Interpreting the Constitution like the Bible

I was raised to be an originalist. When asking what the constitution meant, we were always to look at the “original intent” of the founding fathers. PZ has just offered a perfect example of this:

That man [Scalia]  is a dangerous lunatic. He’s got a theological dedication to insisting that the US must be run exclusively by the 18th century principles of the Founding Fathers — even when he’s willing to consider limitations on the ownership of weapons, he gives it an unbelievable twist.

The justice explained that under his principle of originalism, some limitations on weapons were possible. Fox example, laws to restrict people from carrying a “head axe” would be constitutional because it was a misdemeanor when the Constitution was adopted in the late 1700s.

What the hell is a “head axe”, I wondered. So I looked it up. Here’s a picture:

OK, that looks nasty. I’m glad the Supreme Court will think that casually carrying around a deadly looking thing like that is not reasonable behavior.

But then look where his reasoning takes him:

“What about these technological limitations?” Wallace wondered. “Obviously, we’re not now talking about a handgun or a musket, we’re talking about a weapon that can fire a hundred shots in a minute.”

“We’ll see,” Scalia replied. “Obviously the amendment does not apply to arms that can not be hand-carried. It’s to ‘keep and bear’ so it doesn’t apply to cannons.”

Oh, good. We can restrict people’s ownership of cannons…because he interprets the Constitution with a Ken Ham-like literal-mindedness that says the only weapons that count are carried.

“But I suppose there are handheld rocket launchers that can bring down airplanes that will have to — it’s will have to be decided,” he added.

So no head axes, and no artillery…but the right to keep and bear arms can be extended to fucking rocket launchers. … I give up. Our legal leadership consists of brain-damaged, narrowly literal-minded amoral morons who worship an 18th century scrap of paper.

I quote this at length because it really does bring out the connection between a literal interpretation of the Bible and a literal interpretation of the Constitution. Because they’re the same. Have you ever gotten in a fundamentalist row over head coverings? It’s really pretty much the same thing as getting in the middle of a discussion on the second amendment.

Growing up, I couldn’t understand how anyone could not follow an “original intent” understanding of the Constitution. I mean, what else even made sense? The reality is, for me at least, I couldn’t change my literalist understanding of the Constitution until I changed my literalist understanding of the Bible. Only when I began to see the Bible as a living document with context and, well, raw humanity could I begin to see the Constitution that way as well.

It might be a bit of a stretch to say that those on the far Right “worship” the Constitution, but they do seem to approach it with the same reverence and understanding that they approach their most sacred religious document. At least, I know I did.

How about you? If you used to be, or still are, religious, do you think your religious belief and practice affected how you viewed and understood the Constitution?

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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