Let me say upfront that I in no way favor mingling religion and government. Period. I believe in separation and the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. Religion has no place in government or the governance of our country. Leaders, Senators, Congressmen, newspaper reporters (yes, and even bloggers) can allow whatever their beliefs are (whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, “other,” or some ethical humanist set of rules) to guide their ethical and moral behavior and frame their policy and political positions.
As for myself, I am Jewish, and when I refer to the Bible in this article, I am referring exclusively to what is more commonly called the “Old Testament.” Since Jews do not believe in the “New Testament,” it does not frame any part of my ethical or moral belief system.
However, I feel the need to address Mike Huckabee’s comments from the other day when he was speaking at a Michigan fundraiser in advance of the primary there. He said:
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.
So. We should change the Constitution to fit God’s standards. Now that would be interesting. Did he mean only relating to specific issues, or did he mean overall? And did he mean according to his (or a particular) interpretation or someone else’s? Does he mean only as regards “the family” and “choice?” Or does he mean all 613 of God’s list of do's and don'ts? Because the answers to these questions are pretty important. Because there are God’s laws; and then there are God’s laws. And pretty much all of God’s laws are open to interpretation. Even the sixth commandment. Is it “Do not murder” or “Do not kill”? Because they are two separate things, and they are, indeed, differently translated by different religious traditions. So, let’s take a few of those Biblical laws and see how we might implement them.
The Bible says: “For six days you shall labor, and on the seventh day you shall not do any manner of work.” The same applies to several festival days during the year. More days off? Hey, I’m all for that. Since it’s God’s law and thereby incorporated into the Constitution, those would be paid days off, right? Cool. Let’s see — one day for Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year — or, as it says in the bible, the first day of the 10th month); one for Yom Kippur (the Biblical fast day of atonement); two for the fall Biblical festival of Sukkot (feast of Tabernacles ) — one at the beginning and one at the end, another two for Passover (first and last day) and finally another day off for the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot). That’s a whole week altogether. And because they’re legal (according to the Bible), that would make them paid holidays, right? Don’t have to take them as personal leave days, vacation days or sick days, right? Even better. This God’s law thing is pretty cool.
The Bible says: “Do not withhold payment for work until the morning.” The Writers Guild should love this one. It means that one should be paid, and on time, and at a fair wage for one’s work. Even for “new” media.
Oh yeah. And there’s something else in Exodus about not putting a stumbling block in front of the blind. That has been interpreted to mean removing barriers of all sorts — from physical barriers for the disabled to language barriers for those who do not understand English. It also has been interpreted to mean that fraud or fraudulent practices are a bad thing (even when they are common business practices) and you should (or rather, shall) not do them. Hear that, sub-prime lenders? Payday advance people?
Oh yeah. And did you know that every seven years the earth is due a sabbatical? No plowing or harvesting. Nada. And that the edges of the fields are to be left unharvested, allowing anyone who wants the food produced therein be free for the taking? A whole year off from producing. It makes good environmental sense, and good social policy. Maybe a little left wing for many values voters, though.
Oh, what’s that you say, Mike H? Those aren’t the laws, er… commandments you meant. Oh, right. You just mean the “values” stuff — family matters.
As candidate Huckabee said on FOX News the other night, he mainly was referring to the “Human Life Amendment” and “traditional marriage.” Gotcha. Well, let’s see what the text has to say about human life.
The Human Life amendment has had many incarnations, but all have to do with overturning Roe v. Wade. Here is one version of this staple of "values voter" Republicans:
Section 1. With respect to the right to life, the word 'person,' as used in this article and in the fifth and fourteenth articles of amendment to the Constitution of the United States, applies to all human beings, including their unborn offspring at every stage of their biological development, irrespective of age, health, function, or condition of dependency.
Section 2. No abortion shall be performed by any person except under and in conformance with law permitting an abortion to be performed only in an emergency when a reasonable medical certainty exists that the continuation of pregnancy will cause the death of the mother and requiring that person to make every reasonable effort, in keeping with good medical practice, to preserve the life of her unborn offspring.
Regarding the question of when “life begins” is addressed in Chapter 21 of Exodus. The text says that someone who causes a miscarriage by harming the mother must pay a monetary fine. If the pregnant woman is killed, then it is a “death for a death” (Ex. 21:22-25) But causing the death of the fetus is not a capital offense in the Bible. Hence, not murder. The fetus, the text suggests, hasn’t the same status as a “human being.” The fetus is considered a “pursuer” of the mother. This is a far cry from those who would call a frozen embryo sitting in a laboratory a “human life.” Far from a God-given standard, like many ethical concepts in the Bible, it is open to scholarly debate and interpretation.
So Mike Huckabee’s easy answer about changing the constitution to “God’s law” regarding abortion is more “God’s law according to…” rather than God’s law. And therein lies the dilemma. And what make this country great. The laws of our land do not – and should not – have God’s imprimatur emblazoned upon them.
They are laws created by people for people. Once you start ascribing a law to God, the next question must be “whose god?” Is it a fundamentalist god who would let Terry Schiavo go on living despite the pleas of her husband and evidence that she is already deceased? Or the God who would suggest that although we should not hasten death, we should neither prolong it?
The Bible is a good book; a great book. But even in the original Hebrew, due to the absence of punctuation or vowels, it’s all an interpretation. In English, the Bible is three times removed from its original language and thousands of years from its original context. We no longer give sacrifices at the new moon, and I wonder what penalty the swift boat veterans would have had to pay if the “do not steal” applied to the theft of one’s reputation as some have interpreted that commandment to mean.
In order for Huckabee’s suggestion to work, the government would have to take sides and answer the “whose God?” question. Their answer would undoubtedly be “Jesus” and that, in a secular society, my fellow Americans, is where the trouble begins.