Originalism and the rule of law

8459580668_6b116eeb71_zDuring his confirmation hearing for Supreme Court justice, liberal senators interrogated Neil Gorsuch about his judicial philosophy of “originalism.”

Because the founders used “he” to refer to the president, does this mean you don’t believe that a woman can serve in that office?

Because the authors of the 14th Amendment didn’t think about women or gays when they drew up the equal rights protection, does that mean you don’t think it applies to women or gays?

Judge Gorsuch replied that such questions show a misunderstanding of what “originalism” means.  That approach does not look for meaning in subjective interpretations of readers, whether of the time it was written or today.  Rather, it looks for meaning in what the law says.

To discern that, you have to research what the words meant to the lawmakers who passed the law; that is, their original intent.  But to interpret (or throw out) a law based on speculation about the personal beliefs of the authors–as opposed to what they said–is more like what liberal interpreters do when they interpret the laws according to their own personal beliefs.  Thus, “originalism” refers to the original language, not historical origins.

That is, originalists believe that the meaning of language and thus the law is objective, not subjective.  The 14th Amendment  guarantees the equal protection of the laws to all Americans, so that would include categories of Americans that the authors didn’t think of at the time.

The rule of law, notes an editorial on the subject (quoted and excerpted after the jump), depends on the law having an objective meaning.

This debate reminds me of different approaches to the Bible.  Do we interpret it according to what we want it to mean?  That’s basically the approach of liberal theology.  Or do we believe in what it says? [Read more…]

“The content of their character”

Today honors Martin Luther King, Jr., the man who said this:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

That seems clear, doesn’t it?  But actually the statement is interpreted in all kinds of ways.  See Debate swirls over Martin Luther King’s monumental ‘content of their character’ quote – The Washington Post.

How does the debate over the meaning of that speech parallel other disputes over interpretation, such as the interpretation of the Bible?

How to interpret “kill Americans”

The South Korean rapper Psy–whose “Gangnam Style” goofy dance moves have become the top YouTube video of all time–was once virulently anti-American.  In 2004 at an anti-Iraq war concert, he rapped these lyrics written by a South Korean metal group:

“Kill those f—— Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captive / Kill those f——- Yankees who ordered them to torture / Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law, and fathers / Kill them all slowly and painfully.”

Now he is apologizing:

“While I’m grateful for the freedom to express one’s self, I’ve learned there are limits to what language is appropriate and I’m deeply sorry for how these lyrics could be interpreted. I will forever be sorry for any pain I have caused by those words.”

My interest is not in Psy’s anti-Americanism or his violent lyrics.  I’m sure his apology is sincere.  But what gets me is his reference to “how these lyrics could be interpreted.”  He says to kill Yankees and the girls and women in their families.  In what sense is that statement in need of interpretation?  How else could those words be interpreted, other than as an exhortation to kill Americans and their families?

The notion that all language statements and assertions stand in need of interpretation and may be interpreted in many different ways–including those that contradict the explicit meaning–is wreaking all kinds of havoc.  Especially  when treating the Bible.  Theology has often become an exercise in interpreting away Biblical statements that the theologian does not agree with.

To be sure, some language calls for interpretation, but other language is clear on its face.  Some of the controversies involve questions about which is which. But even interpretation is supposed to help us understand what has been said, rather than undoing what has been said.

via Heat is on South Korean rapper Psy for anti-American rap – The Washington Post.

Not tasting death until Christ comes in His Kingdom

There is that passage in Matthew 16 in which Jesus says that there are among those listening to him at that moment who will not taste death until He comes in His kingdom.  Liberal Bible critics say, “See, Jesus and the early church thought that the Second Coming would be imminent, and of course they were wrong.”   Some more conservative Bible scholars say, “See, Christ’s  Second Coming happened with His resurrection, or was some kind of spiritual event that happened before the Romans destroyed  the Temple,” while others explain it in other ways.

But look what our pastor, Rev. Douthwaite, did with it in his sermon on Sunday (part of the sermon I linked to yesterday):

You are among those who will not taste death until you see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. For the Son of Man and His kingdom is coming not just in the future, on the last day – His kingdom is coming already now, and is here, where His Word and Spirit are working, gathering, forgiving, sanctifying, and strengthening. For as the catechism teaches us to understand the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, Thy kingdom come: How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity (Small Catechism: Explanation of the Second Petition).

And so as our heavenly Father gives His Holy Spirit here in baptism, in the preaching of the Word, in absolution, in His Supper, His kingdom is coming. Coming to you. It is His work, the work of the cross, for you. For the cross is how Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God for you. The cross is everything. Or as Luther put it around the start of the Reformation: The cross is our only theology.

Jesus must go to the cross. You must bear your cross. This talk should not surprise us. For it is how your Father in heaven loves you and saves you. Which doesn’t make it easy, but does make it good.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 11 Sermon.

Many people treat the Bible as just an assemblage of facts, history, and doctrine.  Of course it includes such things.  But consider another dimension:  It is God’s Word; that is, God’s voice personally addressing those who hear it, with the purpose of bringing them to repentance and faith.

A lot of texts we fight over, perhaps with good reason (the details of creation; the last days), and yet what does it do to them to read them as means of grace?