"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."In other words, the US government was to stay out of religious affairs by neither endorsing nor restricting any particular religion. I also like to think that the idea of "making no law respecting an establishment of religion" also covers the idea of basing legislation on a particular religion's dogma, since that would amount to a de facto official religion.
One of the Revolution's great guiding figures, Thomas Paine, who like many other leading Revolutionary lights was not not a Christian but rather a Deist (which is why I both laugh and smolder at the erroneous assertions of the religious right who claim our country was founded on anything resembling Christianity), fell out of favor among Americans for his treatise The Age of Reason, in which he specifically attacks Christianity:
"That which is now called natural philosophy, embracing the whole circle of science, of which astronomy occupies the chief place, is the study of the works of God, and of the power and wisdom of God in his works, and is the true theology.
As to the theology that is now studied in its place, it is the study of human opinions and of human fancies concerning God. It is not the study of God himself in the works that he has made, but in the works or writings that man has made; and it is not among the least of the mischiefs that the Christian system has done to the world, that it has abandoned the original and beautiful system of theology, like a beautiful innocent, to distress and reproach, to make room for the hag of superstition."
And so Paine, once a hero of the American people, had to remain for a time an outcast due to his attack on superstition, or what Marx would later call "the opiate of the masses."
All this prelude, of course, to say that we've come around again to the dark ages in which our laws are based not on what is just but on religious dogma. Our elected officials don't even bother anymore to pretend they are following the Constitution, but rather blatantly reject the idea that Congress should avoid legislating through religion:
"It's part of God's plan for the future of mankind," explained Rep. John Carter (R-Tex.).Wow. We are asked to refer not to the US Constitution for our laws, but to the Holy Scriptures. In Muslim countries, they call this "Sharia Law," and many of these same legislators denounce such legal systems as oppressive etc. Even more interesting is one legislator's definition of marriage, which seems to have more far-reaching effects than mere same-sex banning:
Rep. Bob Beauprez (R- Colo.) also found "the very hand of God" at work. "We best not be messing with His plan."
Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) agreed that "it wasn't our idea, it was God's."
"I think God has spoken very clearly on this issue," said Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), a mustachioed gynecologist who served as one of the floor leaders yesterday. When somebody quarreled with this notion, Gingrey replied: "I refer the gentleman to the Holy Scriptures."
"Marriage is not about love," volunteered Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), who noted his 31 years of matrimony. "It's about a love that can bear children."So take that, all you infertile women and sterile men. Take that all post-menopausal women. All vasectomied and tubal ligated folks out there. Rep. Akin's redefinition is a sweeping condemnation to you all.
Dana Milbank also gleans this most interesting assessment from one legislator and finishes up his article with a sly little comment:
Gingrey, the floor leader/gynecologist, posited that the debate was "about values and how this great country represents them to the world." After the vote, he elaborated: "This is probably the best message we can give to the Middle East in regards to the trouble we are having over there right now."So back to this Sharia thing. Apparently, Gingrey wants to give the OK to theocratic rule, which puts him clearly in the camp of such notable friends of democracy as Iran and Saudi Arabia. Bravo, Gingrey, bravo.
So that was it: The marriage debate wasn't about amending the Constitution; it was about quieting Hezbollah.
I myself would prefer a world in which religions are relegated to the same field of study as astrology and alchemy, which is exactly where they belong.