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During a recent hearing of the House January 6 committee, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) stated that the U.S. Constitution is “divinely inspired.” She was referring to testimony from Rusty Bowers, the Speaker of Arizona’s House. In his testimony, Bowers said, “it is a tenet of my faith that the Constitution is divinely inspired.”
Bowers was explaining why he refused to help President Trump overturn the 2020 election. And yet, when asked by who he’d support if the next election pitted Trump against Biden, Bowers said he’d vote for Trump.
Bowers is not alone. Former Attorney General William Barr also said he would vote for Trump again even though he thought Trump’s effort to subvert the 2020 election was “detached from reality.”
Faith in a ‘divinely-inspired’ Constitution is not enough to save our Republic. Let’s talk about what will.
Political theology in the Trump era
Consider the strange theology associated with Trump. A number of people, including members of his own Cabinet, thought that Trump was chosen by God to be President. As I explain in more detail in my book, Tyranny from Plato to Trump, some Christians saw Trump as a fallen person chosen by God for divine work. According to a recent scholarly paper on the topic, evangelical Christians saw Trump as an “ungodly tool that God chose to use for the benefit of his people.”
Trump’s religious views are connected to Norman Vincent Peale, the pastor at Trump’s family’s church. Peale advocated a theology of self-help, prosperity, and “the power of positive thinking.” This idea seems to fit Trump’s worldview. It is easy to see how this might lead Trump to view faith as a mere political prop. This came to a symbolic head in the infamous photo of Trump holding a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church.
The Trumpian theology is external and political. This kind of faith lacks depth. It is about images, appearance, and power. Trumpian faith focuses on outer greatness, while ignoring internal goodness.
Are faith and integrity enough?
We might think that a deeper faith could correct this. But integrity and faith alone are not enough. This point is as old as Socrates and the philosophical quest for enlightenment about morality, politics, and theology.
Does it make sense, for example, to call a fearless bank robber “courageous”? Should we praise gangsters for their loyalty? And what about faith in a God who commands murder or suicide? Philosophers want faith and morality to be part of a coherent and rational system of life.
Courage and loyalty are only praiseworthy when linked to other good things. And irrational and immoral faith must be criticized.
We often forget this, as we aim to be tolerant and inclusive. Many Americans have a kind of reflexive admiration for religious faith. But faith divorced from reality is not admirable.
Is the Constitution divinely inspired?
This comes to a head in the idea that the Constitution is divinely inspired, which is historically strange, morally problematic, and theologically perverse.
The Founders were a diverse bunch who disagreed about religion. Thomas Paine, for example, was a darling of the revolution who was cast aside as an atheist. And Alexander Hamilton accused Thomas Jefferson of being “an atheist in religion and a fanatic in politics.”
Were Paine and Jefferson ungodly tools used by God for divine purposes? Or is the story of the Revolution and the Constitution more human and less divine?
The truth is that the Constitution was the result of horse-trading and compromises. The result still gives inordinate power to small states. And the original Constitution contained the nearly fatal flaw of slavery.
Do those who claim the Constitution was divinely inspired think that God was okay with slavery and the exclusion of women? The story of divine inspiration also forgets that it was human beings who argued, fought, and died to improve the flawed system they inherited.
A rational and moral theology would have serious questions about the idea that God inspired the original Constitution. The Constitution is a human-all-too-human product, in need of further refinement and improvement.
The need for enlightenment
Faith and integrity alone are not sufficient. Rather, they are invitations for more profound questioning. Founding fathers like Paine and Jefferson thought that enlightenment provided an antidote to tyranny. As Jefferson put it: “Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.”
The cognitive dissonance of Speaker Bowers’ continued support for Trump shows us the need for further enlightenment. Of course, Bowers was not asked to give a lecture on theology and politics. Maybe his conscience is more subtle than it appears.
But in the Trump era, we seem to have lost the knack for deeper reflection. Our political culture operates at a superficial level. We exchange platitudes while ignoring truth. Too many of us are content to surf on the surface of things. We use Bibles as props. And we nod along at the obtuse idea that God inspired the Constitution.
Our country is in crisis. And Americans remain confused about history, politics, and theology. Citizens need to think more carefully about morality, the Constitution, and religion. In short, we need enlightenment.
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