In our time, everywhere you look, the Constitution has come under fire. In its July 4th, 2011 issue, TIME Magazine’s cover had a picture of the Constitution being shredded and the title of the issue was “Does it still matter?” The Constitution has, for several decades now, been described as a “living document,” conveniently and insidiously implying that all who disagree with such a characterization believe that it is a “dead document.” Even more recently, one of the Justices of the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, told an Egyptian interviewer that she would not recommend the U.S. Constitution to them. It is the supreme law of the land, and yet it is not even taught from in the contemporary law school. The Federalist Papers are not required reading, civics education is in a decrepit state across the country, and most Americans cannot even pass the test that all legal immigrants to the United States must pass in order to attain their citizenship. The American Civic Literacy Program of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute has a test it uses in order to study the civics knowledge of the average American. In its 2008 test, the average test score was only 49%. Among college educators, it was only slightly better, 55%. [Perhaps this explains why that election turned out how it did…]
Now, in the limited time I have, I have not the time to fully explain this phenomenon, nor go into every reason why the Constitution is important. But if I may be so bold, I would like to offer for your consideration a few thoughts on that subject, as well as a way in which the importance it once held in our society can be regained, but much more importantly, why.
The first thought I would like to offer to you, assuming that, like myself, you hold the Constitution in high esteem, is that we must not allow the Constitution to become an idol. As ingenious as it is, as foundational as it is, and as essential it is, we must not allow our honest and well-intended efforts to restore it inadvertently become an effort in which the idol of our age, namely the state, is simply replaced with another. The fact of the matter is that the only way to truly restore the Constitution is not to idolize it, but to recognize the true source of its power, which is a derived power, not an inherent one.
The second thought I offer to you is directly related to the first. If we ought not idolize the Constitution, even when it is in its most perilous situation yet, why is this so? Because the Constitution is not the foundation of our rights and liberties, it is merely a reflection of the true foundation: the Creator spoken of in the Declaration of Independence. The foundation of this country is based on the idea that the light of liberty, like the light of the sun that bathes the earth, comes from God, and the Constitution, like the moon, finds its radiance in the light of this sun. So while the Constitution is important, it is important because of Him from whom it derives its radiance. If we forget this, then like the moon that reflects no light from the sun, the Constitution will simply become a black hole in the American sky, an object of immense power, but only the power to destroy.
This is exactly the situation we find ourselves in today. Every aspect of the decay of our culture, the destruction of our liberties, and the descent of our government from the Constitutional Republic envisioned by the Founders to the bureaucratic utopia of the Statist, can be traced not so much to our rejection of Constitutional principles, but to our abject rejection of God. Even amongst those of us who claim to believe in and live our lives based on God, more often than not we find ourselves content with the dead letter of religion rather than the living reality of the Spirit, the outward appearance of religious convention rather than the radical transformation of the inner man. We have fallen for the lie that instead of beauty, it is in fact truth that is in the eye of the beholder. And with the surrender of truth, can we honestly be surprised that we are now being forced to surrender everything else? For if truth is indeed in the eye of the beholder, than all of life becomes a ploy for who can garner unto himself the most power, and whoever wins defines “truth.” We have forgotten that freedom is worthless if its trustee cannot exercise self-government independent of any external coercion, for as Alexis de Tocqueville noted in Democracy in America: “How can those who have given up the habit of self-government successfully choose those who shall exercise it for them?” Life, liberty, happiness, rights, freedom: all are now defined in purely human terms, and are now seen to be as dependent upon, and in some ways, found in the state. In other words, with our rejection of God and His truth, all power has slowly, but most assuredly, been going to the next most powerful bidder: the state. The moon has become the sun, and we wonder why we live in a country increasingly cold to the truths upon which it staked its existence and in which it finds its greatness.
The great British historian Arnold Toynbee noted: “Sooner or later, man has always had to decide whether he worships his own power, or the power of God.” The time has come for us to decide as individuals, and as a nation, “What ought we worship?” Or to be more precise, “Who ought we worship?” Man will always worship something, and whether he acknowledges it as divine or not, its hold upon his soul will always have supernatural and eternal consequences, for good or for evil. In this perilous hour, we must not work to restore the Constitution in society so much as we must be restored by being connected and in relationship with our Creator. Any rightful restoration of the former will simply be bastardized and counterfeit without a true restoration of the latter. As John Adams noted of the first American Revolution: “The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people, a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations.” From this pure fountain alone will we find the will, and the ability to carry out another American Revolution, one whose consequences would be immensely more profound in this international and global age. The spectacle of a people who expect, and who know, that their liberty is found in God, not in the state; who have decided that the object most fit for their worship is not the created, but the Creator; a nation that is dedicated to the idea that men can never be equal, and man can never be free, unless he was created to be such, and thereby has an inheritance derived not from his fellow man, but from his God, would indeed be a sight to behold. It would be a “City on a Hill” to which the entire world would be drawn.
That is why the Constitution is important. Not because of what it is, but to whom it points, and upon whom it depends for its grandeur and timelessness. Checks and Balances, Separation of Powers, Federalism, and all of the other grand features of the Constitution are based on the timeless truths of God’s laws and human nature, but they lose all meaning if the people over whom it operates are ignorant of their duties and obligations as free men and women. Freedom does not exist in a vacuum. It exists for a purpose, and that is to love God, and to serve our fellow men as we ought. We recognize the importance of our Constitution only when we recognize that this truth is of infinitely greater importance.