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Did God Give Us the Constitution?
Wherever your political loyalties lie, you may have noticed that political conservatism has been almost entirely hijacked by Christianity. As one point of evidence, consider that conservative talk radio, which includes all of the top rated talk radio shows in the country, is populated with hosts who conflate conservatism with Christianity. Rush Limbaugh (#1 talk radio show) is relatively subdued about it, but Sean Hannity (#2) and Glenn Beck (#4) are outspoken in their religious beliefs, and firmly contend that their god is what made – and makes – America great.
Dave Ramsey (#3), though, is a money guy. He’s on every night talking about getting and staying out of debt. Overall his message is a very positive one – don’t spend more than you earn. It’s a very freeing message as well, as anybody who has lived with the debt monkey on her back can attest.
Ramsey said something on March 26, 2015 that caused me to pause and reflect. He said that the freedoms we enjoy in the US are god given, and that the Constitution is the second most important document in our lives behind the Holy Bible.
This shows either a lack of knowledge about history, or a disregard for the truth. I prefer to believe the best about people, and so I’ll posit that he simply doesn’t know the history of the freedoms enumerated in the US Constitution. And experience shows that history is often a weak area in most people’s lives. Let’s fix that with a brief primer on what makes our Constitution so radically different in the history of governing documents.
The US Constitution was written by men who were heavily influenced by a philosophical movement called British Empiricism. A leading early figure of this movement was named John Locke (1632-1704) and his work has shaped and informed philosophical, political, and religious thought ever since.
Empiricism and significant scientific advances arose at roughly the same time, known as the Enlightenment or the Age of Reason, a time in which men and women began to understand themselves in terms of living in this world rather than as creatures of a spiritual world who found themselves in the corporeal. The Age of Reason spawned many new disciplines and ideas, and the concepts behind civil rights and equality for women are firmly rooted in it.
It also spelled the end of the feudal system of government in which the aristocracy ruled by right of inheritance, in other words, Lord Jeffrey was lord of you, your family, your meager possessions, and even your future purely because he was born into the right family and you were not.
Our Constitution enumerated that government was not a system set forth by a god (the “divine right” of kings to rule their lands, and create an aristocracy, was a central tenet of feudalism) but instead was chosen by the people being ruled. It set forth a republican form of government in which each state was represented by a number of people proportional to the state’s population (the House of Representatives) AND by a chamber in which each state was represented equally despite population (the Senate).
The Bill of Rights, which attached to the Constitution very early in its life, spelled out certain limitations on government (that are largely ignored today), and was a much fought-for piece of legislation, and arguably the most important part of that Constitution.
Construction of the Constitution of the United States of America was based in part on a document called Magna Carta which originated in 1215 and reached its “final” form in 1297. Though some historians dispute the popular notion that Magna Carta was a document that granted rights of protection from feudal lords to commoners, there is little doubt that such an interpretation influenced the framers of the US Constitution.
The history behind Magna Carta is actually pretty interesting, but not germane to this topic.
Again, this isn’t about beating up on Dave Ramsey. As far as I can tell, he’s completely earnest in his crusade against debt, and more power to him. It is about setting the record straight on political freedoms coming from our ability to reason and see ourselves as physical beings in a physical world.
And it is a suggestion to the American political right that, if they want to be relevant to the vast pool of non-theists and other persons who don’t think gods have anything to do with government, they should tell the Religious Right that seems to have fully engulfed their movement to shove off.
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