Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Lord Deliver Us From Those Who Know Your "Standards"

It seems inescapable that Mike Huckabee's little statement about changing the United States Constitution to fit "God's standards" would become a subject today. I would much rather write about pretty much anything else, but have decided that, if nothing else, it would put paid, once and for all, my desire to place in print my own take on the idolatry of the family in certain religious circles in the United States. It would also be a nice way to ensure that no one ever think for one moment that I believe Mike Huckabee has done anything other than espouse a very dangerous, un-American thing by insisting we change the Constitution to fit some arbitrary "standard" some would call Divine (by the way, I'm not even sure what the phrase "God's standard" refers to; God doesn't really have a standard except unconditional love for all creation, so I suppose that wouldn't be a bad thing; on the other hand, to pretend this is what Huckabee is referring to would be ludicrous).

First, in order to get ourselves oriented, here is the whole paragraph in which the phrase appears:
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 is amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than trying to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view of how we treat each other and how we treat the family.

One of the things we notice is that, to someone not steeped in fundamentalist rhetoric, this statement makes no literal sense - I'm not even sure who Huckabee is arguing with here, to be honest. Furthermore, the idea that the Constitution is some kind of guide to "how we treat each other and how we treat the family" is simply ignorant. The Constitution dictates the form of government we have, the extent and limits of its power and authority, and gives some rough detail on the relationship among the branches of government created by it. Period. Part of its genius is its brevity and simplicity; part of what makes it so confounding a document is its vagueness and openness.

So, I'm not really sure what the problem is here. Unless, as should be obvious, Huckabee is arguing for a theocratic rewriting of American governance. In which case, he does not deserve to be elected dog catcher in Sussex County, Virginia, let alone President of the United States.

As far as the phrase referencing the family is concerned, I wish to state that the idolatry of "family" by religious conservatives is unBiblical. There are few places in the New Testament that reference the family directly, and some that pop to mind are downright hostile: "I come not to bring peace, but a sword to the family"; "Anyone who does not hate his father, mother, or brothers, indeed does not hate his own life, is not worthy to be called my disciple"; in St. Mark's Gospel, Jesus' mother and brothers come and try to bring him home, afraid he has lost his mind and is in need of their care and Jesus responds, "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?"

Not exactly family-friendly.

I have never understood the family-fetish of the right. Families come in many different shapes, sizes, and members. Indeed, the word "family" can mean pretty much whatever you want it to mean. To those on the right, I am quite sure it references some kind of vaguely traditional paternalistic nuclear or somewhat extended group of individuals, related by blood. Is a couple that has never married, but raised some children and spent many happy years together a "family"? What about a gay couple who are raising the child of one of the partners? What about a childless couple? Single parents? What about the old woman who has a couple cats footpadding around the house after her - are they her family?

Creating some ideal and calling it normative not just for understanding but for sole consideration as worthy of social concern, interest, and support, is dangerous in a society as vast and plural as ours. To do so based on some reading of sacred literature - without any basis within that literature, one might add - is not just dangerous, but misguided as well. Whatever the phrase "God's standards" might mean, encoding any or all of the above Bible verses as public policy would certainly not be conducive to supporting the family, however one conceives it.

As for any other reading of this statement - taking it out the realm of family-worship, and considering the whole question of "changing God's word" (not God's standard) - since it can only mean some kind of theocratic reconstitution of our government and society, it is the height of dangerous lunacy. Any other view is simply absurd; Huckabee may be playing to his base, but the rest of us should shudder, wondering exactly which of God's standards we will fail.

UPDATE: I am listening to a cover of the following song by Boston-based guitarist Gary Hoey. I couldn't find the cover, but the original rocks pretty good, too (bad grammar, but hey, what you gonna do?). I think this should be the theme song for the Democratic Party this year, "Lunatic Fringe" ("Can you fell the resistance? Can you feel the thunder?")

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