The Constitution As Secular Religion


Our Church teaches us that each person has a religious sense — a deep-seated need to make sense of the world, our place in it, and to find happiness by transcending ourselves.  Religion meets this need by teaching us the an Almighty Father created us, loved us so much that He sent His only begotten Son to redeem us when we were lost, and calls us to happy with Him forever in Heaven.

What about people who reject this teaching, whether consciously or not?  Do they just stumble around asking questions (or evading questions)?  What do they do?

My observation is that people find a substitute for God and try to fill their lives with it.  I noticed an interesting example of this phenomenon today.  Jack Balkin is a leading constitutional scholar.  Balkin just published a new work on constitutional law to rave reviews.  The book is titled Constitutional Redemption: Political Faith In An Unjust World.  The blog Concurring Opinions quotes Balkin’s last paragraph:

Faith in the Constitution is really faith in a succession of human beings working through a framework for politics, adding to it as they go, remembering (and misremembering) what previous generations did, and attempting to persuade each other about how to make it work.  To believe in this project is to believe in progress despite human imperfection, and in what Abraham Lincoln called the better angels of our nature.  If we want to believe in the Constitution, we must believe that, flawed as we are, we can create a better world than the one we inherited.  If we want to have faith in the Constitution, we must have faith in ourselves.

I do not know Balkin’s perspective on religion.  The last sentence suggests to me a deification of the Constitution.  Do we want to have “faith in the Constitution?”  Can the Constitution forgive the littlest of my sins?  Can it provide a soul to my children?  Can it answer the deepest longings of my heart?  Can it fill the hole in my soul that longs for God?  No, it cannot.

Balkin realizes this.  He does not advocate faith in the Constitution.  He advocates “faith in ourselves.”  What an odd concept! Faith in who — when any newspaper, television show, and blog will bring you more news than you could ever want of people demonstrating that they are not the answer to that deepest longing.  Faith in what? A system of government? No.  If I could fulfill the longing of which I speak through faith in myself, then I wouldn’t have the longing, there would be no hole — nothing to draw me and us out of ourselves.

I do not know Jack Balkin.  He could be a very religious person for all I know.  But I do know that as important as the Constitution is, it is not God.  Everything that is not God is imperfect.  Nothing that is not God can fulfill us. Nothing, not even the Constitution.  Secular answers to man’s deepest questions will always come up short.

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