Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Overblown and Overboard


Almost every clergyman and clergywoman is familiar with the argument over whether or not Scripture is 'inerrant' or 'infallible'. Continual (and in come cases trivial) arguments have been made for either case.

For laypersons not given to such wrangling, to say the Bible is 'inerrant' means that it contains no mistakes. That in the form we currently possess the Bible it is 'without error'. Whether you believe that or not depends on what you count as 'error'. Language and phraseology, gender roles, cultural values, etc.

To say that the Bible, in the form we currently possess is 'infallible', is to say that the truths found therein are, essentially timeless truths and eternal principles expressed in its stories, parables, commands and teachings.

If one views the Bible as a supremely significant book, these are questions worth debating. Although the Bible was written by human beings, we Christians claim it to be Divinely inspired. If so, it has to be at least 'inerrant' or 'infallible'.

We can't have the same argument about documents written by humans that have no claim of Divine Authority.

Unless you are Republican National Chairman Michael Steele.

His remarks regarding a speech made recent Supreme Court justice nominee Elena Kagan, shows he either believes the Constitution to be an inerrant or infallible document or that he simply hasn't read Kagan's or the speech of Thurgood Marshall she cites.

Soliciter General Kagan's nomination is not quite warm, but the Republican National Committee has already fired a preemptory shot across the bow.

Fair deal. They represent the opposition party. No one expects the GOP to roll over.

But this particular criticism falls in the category of, 'Oh, come on, really?!'

Kagan was a clerk for Justice Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP attorney who won the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education landmark decision responsible for striking down segregation in public education and by extension, society. Marshall was, himself, appointed Solicitor General by President Lyndon Johnson, before he nominated him to the Supreme Court, the first black person to receive such an appointment.

In tribute to Marshall after his death, Elena Kagan quoted from a speech in which Marshall said that the mission of the Court was to show "...a special solicitude for the dispised and disadvantaged."

"RNC Chairman Michael Steele targeted her praise for the jurisprudence of Marshall, a liberal icon, and a speech in which Marshall called the Constitution “defective.”"

"By the end of the day, the RNC was defending its statement, responding to criticism from bloggers that Steele had overlooked the stain of slavery on the nation’s history."

Perhaps it might have helped if someone at the RNC had given Steele the entire speech to read, instead of the 'cliff notes' version.

Thurgood Marshall, the grandson of a slave, and one of the greatest lawyers of his day, questioned the 'inerrancy' and the 'infallibility' of the Constitution. It is a document which, like the Bible, has to be interpreted; but unlike the Bible, must be amended, to include freedoms for citizens intentionally left out by the Framers . The Constitution is a 'living' document - not a 'perfect' document. The question of whose role it is to interpret and what amendments are appropriate to the Constitution, is a legitimate subject of public debate. It is, however, an unworthy subject for bumper sticker partisanship lacking intellectual integrity and which ignores the sweep and breadth of history.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I can't find any reference to a "living document" in the Constitution. There is an amendment process.

If as you suggest that the original meaning is fluid, then it has no meaning except to those in the judiciary. Words do have a context, and without it there is no need for a constitution and we can all go about your anarchy.

Gerald Britt said...

Obviously you missed the meaning of the post, just as Steele conveniently missed the context of Kagan's speech. No 'living document' is nowhere in the Constitution. Neither is slavery or women's sufferage, or corporation.

The Constitution 'lives' as an interpretive and adaptable document, which is, as you point out, what the amendment process as well as the courts and congress are for.

Strict Constitutionists, those who have read it anyway, have no problem with this when interpretation is in their favor.

At any rate, in your haste to label me an anarchist you seem to have neglected to read the post, or Marshall's speech and/or the Constitution. We can have a more fluid and, I might add fruitful converation then...