Christianists and Constitutions

There's a sane and smart op-ed in the WaPo today arguing against the rage on the right for constitutional amendments to deal with contentious social debates. It's by Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III. Money quote:

Ordinary legislation - not constitutional amendments - should express the community's view that marriage "shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman." To use the Constitution for prescriptions of policy is to shackle future generations that should have the same right as ours to enact policies of their own. To use the Constitution as a forum for even our most favored views strikes a blow of uncommon harshness upon disfavored groups, in this case gay citizens who would never see this country's founding charter as their own.

Let's look in the mirror. Conservatives who eloquently challenged the Equal Rights Amendment and Roe v. Wade for federalizing core areas of state law now support an amendment that invites federal courts to frame a federal definition of marriage and the legal incidents thereof.

This, of course, is the authentically conservative argument. But it seems to me that Wilkinson misses an important aspect of the phenomenon: there is an integral philosophical connection between religious fundamentalism and the push not just for legislative but constitutional action on social matters. For the fundamentalist, the truth never changes, and the truth, i.e. God's law, must be applied at all times. And where else to instantiate that truth in the most authoritative sense than in the Constitution? When matters of life and death and the nuclear family are concerned, why should Christianists stop at mere legislation? On the issues they care most about, they can see no compromise between the "culture of life" and the "culture of death."

Within Christian fundamentalism, after all, there is no internal argument for restraint or moderation. In fact, restraint in the face of evil is a sin, just as doubt is a failure of religious will, and moderation is, more often than not, the fruit of "relativism" or evil. Hence the Republican party platform that calls for amending the federal constitution to ban all abortions and to bar gay couples from equality for ever. You can see the inexorable fundamentalist logic: if we have a chance to prevent future generations from succumbing to terrible sin and social decay, why should we refrain? It was the same Christianist impulse behind Prohibition - which insisted on amending the federal Constitution to reflect God's law rather than simply banning booze by state law or county ordinance. In Christianism, there is no Burkean sense of generational or organic social change. Such Burkean change is terrifying for the Christianist, whose truths cannot change. There is merely eternal truth, to be implemented as thoroughly as possible, as soon as possible - or face divine judgment. And so the constitutionalization of social policy is integral to Christianism, which is now integral to Republicanism. I'm glad Wilkinson sees that there is a difference between this and what we once knew as conservatism.