Let's kick God off the Court: Marriage isn't the only place where the law has been infected by religion

It will take generations to do what Pat Buchanan fears: Purge the nation's birth faith of power. It's a worthy goal

Published July 5, 2015 10:00AM (EDT)

Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia                                  (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Jeff Malet Photography, maletphoto.com/photo collage by Salon)
Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Jeff Malet Photography, maletphoto.com/photo collage by Salon)

A poll conducted a couple of years ago showed that 41 percent of American adults believed the End Times were upon us.  Now, that same segment of our fellow citizens – those who have surrendered their common sense to stubborn faith in a cock-and-bull collection of ancient scribblements (i.e., the Bible) -- must feel triumphantly, even gleefully, vindicated.  The Supreme Court’s recent 5-to-4 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges in favor of same-sex marriage surely affirms we’re living through a rerun of the “days of Noah” (times of widespread fornication and sodomy) that are supposed to precede the Apocalypse.  The seventh trumpet, as they would have it, is a-blowin’, the Rapture nigh.

The Court found that the 14th Amendment guarantees equal protection of the law to all; hence, all states have to recognize same-sex marriages.  In the opinion explaining the decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy sounds fair-minded enough.  Aware of the controversy to come, he displays magnanimity toward the faithful, recognizing that “religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate, with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.”  However, he goes on to say, “[T]he Constitution . . . does not permit the State to bar same-sex couples from marriage on the same terms as accorded to couples of the opposite sex.”  Churches and other religious institutions may refuse to wed gay people; states must not.

The dissenters, led by Justice John Roberts, presented their counter-argument.  Roberts worried that “stealing this issue from the people will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept.”  This could be true.  Obergefell v. Hodges might well end up outraging the religious right for a long time to come, just as Roe v. Wade still does, 42 years after it made abortion the law of the land.  And Roberts expressed another concern: “why would there be any less dignity in the bond between three people, who, in exercising their autonomy, seek to make the profound choice to marry?”  He actually has a point.  If society, through reasoning, debate and consensus, someday arrives at the conclusion that polyamorous unions should be made licit, then what, theoretically, would be wrong with that?  Laws, made by man, come and go.  Things change.

Justice Antonin Scalia, a hard-line Roman Catholic, joined Roberts in objecting to the ruling.  In his telling, “The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.”  Well, to a rationalist, talismanic reverence for his cult’s holy book looks a lot like belief in fortune cookies.  No one should take either seriously.

Justice Clarence Thomas bizarrely reasoned that “human dignity cannot be taken away by the government” – even by, say, chattel bondage.  “Slaves,” he held, “did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved . . . .  The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.”  This from a justice so faith-deranged he isn’t sure the First Amendment should do what it is supposed to do – prevent the government from establishing an official religion.  Thomas also made a statement that will, one day, likely be brought up in court by those refusing to marry gays: the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling “threatens the religious liberty our Nation has long sought to protect.”

Finally, Justice Samuel Alito announced that, "Today’s decision shows that decades of attempts to restrain this Court’s abuse of its authority have failed.”

Perhaps Alito got this idea from Republican presidential candidate (and onetime Baptist pastor) Mike Huckabee, who had, before the ruling, told Americans they could just ignore the Court, if it came down on the side of gay marriage.  Afterward, Huckabee urged us not to “acquiesce immediately without review, without the other branches of government” or risk countenancing “judicial tyranny.”  The justices are, after all, just “five lawyers.”  And who needs judges and lawyers in a law-based republic?

The governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, also spoke in this vein.  Declaring that “Marriage between a man and a woman was established by God, and no earthly court can alter that,” he warned that, “The Supreme Court is completely out of control” and suggested we “just get rid of the court.”  (For the record, God also “established” the stoning of rape victims and those who pick up sticks on Saturdays, as well as the murder of those who eat shellfish.)

There you have it: Both Jindal, a sitting governor, and Huckabee are advocating lawlessness and disavowal of the Constitution, and in particular, its Article III, which proclaims that the “judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.”

No overview of the religious right’s tantrum over Obergefell v. Hodges can fail to note ex-pastor Rick Scarborough’s announcement (and subsequent retraction of said announcement) that he would set himself ablaze if the Court ruled in favor of gays.  Also worthy of mention: a retired Methodist minister, Charles Moore, 79, did set himself on fire (and lethally so, unfortunately), but in protest against anti-gay discrimination and the United States’ lack of repentance for its slaveholding past.

Conservative commentators naturally could not keep quiet about Obergefell v. Hodges.  For some of their grosser gurgitations, take your pick among these (frequently uproarious) exemplars of religion-inspired dementia published by Glenn-Beck cohort Matt Barber.

