THE BLOG

God and Caesar in America

The revelation that a senior White House official “cleared” the since-failed nomination of Harriet Meyers to the Supreme Court with Focus on the Family founder James Dobson reminded me of the huge controversy caused by John Kennedy’s campaign for president in 1960. Then it was the religious conservatives who were up in arms about the separation of church and state and about preventing “the Pope from taking over the White House.”

Can you imagine their reaction if, in 1961 when President Kennedy nominated Byron White to the Supreme Court, Ted Sorenson had placed a call to the Pope to seek his approval of the White nomination?

Reflections such as this in the context of today’s political rhetoric of “faith” and “values”, and the high-jacking of the Republican party by the religious right, together with my own evangelical background and divinity school studies of theology, caused me to write God and Caesar in America: and essay on religion and politics.

The following is an excerpt from God and Caesar in America: An Essay on Religion and Politics, published by Fulcrum Publishing, available November 1, 2005, in your local bookstore or at www.fulcrumbooks.com:

The full agenda of religious right "values”--laissez-faire economics, antigovernment biases, neo-conservative foreign policies, and rightist orthodoxy--requires a judiciary compliant with it. It does no good to convert a Jeffersonian public school system into private parochial schools, to make churches the instruments of the state by transferring public funds from social programs to them, to pass laws restricting reproductive rights, to expand law enforcement's intrusive reach in the name of security, or to torture or indefinitely detain terror suspects if a judge or court from the pre-revivalist past overturns those actions on constitutional grounds. The full religious revolution cannot be realized without a federal judiciary, up to and including at least five members of the Supreme Court, that shares those ideals and goals.

The New American Theocracy requires judges who will go along and who will continue going along for the remainder of their lives. The ultimate goal is a Supreme Court philosophically attuned to the principles and purposes of those seeking a state that incorporates and promotes their religious beliefs. Only then will the presidential decrees and compliant congressional actions sought by the right be safe from assault by a judiciary dedicated to the proposition that the law is established within the framework of the United States Constitution, not the Bible.

The new theocrats do not know and do not seem to want to know that judges take an oath of office requiring them to uphold the Constitution. The fact that they may (or may not) place their hand upon a Bible and swear, "so help me, God" in taking that oath does not in any way mean that they are to place their, or anyone else's, theological doctrines above those principles spelled out in the Constitution and laws of the United States.

But does not democracy require that the majority prevail, that the will of the majority is to determine the direction of the nation? And did not the majority of Americans elect a president and a Congress committed to the agenda of those dedicated to a theocratic democracy? It is too much to assume that a majority of those who voted for George W. Bush for president or for any individual senator or house member were of the same mind on the very wide variety of religious and social issues promoted by the religious right.

It is clear that the religious right has established a dominant position within one political party, a position that permits it to impose its veto on candidates for office, proposed legislation, and judicial appointments. But this position does not make it a majority even in one political party, let alone in the nation. A somewhat similar position was occupied by the organized labor movement in the Democratic Party up until recently. But that did not mean that a majority of Democrats were members of that movement or even that they agreed with the labor movement on all issues.

It is one thing to be one member of a coalition that makes up one political party and it is quite another to assume a minority position in one party that requires that party, all institutions of government, and the nation at large to accept the religious doctrines of that minority. The religious right in America, empowered by compliant elected officials, some of whom are intimidated by that element, is seeking a dictatorship of the minority. There are more than a few authoritarian and totalitarian examples in the world where this has taken place, but not in a constitutional democracy such as the United States.

One can only wonder at the response of a Jefferson or a Madison to such an effort.