Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Lethal Marriage

"[Some of my opponents] 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 is to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards," Huckabee said, referring to the need for a constitutional human life amendment and an amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. --From MSNBC yesterday This quote has been hashed and re-hashed all over the interweb since Mike Huckabee made his statement on Monday night. Still, it’s not something that can be brought up enough. “Huck” has frightened me as a possible Presidential candidate ever since he jumped ahead in the Iowa polls in December. I saw him on one of those network television nightly news magazines just after his surprising leap to the fore. He was explaining to an interviewer that he didn’t know how he’d suddenly gained in popularity. The issue came up of whether or not god was involved in the process and Huckabee demurred. But he then said that lots of people have been praying for him and that god has been giving him the strength to keep going through that prayer. My ears perked up at that one. I was hearing a dog whistle and I’m not so far removed from fundamentalist Christian circles that I can’t recognize one. The dog whistle, for the record, is a rhetorical term to refer to a specific catch-phrase or key word that will be heard by a specific segment of the population, but will pass unheeded by everyone else. It’s fairly self-explanatory, but not overly common, so I think it’s important to define terms. Anyway, the particular thing I was hearing that night was Huckabee running out a fairly common thought stream among those who fit over on the evangelical end of the Christian spectrum. It’s a way of saying, “I’m doing god’s work here, but just in case it doesn’t turn out the way I think it will, I’m going to leave the possibility open that something else will happen.” But that whole idea that a bunch of people are praying for him and that god is giving him the strength to carry through is a low-intensity way of saying, “I am god’s man for the job.” See, the entire thing functions under a basically Calvinist theological stance. God is in charge of everything and the believer cannot do anything other than what god wants while expecting success. So the fact that Huckabee was running for office, gaining strength through prayer, and winning means that god, indeed, was behind the whole endeavor. This is something that makes perfect sense to me, having hung out in a lot of circles that think this way, but is really hard to explain to, say, a friend who grew up in the Ukrainian Orthodox tradition who sees religion as a collection of thousand year-old rituals and doesn’t necessarily think that god is doing much of anything revelatory right now. The question then must be asked, “If god wants Huckabee to be President, to what end?” We got our answer on Monday night. “[W]hat we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards,” is a pretty explicit statement. It’s the belief statement of a would-be theocrat, no matter the fact that it’s inherently incorrect. I’m reminded here of the words of another “Huck.” Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn contains one of the most eloquent statements of principle ever recorded in the English language. The statement itself is only seven words long, but it requires a bit of a build up. Huck Finn had just spent a good while adventuring with Tom Sawyer and Jim, a runaway slave. Jim had been a friend and confidant. But he was still a runaway slave, and it was Huck’s Christian duty to return him to his owners.
So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn't come. Why wouldn't they? It warn't no use to try and hide it from Him. Nor from me, neither. I knowed very well why they wouldn't come. It was because my heart warn't right; it was because I warn't square; it was because I was playing double. I was letting on to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all. I was trying to make my mouth say I would do the right thing and the clean thing, and go and write to that nigger's owner and tell where he was; but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie-and He knowed it. You can't pray a lie- I found that out. So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn't know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I'll go and write the letter- and then see if I can pray.
Huck wrote the letter. He immediately felt better, knowing he’d done the right thing. But then...
I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn't do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking- thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me, all the time; in the day, and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a floating along, talking, and singing, and laughing. But somehow I couldn't seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I'd see him standing my watch on top of his'n, stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him agin in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he's got now; and then I happened to look around, and see that paper. It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: "All right, then, I'll go to hell"- and tore it up.
And there it is. One of the greatest statements of principle ever recorded. (Chapter 31 of Huck Finn can be found here. Along with the rest of the book.) It’s why Huckleberry Finn is fictional and yet a better person than Mike Huckabee will ever be. Some things are just wrong, no matter what a religious text may or may not say (and there are fewer Christians out there who are absolutely certain as to what the Bible has to say about issues like homosexuality than Huckabee and his ilk would have you believe). Above and beyond the two issues in play in the proof text above, Huckabee’s statement neatly encapsulates the ideology of the theocrat. The idea that there is an immutable law of a divine creator that the Constitution must be changed to uphold completely and totally subverts the principles on which the Constitution itself was written. The Constitution was written with the ideal of a free nation in mind. One in which there would be no Church of America to which all citizens are beholden. It’s not a perfect document, but there is no such thing. The Constitution has changed as times have changed and one of the biggest was the addition of the 13th through the 15th Amendments, specifically, also known as the ones that freed the slaves and enfranchised the formerly subjugated population. Before that time, slavery was allowed. With a few exceptions, it was held up on the rhetoric of a Christian ideal that the entire African race was inferior and needed a time of subjugation so that they could be purified and properly brought in to god’s good graces. Owning slaves was, therefore, a good work in the eyes of god and setting them free invited damnation. Comparing the America of Huckleberry Finn to the America of Mike Huckabee might be a little unfair. We all know now that the whole slavery thing was bad and not a Christian principle. But that’s just the thing. The Bible, or, at least, Biblical interpretation, has changed in the last hundred and fifty years. How different will it be a century and a half from now? Which great principles will future Huckleberry Finns have to damn themselves for?

1 comment:

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

I have just discovered your blog this morning, through a link on MetaPagan to your posts on The Two Worst Things to Happen to Mythology, and I'm completely in love with your writing! Such juicy topics, such interesting perspectives!

I know this isn't anything like the kind of careful, reasoned response this entry, or the others I've read here today, deserve, but I'm a little overwhelmed by the sheer volume of terrific posts I've read so far. I'll be back,and I will try to be less incoherent.

I'm sure I'll be just as impressed.

Great blog!