Moving away from the fringe, Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, took to the Washington Post to publish what amounts to a strategy paper for religious institutions in our new reality.  Yet, being himself faith-addled, he cannot help, if only inadvertently, penning a sad sort of satire.

Moore believes that, though the Supreme Court ruling “will ultimately hurt many people and families and civilization itself . . . the church should not panic.  The Supreme Court can do many things, but the Supreme Court cannot get Jesus back in that tomb.  Jesus of Nazareth is still alive” – this, and there is no evidence whatsoever he even existed.  “He is still calling the universe toward his kingdom.”  Moore asks Christians to return to the Lord’s definition of marriage, which according to the passage of Ephesians he refers to (but, tellingly, does not dare cite), mandates that a “wife . . . reverence her husband.”  Make marriage, Moore says, “serve as a light in a dark place,” and ready yourselves to accept those like the thirsting “sexually wayward Woman at the Well of Samaria.”  (One wonders, “accept” in what way?  As, say, disgraced pastor and just-convicted “guilty-on-all counts” sex criminal Geronimo Aguilar “accepted” women into his “tax-free harem”?)  Moore counsels against “scream[ing] at those who disagree” or “[lashing] out at the world . . . with a narrative of decline,” but urges them to stand proudly “on the wrong side of history.”

How is it that this ill-conceived missive to disgruntled Christian cultists appeared in the Washington Post, the capital’s paper of record?  In fairness to the editors there, they also printed George Will’s denunciation of those GOP candidates who loudly refuse to recognize gay marriage as “unhinged,” and his message to them: essentially, get over it.

Time saw fit to publish Rod Dreher’s melancholy yet foreboding dirge for Christians now roaming astray in a world where “the ground under [their] feet has shifted tectonically.”  God-coddlers, or those worshiping His never-having-existed offspring, must accept “how weak [their] position is in post-Christian America.”  (Hear, hear!)  The First Amendment will offer only “the barest protection to religious dissenters from gay rights orthodoxy.”

“If marriage,” Dreher warned, “can be redefined according to what we desire — that is, if there is no essential nature to marriage, or to gender — then there are no boundaries on marriage.”

Correct.  Marriage, a man-made convention, must ever and always remain what man makes of it.  If we, again through reason, debate and consensus, arrive at a definition differing from that which has obtained for the past millennia, so be it.

The upshot, à la Dreher?  The faithful should be prepared to follow Benedict of Nursia’s example, depart the “chaos of Rome to go to the woods to pray,” and thereby keep the “light of faith burning through the surrounding cultural darkness.”  (At last, a plan for the faith-deranged we rationalists can get behind!)  Dreher predicted that, “The next goal of activists will be a long-term campaign to remove tax-exempt status from dissenting religious institutions.”

We can only hope.  A couple of days later, Time published an essay advocating just that.

In a tone as elegiac as Dreher’s, longtime Catholic pundit Pat Buchanan lamented homosexuality’s progression from an American Psychiatric Association “mental disorder” that was regarded as “perverted and even criminal” to “a new constitutional right.”  Buchanan bemoaned progress in LBGT rights, that “a new generation” has “come to embrace what their fathers would have resisted to the death.”  What is ahead, he asked?  A “total purge of the nation’s birth faith, Christianity, from America’s public life and educational institutions.”

As desirable as such an outcome would be, and as beneficial to society as northern European countries have already shown it is, this seems unlikely any time soon.  But that, without a doubt, should be our aim.  People have the First Amendment right to profess whatever religion – or no religion – they want, but their beliefs, once made public, should enjoy no protection whatsoever from criticism, satire and outright ridicule.  We should not be shy about condemning faith.  After all, the Bible calls nonbelievers “fools,” “corrupt” and “disorderly,” and much more, and commands its followers to shun us.  The monotheistic Abrahamic creeds are by their very nature divisive.  By keeping silent about their obvious ludicrousness, we do nothing more than pay them unmerited respect and help them survive.

What ultimately transpires through all the Christian objections to the Supreme Court’s decision is their mean-spiritedness.  Recourse to rancid old myths and “divine” injunctions that would be laughable were they not so pernicious only makes our days on Earth less pleasant, less livable.  Some context: In some 5 billion years, our sun is destined to die in a supernova, which will incinerate whatever life remains on our planet.  In the extremely improbable event that we humans still exist then, we will have evolved beyond anything recognizable as human today; evolution never stops, never slows.  Our habits, customs, and laws need to evolve too.

It will take a few generations (at least) to effect Buchanan’s “total purge of the nation’s birth faith ... from America’s public life and educational institutions.”

Obergefell v. Hodges is a step in that direction.

By Jeffrey Tayler

Jeffrey Tayler is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. His seventh book, "Topless Jihadis -- Inside Femen, the World's Most Provocative Activist Group," is out now as an Atlantic ebook. Follow @JeffreyTayler1 on Twitter.

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