Mike Huckabee has made a set of controversial statements about the Constitution (amendable), and the Word of God (not-amendable).
It aroused a fair amount of controversy. Which was good. But all of it missed the real point. The real point, or what should be the real point, is that almost every phrase in his statements was factually untrue.
Whether you're a person of faith or a secularist, or trying to balance the two, the discussion should be based on reality, not fantasies or myth-making. Furthermore, failure to confront the falsehoods helps perpetuate our life in a world of nonsense.
Here's what he said.
I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution. But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God. And that's what we need to do, to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view of how we treat each other and how we treat the family.
He later expanded on that in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer.
HUCKABEE: Well, what I'm simply saying, we've changed the Constitution 27 times in 221 years. But the Ten Commandments are still the Ten Commandments. We haven't added or subtracted any of them, and that's my point, is that the Constitution was created with the understanding that it could be changed, we could make changes. ...
BLITZER: But the criticism is you, in effect, would want to amend the Constitution based on the Bible. Is that right?
HUCKABEE: Well, it's really based on the idea that we've always had a historical understanding that life is precious. We go all the way back to the Declaration of Independence, when the founders made it very clear that all of us are equal. And equality wasn't based on the point of our viability. It wasn't based on our net worth, our personal assets, or ancestry. At the heart of the pro-life movement is the idea of intrinsic worth in value.
Marriage has only meant one thing in all of our historical settings. It's only meant one man/one woman. When someone wants to change that, what we're looking for is an amendment to say let's affirm, not change the definition of marriage. Let's affirm the definition we have, because some states are trying to change it, creating a huge mess for whether or not another state would have to recognize what one state did. And, in fact, why I think we need the constitutional amendment.
In actuality, it's far harder to amend the Constitution than the Word of God. Amending the Constitution is a difficult and arduous process. Amending the Word of God is quite easy. Any preacher (like Mr. Huckabee), a Pope, a self proclaimed new prophet, even a mere pundit, can come along and say, "This is actually the word of God! Not that old stuff you used to believe!"
Indeed, it happens in the Bible itself, over and over again. It's a big problem for the Western monotheistic tradition. Catholics solved it by not having ordinary people read the Bible for themselves (one of the primary issues of the Protestant Reformation) and having a hierarchy of priests, led by a Pope, to do the reading and then telling people what it means.
Protestants have tried to solve it by developing a whole school of theology called Dispensationalism. It is that God has "dispensed" his wisdom in constantly changing chunks as mankind was prepared to understand them, and it's our collective fault that He didn't set it out clearly the first time.
Islam took the view that the Jews and Christians had corrupted the texts and so God sent Gabriel to Mohammed with a final set of revisions. Joseph Smith was visited by God and Jesus Christ, who told him more or less the same thing (except the bit about Mohammed). Then the Angel Moroni told him where some golden tablets with a different set of revisions written by a guy named Mormon were buried. Smith dug them up. They were in "reformed Egyptian." He translated them, then gave them back to Angel Moroni.
Huckabee says " the Ten Commandments are still the Ten Commandments." Let us leave aside the facts that there are three different versions of the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament and the only one so labeled bears little resemblance to the one usually referred to by that name, and that Protestants, Jews, and Catholics each use a slightly different set of even that one.
The reality is that virtually all contemporary Christian and Jewish groups have amended them. And that any group that tried to enforce them, in the manner called for in the Bible, would be subject to arrest.
The Second Commandment begins: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth ...:"
This clearly forbids all paintings and statues of Jesus (let alone of anything else). It is worth noting that the Catholics simply removed this Commandment from the list and split up the last one into two parts so that they still had ten. It is only taken seriously in Islam, which is why Islamic art contains only designs and calligraphy and why the Taliban (quite correctly, by Biblical injunction) destroyed the giant statues of the Buddha.
But for the most part, this has been simply, and quietly amended. By ignoring it.
The Bible calls for the death penalty for violations of the 4th (keeping the Sabbath), the 5th (honoring your Mother & Father, or more precisely for cursing them), and the 7th (committing adultery.) The Bible adds that "everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of fornication, makes her an adulteress, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery."
Obviously, enforcing those penalties would end Christianity as a cultural force in America, as there would be so few of them left. The Tenth Commandment, the one about "coveting," criminalizes thought. Any attempt to enforce it (aside from violating the fundamentals of American law), would remove all the Christians and Jews who were left after the executions required by enforcement of #4, #5, and #7, except for those in a vegetative state.
The Bible is amended far more often, far more casually, with far less debate, than amending the Constitution.
Huckabee's goal is two amendments to the Constitution. One would ban abortion. There is nothing in the Bible that directly forbids abortion. Not a word. Not a jot. So he does a shuffle and slide and he says:
Well, it's really based on the idea that we've always had a historical understanding that life is precious.
We go all the way back to the Declaration of Independence, when the founders made it very clear that all of us are equal. And equality wasn't based on the point of our viability. It wasn't based on our net worth, our personal assets, or ancestry. At the heart of the pro-life movement is the idea of intrinsic worth in value.
In fact, voting was restricted to white males, and normally, only those white males with a certain amount of personal assets. The historical truth is exactly the opposite of what Huckabee claims.
The second would define marriage as "a union between one man and one woman." Nothing in the Bible says that. Based on the examples found in the Bible the rule would more accurately be described as "Marriage is a union between one man and as many women as he can get in the prevailing social climate."
This is not meant as an attack on Mr. Huckabee. Compared to the crowd he's running against, and within the limits of Republican ideology, many of his foreign and domestic policy positions are sane and humane.
The point is that in our public debates the Right Wing postulates certain myths, the mainstream media repeats them, or nods along as if they're not full of obvious untruths, and while the Left may howl in outrage, fails to point out the factual errors and then drive them home. Truly stupid policies can only stand on a foundation of falsehoods.
Larry Beinhart is the author of Wag the Dog, The Librarian, and Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin. All available at nationbooks.org. His new novel, Salvation Boulevard, (Nation Books) will be released in September 2008