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The Living American Gospel


Is the Word of God open to interpretation? Is there a “Living Gospel”? Some, like the oft-maligned Biblical Literalists, say the Bible is absolutely accurate. Modern Islamic theology holds that the Koran loses its divine nature when translated out of Arabic.

The Muslim view seems to echo St. Augustine:

If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don't like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.

The Word of God is fixed. Any interpretation necessarily adds some measure of human error, and likely reflects the interpreter more than the Author.

When the subject shifts from the Word of God to the words of men, are those words then imbued with life? Does, for example, the United States Constitution come alive because we know who drafted it and who signed it?

Discerning the intent of God is a challenge. A challenge many have felt able to meet, but there are at least as many to argue any conclusion. The intent of the Founders is a matter of historic record. Arguments about the Founders’ intent can be rooted in fact rather than faith.

To assert the Constitution is alive is to willfully ignore both the historic record and the principles of law. The Constitution is a contract. Some may argue it an invalid contract, but those who take it to be binding, must themselves be bound by its language and intent. A contract does not change because one party decides some clause has become unpleasant.

We have in the Constitution a more certain source than in the Gospel. And it includes a process for amending and improving itself. Whatever flaws the Founders did not see, or could not resolve, can be corrected. There is no need to create an animistic spirit within its plain language.

Justice Clarence Thomas explains:

As important as our Constitution is, there is no one accepted way of interpreting it. Indeed, for some commentators, it seems that if they like or prefer a particular policy or conduct, then it must be constitutional; while the policies that they do not prefer or like are unconstitutional. Obviously, this approach cannot be right. But, it certainly is at the center of the process of selecting judges. It goes something like this. If a judge does not think that abortion is best as a matter of policy or personal opinion, then the thought is that he or she will find it unconstitutional; while the judge who thinks it is good policy will find it constitutional. Those who think this way often seem to believe that since this is the way they themselves think, everyone must be doing the same thing. In this sense, legal realism morphs into legal cynicism. Certainly this is no way to run a railroad, not to mention interpret the Constitution… .

Let me put it this way; there are really only two ways to interpret the Constitution—try to discern as best we can what the framers intended or make it up. No matter how ingenious, imaginative or artfully put, unless interpretive methodologies are tied to the original intent of the framers, they have no more basis in the Constitution than the latest football scores. To be sure, even the most conscientious effort to adhere to the original intent of the framers of our Constitution is flawed, as all methodologies and human institutions are; but at least originalism has the advantage of being legitimate and, I might add, impartial.

Those who believe in a living Gospel will one day have their interpretations judged by its Author. Those who selfishly imagine life in the Constitution need not wait. They are not only wrong, bad acting in bad faith under our mutual contract. Let them be judged harshly, and let justice be swift.

H/T Betsey’s Page and Maggie’s Farm