Friday, April 9, 2010

Time to Appoint a Non-Religious Judge to the Supreme Court

   Depending on which poll you choose (BBC, Gallup or ARIS), the percentage of Americans that consider themselves “non-religious” hovers anywhere from about 9 to 13%. That’s anywhere from 28 to 42 million Americans—almost as many as watch American Idol, and as many or more than are Hispanic, African-American, Asian, Jewish or gay. And yet each of these constituencies (except the Idol watchers) has representatives in Congress. But non-believers? Despite their huge numbers, they have nobody in Congress or in the White House. So it's only fair that they have 11% of Supreme Court.

   Of course, you can hear them now…the far Right…bellowing (their sole form of communication these days) about Obama the socialist trying to put a godless judge on the Court, when everybody knows you gotta be a believer to run a democracy and preserve our rights, right?

   Actually, no.

   Consider where churches and firebreathing preachers have stood on basic rights and freedoms over the past 500 years. Electing leaders, abolishing slavery, racial equality, gender equality, free speech and press, tolerance of alien religions—the Christian world opposed all these ideas for 90% of its history. Where was God’s moral order all that time? It's not as if Scripture or churches were teaching these things and the rest of the world just ignored them. These rights are not in the Bible. They weren't formally recognized until a bunch of long-haired, Eastern elitist, deist, half-believers hammered out a secular government to do what a thousand years of Christian governments failed to do.

   Non-religious government is a red-white-and-blue American tradition. Separating church from state—in writing—was a first. It’s one of the great gifts the United States brought to the modern world. It’s what distinguished America’s democracy (a pagan form of government) from the Christian monarchies that ran Europe for a millennium before. If Europeans themselves are less religious today, it’s because they’ve had a belly full of Bible-based governments over the past 2000 years; they know the record and it isn’t pretty.

   The writers of the Constitution may have been believers in God to one degree or another, but that didn’t matter. The government they created doesn’t care about personal theories of why we exist. It’s supposed to be rational and godless and exclusively concerned with protecting earthly freedoms, not enforcing God’s will. The Declaration of Independence was not written by a theologian—it was written by a scientist. One who didn’t even believe that Jesus was divine. That’s why they’re trying to write him out of their school textbooks in Texas.

   The Constitution is not a product of Christian thought; it’s a rejection of it. It's about the common defence, domestic tranquility and the general welfare--not salvation, faith, or the ninth circle of hell. According to Christian tradition, God chose the head of state—a Christian king—by rewarding him with victory in battle and politics. The divine right of kings, they called it. As long he obeyed the commandments and ruled in accordance with “divine will,” whatever that meant, God would keep him in charge.

   Well, American’s founders didn’t like God’s choice of who to lead them, so they threw God out of the leader-choosing business and put man in his place. Now, the people would choose their leader, not God. The leader’s authority would flow from the voters below, not heaven above. Every voter, and every candidate, could be a Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or atheist and you wouldn’t have to change a word of the Constitution. Religion isn’t the basis of our democracy. Look at The Ten Commandments; seven of them are unconstitutional. (Only the bans on killing, stealing and lying are constitutional.) Since you can't make the case that our government suffers from a shortage of people who represent holy rolling yahoos, there ought to be at least one Jeffersonian skeptic in a high-profile job.

   Of course, conservatives will argue that if government doesn’t recognize God, what’s to stop all of us from indulging in crimes like murder, rape, incest, theft, or texting behind the wheel? Real simple: Laws—passed and enforced by humans who mutually decide to ban all that stuff. Personal theories about why these things are bad don’t matter. All that matters is that people prefer murder and theft to be illegal. It's natural. It reduces stress. Even the Soviet Union and Mao’s China didn’t allow just anyone to kill or steal.

   These ideas are no-brainers for every civilization, and God just happens to agree. They were around long before the Hebrew religion. You don’t need the Bible to clue you in on these issues, which is why murder and theft are banned even in societies that wouldn't know Yahweh from a potato knish. What’s more, if you believe the Old Testament, Yahweh himself had no trouble ordering murder, theft, conquest and genocide when he found them useful. Even incest turned out to be a necessity—ask Adam or Noah. Nor were medieval Christians shy about routinely using prison, torture, execution, or war in the Lord’s name. God’s eternal rules aren’t so eternal.

   As it stands now, churches influence a lot of government issues that are, frankly, none of their business because nobody elected them. You know the list: gay marriage, abortion rights, medical research, science and history textbooks, healthcare, Middle East policy, contraception, broadcast standards, tax exemptions, and on and on. A lot of this stuff is about individual freedom, which no religion has a right to restrict. It doesn’t matter what they claim God wants; everybody says they know what God wants. More importantly, the Constitution wasn’t written to serve God. It was written to serve us, and that means defending liberties that some churches may not like. It also means siding with science, which the Constitution recognizes, as opposed to religious belief, which the Constitution does not.

   If democracy depended upon religious belief, we’d all have to start worshipping Zeus, Apollo and the rest of the wine-and-toga crowd on Olympus, because those are the gods worshipped by democracy’s inventors in ancient Athens. For most of the past 2,500 years, Christian churches have opposed democracy. Only recently has Yahweh come around to supporting it, mostly because there’s nothing he can do about it. Western secular governments have declawed religion so that now it’s all voluntary. Religions can no longer declare war, pass laws, or punish you for not sitting up straight in church. You can take your business elsewhere.

   This is why we need a non-religions judge on the Supreme Court—to preserve the American tradition of not having to give a damn about the religious kooks down the block. And to remind us that our key American values--democracy, liberty, tolerence, free speech, equality for all--are not based on religious belief. Believers can worship, pray, and live whatever screwy, theology-saturated lives they want. And hopefully they’ll be grateful for a government that lets them do that. But when they start passing laws that affect me based on the claim that they know God best, well, maybe it’s time for a Tea Party against oppressive, dictatorial theocrats.

   Most Americans are religious, and they have plenty of outspoken cheerleaders in Washington. How about one guy for the rest of us? It’s a call for representative government—one that reflects all the philosophies that Americans follow, not just the ones that get tax exemptions.

1 comment:

  1. I think it's funny that you juxtaposed a 17-year-old cutie next to that headline, as though you're supporting her for a seat on SCOTUS. While it might be fun to share a closet with a red-headed atheist cheerleader, these girls and all other atheists ought to come OUT the closet.

    But is she really ready to serve on the Supreme Court? Only a Senate super-majority can make THAT decision.