The Genesis Project
And Sarai Abram's wife took Hagar the Egyptian, her handmaid, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to Abram her husband to be his wife. Genesis 16:3
In my role as the head of an interfaith organization, I see a lot of crazy. I mean that not in the clinical sense, of course, but in the what-planet-are-you-living-on sense. Maybe that’s not a wise thing for an interfaith activist to say, but I recently resolved to give up alternative facts. And cray is cray.
The single most ridiculous proposition I ever heard went virtually unnoticed because the man who made it has long since marginalized himself from the mainstream, but it doesn’t mean lots of people didn’t follow him on his journey. Pat Robertson is a television evangelist and media mogul who holds forth on his own network all year long. And more than once, including in recent memory, he insisted that the foundation of the Constitution is the Bible, and if we continue to stray from its path, we are doomed.
Here’s a direct quotation: “This country was raised as honoring the Bible, how far have we come now where we have allowed a few atheists to destroy the very foundations of our culture and we’re in danger of losing all of our freedom because our freedom rests, ladies and gentlemen, rests on the word of God.”
I know that I am supposed to have respect for people who believe differently than I do, but I am willing to make the distinction between deeply held religious convictions that chart a path of meaning through a world of uncertainty (on the one hand) and stuff that is just plain false. The former is how I get from one end of the day to the other. The latter is denial of fact, and believing it in the name of religious conviction is a disservice to both God and truth.
Perhaps someone with a better opinion of Rev. Robertson's belief system will rise to his defense, but I am having none of it. The Constitution is not based on the Bible. That is simply factually incorrect. I can sum up the essential message of Bible in two sentences, one for the Tanakh (the "Old Testament") and one for the New Testament. The first: These words of God shall you obey. The second: Jesus is your Lord and Savior. Both sets of books have many, many more important messages, but at least in the beliefs of their most devoted adherents, you can't skip those two messages.
The Constitution of the United States mentions neither God nor Jesus (which, I recognize, is a redundancy for some). It does mention religion once in the body of the original document. It prohibits any religious test for hold office. A self-proclaimed Evangelical Christian like Pat Robertson may seek the highest office in the land. And did. So may a Jew, a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Zoroastrian and "a few atheists." None of them needs to know a thing about the Bible.
However, for believers of Rev. Robertson's ilk, there is a further problem. The Bible, being the word of God and the absolute truth, is inerrant, meaning there is nothing false in it, and may not be modified because it is, after all, the Word of God. The stories are true, the laws are sacred, the rules unbreakable.
(Yes, you can be forgiven if you disappoint God...but you can't change wrong into right if the Bible tells you so.)
Yet, the Constitution was presented to the fledgling nation complete with ten immediate amendments (including one that protects freedom of conscience and disallows the government from favoring any religion). And in the intervening history of our country we have seen fit to modify it another seventeen times, including once (#18) that was reversed (#21) when it didn't work out so well.
I am no stranger to lengths that believers will go to maintain the wholeness and integrity of the Bible. I believe every word, every verse, every section contains essential truth. I also believe that while the Bible is always true, it is not always accurate.
Which brings us to the verse at hand. I count at least three violations of American law in this short description or, if you are Pat Robertson, three mandates of the Bible that are violated by American law. Hagar is a slave. Sarai gives her as a sex surrogate to Abram. Abram, still married to Sarai, takes Hagar to be his wife.
The problem with being an advocate of a Biblical foundation to the Constitution is that you have to find some way to 'splain yourself out of the contradictions – like slavery, polygamy and involuntary surrogacy – that challenge the scripture and the compact both.
I am certain Rev. Robertson and others will find a way to justify the stuff that is just plain false. But that is crazy – not in the clinical sense, but in the what-planet-are-you-living-on sense. And cray is cray.