The Great American Failed Experiment

Matthew Schmitz, deputy editor of First Things, posted a piece on the First Thoughts blog about Rep. Jo Jordan of Hawaii, the U.S.’s first openly gay lawmaker to vote against gay marriage.

Jordan apparently did so over concerns about the ill-effect such a law, if passed, might have on religious liberty, saying:

I really am not happy with the exemptions. Too narrow … I haven’t figured out why I felt so compelled to fight for the religious exemptions, to not erode Constitutional rights. I don’t belong to any particular denomination. I don’t wear one of those hats. I take religion out of everything.

“That threat [to religious liberty of which Jordan speaks] would be less acute if more people—even if they didn’t reach Jordan’s conclusion—at least shared her concerns,” Schmidtz wrote.

While I don’t want to read too much into Schmidtz’s comment, it strikes me as interesting that the conversation seems to have shifted from protecting the so-called “first most cherished freedom” from threat at the hands of an overbearing government, to simply limiting the threat such that it is rendered “less acute,” as if to acknowledge that some degree of infringement is a forgone conclusion, a proposition with which I wholeheartedly agree.

In any case, this comment points to the difficult truth, though one assumes Schmidtz did so inadvertently, that the U.S. Constitution, and likewise the neo-conservative movement, has ever been destined to fail.  The only surprise is that it has taken more than 200 years to become obvious.

Simply put, the “Great American Experiment” has been destined to fail because it operates under the false assumption that a nation can flourish even when those who govern “take religion out of everything” relative to public policy.

Interestingly, one of the clearest thinking commenters on the First Thoughts blog is a supporter of gay marriage, who said:

We live in a legally secular country. The Church seeks the imposition of law based on religious doctrine. Doing so is an insult to the First Amendment. It demonstrates a lack of respect for our civil authority. Simply stated, the Church has no right to define morality for anyone other than its followers – all of whom do so voluntarily.

The commenter, in many ways, is hitting the nail squarely on the head. Those things deemed properly religious are of a private nature under the U.S. Constitution, and while individual citizens are free to follow their convictions in the way in which they vote, and even the way in which they seek to influence public opinion, at the end of the day, what makes a given law or action “moral” in this representative republic is ultimately a function of the will of the people as expressed at the polling place.

Under this model, those poor fools who happen to be in the minority must go with the flow of the majority tide in all matters “public,” apart from which they can fully expect to be punished by the duly elected civil authority. As for where that line between “public” and “private” lies is a matter for the same civil authority to decide. So goes the “consent of the governed.”

Conspicuously missing from this doomed process of governance is the voice of Almighty God from whom all authority comes, and to whom all in civil authority are beholden. It is missing thanks in part, of course, to the precepts set forth in the U.S. Constitution, but the well-formed Catholic recognizes that it is missing even more so thanks to the silence of post-conciliar Churchmen who are no longer willing to assert the Sovereign Rights of Christ the King.

The commenter at First Thoughts is off the mark in his support of gay marriage to be sure, but what we don’t know is the degree to which he and countless millions of others (Catholic and non-Catholic alike) have been genuinely misled into believing that the absolute, objective truth that comes to humankind from God through His Holy Catholic Church is but one “religious” opinion among many by bishops who cannot seem to muster up the courage to say anything more than this for themselves and for the Church established by Christ the King.

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