Saturday, December 29, 2012

Just Like the Bible

Trey Smith

If you really want to know why the US can't kick its gun habit, take a trip to the National Archives in Washington, DC. You don't even have to look at the exhibits. Just study the queue. What you'll see are ordinary Americans lining up, in hushed reverence, to gaze at an original copy of the United States constitution, guarded and under heavily armoured glass. It is no exaggeration to say that for many Americans this is a religious experience.

When outsiders hear that the right to bear arms is enshrined in the second amendment of the US constitution, I suspect many imagine this is like saying it's "protected by law", something that can easily be changed, as it would be in their own countries. But this is to underestimate what the constitution means to Americans.

It is indeed a sacred text. Despite, or perhaps because, the US is a country animated by faith, the "founding fathers" are treated as deities, their every word analysed as if it contained gospel truth. Any new idea or policy proposal, no matter how worthy on its own merits, must be proven compatible with what those long-dead politicians of the late 18th century set down – otherwise it's unconstitutional and can be thrown out by the supreme court, the high priesthood selected to interpret what the great prophets of Philadelphia intended.
~ from This Sacred Text Explains Why the US Can't Kick the Gun Habit by Jonathan Freedland ~
While the US has never officially been a "Christian nation," there is no question that the Christian belief system has had a major impact on our culture and laws. Some of these impacts have been good, but many of them have not. One of these negative impacts is that far too many Americans treat the US Constitution as if it was a religious bible.

Laws are human constructs. In most countries, they change with the times. As a society moves forward, its mores and laws follow suit. If not, outmoded ways of seeing the world can impinge on new visions.

Of course, this is the kind of problem we run into with the Christian Bible. It was written thousands of years ago by people who never imagined that germs cause disease or that famines are caused by climatic variables. Not only did these people not envision the internet, but none of them could fathom the steam engine or the printing press!

They lived in a different time and their understanding of the world is reflected in their literature. While I think few would disagree that there are some general principles that humans have understood since the beginning of our time, specific laws, standards and mores have evolved as we as a species have evolved.

But fundamentalist of all stripes want to freeze time. They oppose progress. And they try to force others -- people who want to evolve -- to abide by those beliefs from the chosen time period of antiquity.

On this blog, we spend a lot of time looking at ancient texts ourselves. But there is a big difference between looking at the Tao Te Ching or Zhuangzi versus the way fundamentalist Christians look at the Bible...or the US Constitution. We Taoists understand that these texts were written by people, not gods, and we look to see if the problems the human writers addressed then are still manifest in the world today. If they are, then we try to ascertain modern answers for modern problems.

The fundamentalist, on the other hand, treats their text as God-breathed and seeks to solve modern problems with ancient solutions. Often, the modern issues don't fit neatly into the ancient matrix, so the fundamentalists try to force round pegs into square holes!

In my mind's eye, the time has come to rewrite the 2nd Amendment. It served revolutionary America well, but it's time has passed.

1 comment:

  1. Some people don't understand that some parts of the constitution are archaic. (Like my friend here:

    While some are not debatable (like the 1st amendment) the 2nd amendment doesn't fit into modern day society. Does anyone know what the 3rd amendment is? Its the right to kick British soldiers out of your house. Dones't that alone prove that not all the amendments need to prove the test of time? Though I bet if you tried to get rid of it, someone would come of with some crazy reason to keep it because the constitution is 2nd holiest document in the world next to the bible.


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