The Constitution is Not the Bible

Honestly, I’m starting to believe that the worst thing for our country has been this trend to interpret the Constitution in a similar manner to the Bible–as if it is some mysterious bunch of words dictated from holy men who had insights into the nature of the world the rest of us lack, which then means that the only way we can discover what words in the Constitution mean is to take each one individually and hem and haw over it.

I once knew a girl who claimed to believe that the Bible was the inerrant word of God and who also believed that “wine” in the New Testament was not fermented grape juice, but a non-alcoholic fruit juice mix. See, the Bible is inerrant, but you have to, apparently, know the right way to read it in order to make it so. It’s inerrant, but words don’t mean what they normally mean. It’s inerrant but only if you realize you can’t take it at face value. You start to see the troubles with this approach to Biblical understanding. You can’t trust what you plainly read on the page. That’s not exactly true, until you know the secret code or something.

And I see that more and more in what passes for Constitutional understanding among our politicians. Rather than a messy flawed document the founders intended for us to change as we needed (though not easily), we’re growing more and more prone to treat it like a holy text, like its meaning is derived from figuring out not what it says or what precedents we’ve established based on what it says, but on a kind of religious close reading that is just bizarre to outsiders.

I mean, say what you will about our national discussion about guns at the moment, the idea that a state can make it a crime at the state level for a federal agent to do his legal (at the federal level) job is ridiculous. It’s exactly opposite of what the Constitution says. The only way you could believe that it’s Constitutional is because you’ve parsed the fuck so far out of the 10th Amendment that you’ve come up with some mystical meaning, not one based on what the actual words of the Constitution say.

I honestly think we’re back in one of what Ginsberg called America’s “silly mood.” The thing that sucks is that when America is in a silly mood, people end up dead.

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5 thoughts on “The Constitution is Not the Bible

  1. I was one of those kids raised to believe that biblical references to wine actually meant grape juice. I remember it especially when I was younger, in Sunday school and children’s church, whenever any mention of wine came up in reading the Bible, the teacher/preacher would always mention this “fact.” And you hear it so much that it’s part of what you believe, but you’ve been told all along that your band of believers accept the Bible as completely true in every way.

    As an example, the Sunday school class learns about the wedding in Canaan, at which Jesus turned water into wine, you have to understand that, when the Bible mentions wine it actually means something more like grape juice. Now, we know what the Bible has to say about being drunk with wine, and we know that as Baptists we abstain from alcohol because our body is a temple. But let’s not focus on that, because we know that sometimes you have to understand the way the Bible was translated, and we know that Jesus turned the water into more of a juice sort of thing.

    And there are probably more of these little “facts” if I think about it, but if you grow up hearing constantly that your band of believers believes in the inerrant word of god, and if you are also constantly getting these “facts” with no one there to refute any of it ever, you aren’t really prepared when someone finally does attempt to refute any of it. And if, like me, you attended the church as well as the school, good luck, I guess.

  2. I remember years ago seeing Jimmy Swaggart, (formerly a popular TV evangelist who once had a huge following and congregation) hold up a Bible(KJV of course), wave it around and shout that “this is the constitution of the United States!”
    And the crowd roared it’s approval and agreement. Sad.

    Note, he fell from prominence after he was caught twice picking up female prostitutes.

  3. I sometimes think that Madison et al. made provision for almost every vagary of human behavior — except that it never occurred to them that later generations would see the document they produced as inerrant. That’s a fetishizing of The Founders for which there was just no precedent.

  4. When I moved out on my own, I started to drink wine with meals, and I would occasionally order a class of wine for dinner at a restaurant with my parents. My mother called me one day to say that it really upset my father to see me drink wine. So I said, “If it’s good enough for Jesus, Mom, it’s good enough for me.” She was very quiet for a moment, and then she said, “Don’t use that argument on your father.”

  5. I love these comments.
    I can’t complain, though: I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness, and there were no hard, fast rules about drinkin’. The general rules of thumb were ‘don’t become a drunk,’ and ‘don’t drink around people whose faith would be shaken by seeing you down a few.’ In fact, somewhere there’s a scripture about wine making the heart rejoice. That ain’t talking about grape juice, I think. All of which leaves a whole lot of wiggle room, or stagger room, if you will.

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