasons for belief more than sufficient.

    Faith is never irrational, or it wouldn’t be real faith. Faith has nothing to do with intellectual suicide; that’s just self-deception which is the opposite of faith (not to mention sinful).

    Faith is never believing things you think aren’t true. It’s clinging to that which you know to be true, and especially to Him whom you trust to be true, when your emotions and your pettiness and your moods tell you to doubt, or your desire to walk an easier path tempts you to cop-out. Faith is the virtue which resists THAT, and not least because THAT is not rational. (There is no virtue of resisting reason.)

    All of this is far too long to say, especially in response to such a short original post.

    But that, sadly, is the norm: It takes mere moments for a truck to overturn and spill fertilizer all over a highway. But it takes hours to clean all that manure up.

  • Brendan

    Robert (18) points out that there is a “purpose of the Constitution” that is a source of authority over the Constitution itself. The Declaration of Independence explains that “purpose”: “all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights”, and governments are instituted among men to protect those rights. Since the Declaration founded this country, that means all subsequent laws of the land explicitly exist to protect an endowment of God (human rights). So, Bill Keller’s attack on all candidates who believe in “some other authority higher than the Constitution and laws of this country” is in one sense absurd: the laws of this country are based on divine rights.

    Of course, all people, including atheists, can fully participate in a Constitutional government, because they can share a belief in those human rights (even if they disagree on the source). No one should be forced to embrace divine authority for the US government. Likewise, anyone who believes God tells them to do anything against human rights, should not serve in our Constitutional government, because they do not agree with its basic principles.

    However, the most difficult question of government is, “What are those human rights?” and it is a disagreement over the extent of human rights, rather than the basic founding principle of human rights, that most divides our nation today. Those who believe rights are given by God may conceive of them differently from those who think rights are human-made, but that debate cannot be solved by simply demanding people should obey the Constitution; it goes to the very root of authority for the Constitution, and all human governments. That argument is not likely to resolve any time soon, not even at the behest of the New York Times.

    Some, like King and Bonhoeffer, believed their nations had so deeply violated human rights that resistance, peaceful or violent, was their only moral option. Many feel similarly today. Let us hope (and pray) that those who feel rights are deeply violated today follow King in the path of peace.

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