Tuesday, January 22, 2013

"The Second Amendment is From God"

That slogan leapt out at me in from a recent Associated Press article, one chronicling a series of pro-gun demonstrations in state capitals around the country.   It was purportedly emblazoned on a sign, along with other slogans of the gun-rights movement.  "Come and Take It," said one truculently, emblazoned with a farkled up sniper rifle.  "An Armed Society is a Polite Society," said another.  "God, Guns, and Guts," said a third.

But though there were plenty of reiterated claims of that "Second Amendment" phrase, there were no images of the sign bearing that theological assertion.  I just couldn't find it, either in traditional semi-objective media or the propagandist provocateurs of left and right wings.  Huh.

But still.  It was a striking phrase.

Such a statement certainly seems in keeping with the ethos of firearm ownership that has come to define the American conversation on the subject.   Owning a firearm is a "sacred" right, or so the language of that movement tends to go.  It's woven up with theologies of conflict and nation, of struggle against tyranny and the defense of freedom.

All of that might ring bright in the ears of those who want that to be real, who desire that affirmation.

But the Second Amendment is not from God.  That is simply not true, not in any rationally defensible sense of the word.  That reality goes beyond the deep tension between the ethic of violence and the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

The Second Amendment does not arise from the Sacred.  Here, I understand the sacred as that which involves some direct engagement with the Creator of the Universe.  To be sacred, a text must have been drawn and spoken out of a covenant relationship with God.  A sacred text is a signpost to the holy, to the deepest purpose of humankind, revealed from a deep connection to the One who forms and shapes all of being. It endeavors to articulate eternal truths that transcend place and culture and nation, and that speak instead to the deepest purpose of existence.

The Torah, the Prophets, and the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as found in the Gospels are sacred texts, for example.  They are explicit articulations of that form of relationship.  Even if you do not view them as sacred, that is their clear purpose and intent.

But the Constitution of the United States is not a sacred document.  It importantly does not presume to be.  The Founders explicitly did not intend it to be.  It is a self-aware product of human reason, founded on the mutual consent of the rational individuals who comprise the citizenry of our republic.  It begins with the assertion that it does not derive itself from revelation, but is instead the creation of human beings.  "We the People" have chosen to be part of this republic, and to create these guidelines for life together.  God is not to be found in the Constitution, not directly.

Our Constitution accepts, within itself, that it is a contingent and modifiable document.  It integrates into itself the particular rules for making changes as reason and mutual consent dictate.  That's the entire purpose of Article V, eh?  Amendments can be added.  Amendments can be repealed.  Again, this is not a quality of a sacred text.

Let it be said that this is a system of governance that I voluntarily support.  As a free individual, I see the Constitution of the United States of America as establishing a form of life together in which I choose to participate.  Were I not American, I would choose to be.

Let it be also said that this is how forms of political governance best express themselves theologically.  No form of government is perfect, and none should be cast in stone.  Always reformed and reforming, eh?

Let it also be said that I hold human reason to be a gift from God.  The capacity to be reasoning beings is one of the highest gifts of sentient life.  As such, a document formed and shaped by reason is a result of God's work in us.  It is not a revealed truth, but there is truth in it.

It's just that this truth is not an absolute, nor does it have the quality of the sacred.