Let's Talk Once You've Actually Read the Text

Have you actually studied the Bible for yourself, on your own terms? If not, let’s talk once you’ve read the text.

Have you actually studied the Constitution for yourself, on your own terms? If not, let’s talk once you’ve read the text.

I make these points in the wake of senate candidate Christine O’Donnell’s shocking lack of familiarity with the Constitution. A journalist at NPR called her understanding of the first amendment “aggressively ignorant.”

In a debate yesterday, ironically held at a law school, O’Donnell was at first on safer ground when she challenged her opponent to acknowledge that the words “separation of Church and State” are technically not in the Constitution. However, she exposed her fundamental ignorance of the Constitution when she continued further along the same track. Her opponent, tacitly conceding her point that the Constitution doesn’t technically contain the words in question, noted that the First Amendment does say that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” to which O’Donnell countered, “You’re telling me that’s in the First Amendment?” As reported in The Washington Post, “You actually audibly heard the crowd gasp.”

O’Donnell’s performance seems to me a result of someone who has spent far too much time listening to what other people say about the Bible and the Constitution and almost no time reading what the text of Bible and the Constitution actually say.

Desmond Tutu — the Nobel peace prize winner and Anglican Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, South African — famously said in a 2008 speech that, “There’s nothing more radical, nothing more revolutionary, nothing more subversive against injustice and oppression than the Bible. If you want to keep people subjugated, the last thing you place in their hands is a Bible.” The opposite is also the case: if you don’t study the Bible for yourself and simply repeat other people’s talking points about the Bible, you may impede the liberation of both yourself and those around you.

The United States Constitution is similarly radical, revolutionary, and subversive. And if O’Donnell actually spent time studying the First Amendment, the related history, and case law, perhaps she would come to a similar conclusion to that of one our country’s Founders and former Presidents, Thomas Jefferson, who in a 1802 wrote a letter describing the First Amendement as “a wall of separation between Church & State.”

Our invitation in response to such ignorance is to find a copy of the Bible or Constitution, and read.

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