Quick question: What would your reaction be if a presidential candidate stepped before an audience of millions and decreed that Americans needed to be forced at gunpoint to embrace Islam? And then, in the awkward silence that followed, he added that if elected, he would change the Constitution to align it with good ole Islamic values?
I’m not asking if you’d vote for the guy. I’m asking if you think he’d be lynched by breakfast, or if he might survive until afternoon tea.
The question isn’t hypothetical, either. Like a weed that just won’t quit, Mike Huckabee is once again up in the polls, especially among the so-called Tea Party, but also with Republicans in general. Remember his first run at the White House, when he made his position on the U.S. Constitution resoundingly clear not once, not twice, but on no less than four public occasions?
“I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution. 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.”
That gem is from Huckabee four years ago. It should have ejected him from any serious shot at public office — certainly that would be the case if it had been spoken by a Muslim in favor of the Qur’an. But today’s political scene is a little bit demented.
And did you catch that “some contemporary view” comment?
Of course, let’s be fair to the guy. Huckabee may simply have misspoken a few times, right? A few years have passed and he’s had time to reconsider his position (and maybe to sit down and actually read that “contemporary view”). Has he mellowed in that time?
Well, let’s see:
Last month at a Christian supremacist conference, Huckabee was caught on video describing his fond wish that “all Americans would be forced — forced at gunpoint no less” — to be indoctrinated into Christianity.
So, has he mellowed? Uh, that would be a no.
That America has religious freedom is not being debated here. Yet there is a stark difference between religious pluralism and religious dominion, and the Constitution is clear on which it favors: from the First Amendment to Article 6, no religious test is required of our public officials, no state religion can come to pass in America, and the “supreme law of the land” is not any particular holy book, but rather the Constitution itself.
The evangelical fervor of today’s Tea Party and GOP has always hated this fact. This isn’t about Huckabee — not really. To be a serious contender in today’s political scene, you need to come off as religious as possible, and nowhere is this more important than the political right of the spectrum (which has devolved from its secular Barry Goldwater days, but that’s a conversation for another day).
Hence, it isn’t just Huckabee, but the fibers of the GOP and their edgy spin-off series, the Tea Party. It’s the political perspective that enshrined such ideologically similar folks such as Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, and of course, Sarah Palin.
What’s more important to you: the First Commandment or the First Amendment? The question demands an answer, but it’s never asked in the media, and never of our politicians or candidates for offices. The First Commandment comes to us straight from Bronze Age tribalism — “Thou shall not have other gods before me.” It shuts down religious freedom with all the subtlety of an executioner’s axe.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
So, in America, you can be Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Wiccan, or whatever else you like. You can recreate a Temple to Zeus or to Apollo. Just as importantly, you retain the right to NOT bend knees before an alleged godhead, and you are never forced to attend churches, temples, mosques, or shrines made in their honor.
The same goes for the American value of freedom of speech. You won’t find it in the Bible or Qur’an, but it’s sitting pretty at the top of our own Bill of Rights.
A citizen’s right to life and liberty? Those are Constitutional concepts. In the Bible, it’s spelled out that all your life is dependent on subservience to a theocratic elite, and liberty itself is an utterly alien concept: Believe in another god, or no god, and the only due process you get is a ring of executioners bearing stones, swords, or torches (depending on your particular blasphemy; the Bible spells out how you should die).
The dominionist philosophy espoused by Huckabee and his fellow evangelicals holds the Bible up as a moral compass, while forgetting the brand of morality that is written in its pages. Not far from the same passages that condemn homosexuality and profess the truth of the one God is a curiously grisly value system in which the faithful are required to kill:
- People who refuse to listen to priests (Deuteronomy)
- Fortune-tellers and homosexuals (Leviticus)
- Adulterers (Leviticus)
- People who work on the Sabbath (Exodus)
- Their family and friends if their religious views differ from their own (Deuteronomy)
- An entire city if a single person in it worships a “false god” (Deuteronomy)
And so the list goes, in a long, crimson stretch including death for blasphemers and women who aren’t virgins on their wedding nights.
It isn’t enough to dismiss this talk from today’s GOPers and Tea Partiers as simply throwing bones to certain constituencies. Huckabee’s words are treasonous. How does a man like that, or anyone like that, ever swear an oath to “defend, preserve, and protect” the Constitution?
And meanwhile, the irony of ironies is that this same political camp is beating the drums of war against Sharia law coming to America!
Sharia law is not being advocated anywhere in the mainstream American political scene. There’s no pending legislation to instate it. There’s no lobby group. I have yet to be asked in a Rasmussen poll if I would vote for a candidate who wants to make America more Islamic in values and attitude.
And why? Because we have a secular Constitution, a good ole contemporary document born from Enlightenment ideals instead of Bronze Age ones. America’s nation was founded on a document which painstakingly avoids religious language; it is an ultimate, brilliant juxtaposition of ideas, which in its own words is “the supreme law of the land.” This is an important point: For those claiming that America was founded on Biblical principles, there is a complete lack of Biblical reference in the Constitution itself. It establishes a supremely secular authority that allows citizens to select whatever religion they wish, so long as local laws aren’t being broken. (So Tlaloc worshipers are not permitted to rip anyone’s heart out during services, for example.)
Huckabee’s religious evangelism (and that of conservative politics as a collective) is met by wild cheers from supporters. According to an October poll by the Public Religion Research Institute, 60 percent of the Tea Party movement believes America “has been and is now a Christian nation.” Not that their national conventions have left any doubt.
In fact, despite all the platitudes, the rhetoric from Huckabee and the Tea Party is neither patriotic, liberty loving, nor in favor of secular Constitutional governance.
Tea party favorites O’Donnell and Sharron Angle were defeated, but the Tea Party itself has advanced. They define themselves as populist, sure, but in the era of the low-info voter, this can be a dangerous thing indeed. Democracy, without an understanding of the issues at hand, can be a lynch mob.
And the Tea Party is certainly that, if nothing else. It opposes the Islamic community center in Manhattan. Then, with a straight face, it champions the freedoms of the Bill of Rights. How precisely do you forbid law-abiding U.S. citizens who happen to be Muslim from legally building a community center?
This is where the curtain begins to show some threadbare patches. Whatever mask it wears to the ball, the political right seems not to be interested in the Constitution as it is, but rather as they want it to be. They want it to be a Christian document, and if you’re of another religion — like, say, Islam — you aren’t protected by the same rules.
Want a slice of irony? Huckabee’s camp has more in common with “America’s enemies” (read: Islam) than it would dare to admit. Both sides are cut from the same Bronze Age value system. Biblical and Qur’anic law don’t even differ much on the size of rocks to be used in stoning a disobedient woman to death. Maybe that’s why our founders made sure our societal road map was a secular Constitution. Remember that America’s true parents were the Enlightenment ideals of reason and liberty, not Dark Age oppression and superstition.
“You don’t need to burn books to destroy a culture,” wrote Ray Bradbury. “Just get people to stop reading them.” Replace “books” with “the Constitution,” and we understand how a movement like the Tea Party — or people like Huckabee — could have gained such traction without being laughed out of town.
The real threat we face is the large constituency of radicals who openly advocate changing the “supreme law of the land” to impose their theology on the rest of us. And right now, the leading voices of that camp are brandishing a holy book in one hand, a teacup in the other, and the Constitution nowhere in sight.