Friday, March 17, 2006

Did you hear the one about the Bible and the Constitution?

Reproduced below is an excerpt from the Baltimore Sun describing legislative hearings on a proposed amendment to the Maryland constitution that would ban gay marriage:
Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Republican who represents Harford and Cecil counties, engaged in an impassioned debate with Jamie Raskin, a constitutional law professor from American University, over the influence of the Bible on modern law.

"As I read Biblical principles, marriage was intended, ordained and started by God - that is my belief," she said. "For me, this is an issue solely based on religious principals."

Raskin shot back that the Bible was also used to uphold now-outlawed statutes banning interracial marriage, and that the constitution should instead be lawmakers' guiding principle.

"People place their hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution; they don't put their hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible," he said.

Some in the room applauded, which led committee chairman Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Democrat from Montgomery County, to call for order. "This isn't a football game," he said.
That's about as pithy a summary of the what the church-state divide is supposed to represent as I've ever heard. Kudos to Professor Raskin, who is also running for office (he'd have my vote if I lived in Maryland), and to Uncertain Principles for clearing up the myth behind the confrontation.

Still, while Raskin's barb is amusing and well-taken, it exposes an even deeper fault-line in the supposed wall between church and state in this country. Why do we continue to permit and encourage witnesses (along with government officials, both appointed and elected) to swear an oath on the Bible? What kind of wall is it that affirms the most important instrument of our democracy by reference to the most important instrument of the religious majority of this country?

As an atheist the witness oath is of particular concern to me. Were I ever to take the witness stand, I would, of course, choose a non-secular affirmation rather than one of the religious "so help me God" variety. But I would worry very seriously, especially if I were in the unfortunate role of testifying defendant, that my failure to swear an oath to God would prejudice my testimony in the eyes of some jury members. These days our law is supposed to be blind to the religious beliefs of those that come before it. Which begs the question of why we allow, as their first act to the court, witnesses to either affirm not only that they will speak truthfully but also that they subscribe to a fundamentally religious point of view?

I guess, since atheists are more moral, it's probably not something I ought to worry about too much since. And we're taking over the country anyway. If I ever did do something that might be illegal I'm sure I could just go ahead and change the law.

That's what it says in the Constitution, right? Or was that the Bible?

2 Comments:

Anonymous Doyle said...

Life Begins When?

I would like to bring a new perspective to the divisive debate surging around stem cell research by asking Christians, and non-Christians, this question: When does life begin?

Every Christian I have approached with this question has immediately replied, “With conception.” And I have asked, “How do you know that?” And have received the same answer from all, “The Bible says so.” “Oh,” has been my reply, “where, exactly, does the Bible say that life begins with conception?” And no one has been able to show me where the Bible says that life begins with conception. I am usually quoted just this one verse as the authority, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” (Jeremiah 1:5 NKJ) And I am quick to point out that “formed you in the womb” does not say life begins with conception. And then I am sucked into the Ultimate Christian Rationale for when life begins, “Well, it is better to err on the side of caution . . .”

Why is better to make a mistake instead of getting it right? I believe the Bible does tell us when life begins, and it is not at conception! The Bible clearly states in Leviticus Chapter 17 Verse 11, “The life is in the blood” and in verse 14, “for the life of all flesh is its blood.” And even earlier in God’s instruction to Noah, the Bible says, “you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Gen. 9:4). And again in Deuteronomy 12:23, “the blood is the life.”

In fact, from the Garden of Eden to the Book of Revelations the Bible is one Great Big Teaching on the importance and value of Blood. It is the shed Blood of Christ on the Cross that “makes” a person a Christian in the first place. Christianity is the ultimate sacrificial Blood-Based-Religion in the world! If there is no Blood, then there is no Life. No one in the Christian community has ever debated this point with me.

And that is my point, if there is no blood, then there is no life! And it is many days after conception that a fertilized embryo can be said to have rudimentary blood cells. And if there is no blood, and “life is in the blood,” then an embryo without blood cells has no life. If you believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, if you believe that “life is in the blood,” as the Holy Scriptures state, then embryos without blood cells should be made available for stem cell research because they have no life, and this national debate on embryonic stem cell research can be resolved and we can move on to other important issues of the day.

Additionally, in the normal course of things, it is several days after conception that an embryo arrives “in the womb,” conception usually occurring in the fallopian tubes. God knows what He is saying when He says He formed us in the womb. By the time you arrived in the womb, or very shortly thereafter, you had blood, you had life, and you were subsequently formed and in due time brought forth into this world we all share.

It is quite easy to fall into the common trap of believing man’s doctrine and dogma to be more important than Scripture, especially if you have not read the Book. My informal survey of Christians finds that the majority have not read the Book they love to quote. Instead they allow someone else to tell them what the Bible “says” and then they mindlessly parrot what they have been told to believe. (Is this you?)

“Life is in the blood,” and bloodless embryos should be made available to researchers who envision treatments and possible cures to debilitating illnesses that you, or someone you love, may one day encounter.


Doyle Doss, PO Box 2, Fortuna, CA.

Fri Mar 17, 02:04:00 PM EST  
Blogger Tim Kanwar said...

I'm leaving this comment up for two reasons (neither of which have to do with its relevancy to this particular post):

1) I've never heard the "blood is life" argument before.

2) While I don't think this viewpoint represents a particularly common one, it is illustrative of just how wide-ranging are the various conceptions of when life begins. Whether it's stem cells or abortion, drawing a line that satisfies everyone is simply not going to be possible.

For more scroll down a few posts to All Abortion, All the Time. But Why?, which is really where this comment should have appeared...

-Tim

Fri Mar 17, 05:28:00 PM EST  

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