Thursday, October 13, 2005

Piety, Society and the Supreme Court

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the current debate about the Miers nomination is how the discussion has become the exclusive domain of the Christian right and its requirement that Bush satisfy their demands for a "very conservative" jurist. As I pointed out earlier, this phrase has a very narrow meaning for Christian groups the White House should, as they argue, appease. Indeed, the White House sought to reassure such groups, through various media vehicles, that Miers is very religious and has, in fact, been "saved."

With little counter by Democrats, no one seems to be the slightest bit bothered by the fact that the Bush administration and their base of Christian fundamentalists has now defined that a Supreme Court justice ought to be an overtly religious person. Until now, this has not even been close to being a qualification for the Supreme Court nor should it have been. Nor should it be now. But the White House continues to defend the clearly unqualified Miers by simply saying that she is "exceptionally well qualified." No proof of such quality has ever been provided nor is any likely to be forthcoming because, quite simply, there is none. We can only infer from this that, by "exceptionally well qualified," the White House means she has been saved by Jesus. Need it be said that, as a qualification for a seat on the Supreme Court, this should be, at best, irrelevant. Well, it apparently needs to be said now. It is a job that demands the highest levels of knowledge and understanding of jurisprudence and its application under the US Constitution. It most assuredly is not a job that demands one has taken Jesus Christ as their saviour. If that is all that informs Miers potential opinions, then we have got a serious problem.

It should be obvious to anyone serious about this American experiment in democracy that if religiosity comes to define how the law of the land is adjudicated, this experiment will veer onto an trajectory no one can right now contemplate. Unfortunately, the Democrats are leaving themselves out of any serious discussion along these pertinent lines. They have been cowed for too long by overbearing fundamentalists who have co-opted the moral high ground with talk of "family" and "values," as though no one posses such qualities who is not possessed of an equivalent religious zeal. But one need only to look at the current crop of investigations, indictments, crony contracting and murderous warring to see that the putative Christian leaders of this government simply pay no attention to actual Christian ideals. Indeed, Christians in the US don't practice a lot of what they claim everyone else should.

George Monbiot points to a recent study by Gregory Paul of 18 developed democracies. From Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies in the current edition of the Journal of Religion and Society:
In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies....

The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developed democracies, sometimes spectacularly so, and almost always scores poorly. The view of the U.S. as a “shining city on the hill” to the rest of the world is falsified when it comes to basic measures of societal health....

There is evidence that within the U.S. strong disparities in religious belief versus acceptance of evolution are correlated with similarly varying rates of societal dysfunction, the strongly theistic, anti-evolution south and mid-west having markedly worse homicide, mortality, STD, youth pregnancy, marital and related problems
Clearly, religious belief, or rather, public, faux-religious bleating is not the certain road to healthy society the Christian right would have us think. This has been, if not obvious, then at least vaguely sensed by almost everyone except the Christian right. Indeed, the chronicle of pedophilic priests, serial-killing church goers, murderous anti-abortion Jesus freaks, moralistic child pornographer Boy Scout leaders, child-molesting Christian Coalition leaders, and closeted homosexual, gay-bashing Republicans seems nearly endless. Paul's study seriously quantifies what has been suspected and anecdotally reported for sometime. If public White House pronoucements of Miers' piety do anything, it is to serve as a warning.

Obviously, religion is no balm for dysfunctional society. And Paul's study strongly correlates public religiosity and societal dysfunction. Historically, publicly-endorsed religion has often been the worst kind of canker. We do not need religion informing the actions of our government. A distrust in governments themselves and religions in general is a cornerstone of the US Constitution. And the day we fail to recognise that, this democratic experiment will be over. Discussion surrounding the nomination of Harriet Miers needs to return to a sane realm wherein her actual judicial qualifications are what is important, not her religious beliefs.


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