Theocratic Constitutionalism & the Hollowness of Republican “Freedom”

How disconcerting to have one’s Christian name used as a Twitter tag to describe the aspirations of seven men and one woman, none of whom will ever be President.

Still, yesterday’s debate gave a fairly good idea of what each candidate means when they use words like “liberty” or “freedom,” and expressions like “states’ rights.” Rick Perry comes closest to a coherent, limited-government synthesis, when arguing that the Tenth Amendment should protect each state’s right to make mistakes about the definition of marriage, subject only to the peoples’ right to amend the Constitution to say otherwise. As we’ve explained before, that’s actually not at all contradictory.

Compare this with Rick Santorum.

Sullivan explains: according to Pennsylvania’s favorite son, “freedom does not mean the freedom to violate the eternal, unchanging ‘laws of nature,’ as defined by the Catholic church.” Put another way, the laws of God perforce supersede the laws of man, and should be enforced by both man and by God.

Now, Santorum is obviously wrong on the law. The Constitution leaves no room for implied theocracy. If religious mores may be used in molding the law — something that’s perhaps improper in a pluralist society, but certainly not illegal — they do not become the law absent affirmative enactment, subject to constitutional limitations. But isn’t he also wrong on his theology? Believers should hope to see God’s will done, but Santorum posits an interference with temporal affairs rejected by Christ himself, and by early church fathers (St. Augustine of Hippo, in his City of God: “Two cities have been formed by two loves. The earthly, by the love of Self; the heavenly, by the love of God.”) Santorum’s view seems definitional of today’s more militant Christian fundamentalism, where a takeover of all secular institutions approximates a religious commandment, a Christian jihad, albeit one which precludes violence in most iterations. But it’s also plainly at odds with what Christianity was originally supposed to be.

It’s also in conflict with the larger fundamentalist community. The Skousenite view — formerly an aberration confined to the far-far-right of the Mormon church, now more mainline fundamentalism, post-Beck (cf.) — holds that the Constitution is a “divinely inspired” document. Per Skousen, because the Constitution was formed by God’s will, the limits of the document are the limits of God’s will for human government. Per Santorum, the Constitution incorporates God’s law into the background, as a sort of external limitation preventing the constitutional recognition of certain rights and liberties.

Both views should terrify, and both are clearly wrong. But both are finding increasing incorporation into the Republican party line. God help us all.


  1. Lanfranc, I expected some pushback on the Augustine parts!

  2. Well, if you insist, I would at least point out that Augustine’s point essentially is that the City of God will eventually replace the City of Earth – and of course that the latter is the inherently sinful source of corruption and paganism and Goths trampling all over the Empire and what have you. Sooo I’m not sure that equating the City of Earth with the Constitution is necessarily the best idea.

    I’m also not certain about the Church Fathers’ attitude to mixing up the church and state (although would be interesting to look into), but whatever they thought about it, the two were definitely quite inseparably intertwined within just a few years after Constantine accepted Christianity. In particular, bishops often participated in both the Imperial and provincial administration alongside the civil officers, or even were the civil officers in some places (in fact, a ‘diocese’ was originally a Late Roman subdivision of a province.)

    So, yeah, the Roman connection might not be the best way to go here, unless perhaps to play up the “Rick Santorum wants to reestablish the Roman Empire” angle.

    1. To avoid confusion, I should perhaps clarify that it’s not that an entirely secular Roman administration suddenly got overrun by priests after Constantine. There had always been a strong religious element in the Roman administration, just with pagan priests previously, who then more or less gradually got replaced by Christian bishops after 315 (and of course completely by 380, when Christianity became the official religion of the Empire).

    2. All of the above is fair. I was hoping to avoid stepping into the church-state issue directly, since you’re right, they were one-and-the-same (whether polytheist or Christian) for much of the empire. My point was more that theology required something close to an ascetic indifference to the world of men, even if practice was otherwise. Maybe?

  3. Yes, yes, we know Christians are generally noxious. That’s to be expected. Their god, Jesus Christ, was the single most evil individual in history as he was the primary source of the three greatest sins in the world today: compassion, forgiveness, and pacifism.

    Jesus was EVIL.

    1. Steve, my man, don’t you ever worry that you might turn into a caricature of yourself? You got to work out some new material once in a while, reinvent yourself a little bit.

      1. I worry more about the rage and the hatred underlying the “material”. I know it isn’t healthy, but I can’t shed it. And some of it I don’t even want to, because while I know it has negative consequences for me (either I get to repress it, yay, or I get to make myself a pariah, yay) I do believe I’m in the right.

        And while I’m an atheist because I have never encountered a single thing in my life that gave me even the slightest reason to believe in the reality of any sort of spiritual anything, it is true that I am specifically not a Christian because of the central role of forgiveness and compassion in Christian theology. I’m not completely devoid of compassion – for instance, this makes me hell of happy, but I don’t have a lot of it, and forgiveness is completely alien to me: I don’t think I’ve ever forgiven anybody and I don’t think anyone’s ever forgiven me. And then in the Christian context… the Beatitudes just seem stupid to me, and the story of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery, while I don’t think adulteresses should be punished (and certainly not stoned!), “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” is rankly offensive to me. A god who says “Stoning women for adultery is a bullshit rule” is one I can support. A god who says “don’t punish the guilty”, to me that’s pretty evil.

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