Source: Freebase

Source: Freebase

Mitt Romney may have said a bit more about his beliefs about religion than he did about treason when he made this statement in response to the infamous treason remarks at his campaign event yesterday.

“I happen to believe that the Constitution was not just brilliant, but probably inspired, and so was the Declaration of Independence.”

By now, you’ve probably heard that Mitt Romney failed to address statements about Obama being tried for treason at a campaign event yesterday. In freaking out about Romney’s failure to address the treason remark, the media missed something in what the former governor actually did say. What exactly did Mitt Romney mean when he said that the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were “not just brilliant, but probably inspired“?

Sounds pretty innoccuous, right? For those in the evangelical community or those who have some background in theology, though, those bolded words mean much more than a simple statement of admiration for the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. “Inspired” is a word that’s reserved for religious writing that comes from God. That’s right — Mitt Romney essentially telegraphed that he believes the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were inspired by God — that He may not have given them the words directly, but His hand guided theirs to ensure that the writing reveals His own message. That’s a pretty bold statement in a country where there’s a major controversy about the separation of religion and government and the role of religion in government.

Was the Constitution “Inspired by God”?

Inspired is a word that’s usually reserved for writings that form the basis of a religion, not the founding documents of a government, and most especially not a government that holds as one of its major founding principles that it would have no established religion and that there should be no religious test for attaining offices of power in said government. In applying that word to the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, Romney is implicitly stating that he believes this country and its policies were inspired by God in the same way that many people believe a religion is inspired by God.

This is something we’ve seen more and more over the past several elections — candidates who state either implicitly or tacitly that the United States was somehow established by Christians for Christians and guided by Christian principles. Yesterday, Mitt Romney took that rhetoric a step further in his response to the treason remark when he used the word “inspired”  to describe the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. If the founding documents of the United States were inspired by God, then we must be a Christian country with a Divine Provenance and a divine mission — that Shining City on the Hill to be emulated by the rest of the world. It also gives the US an implicit right to impose its will on other countries unilaterally.

Now, I know that’s a popular view among many on the right, but I see that as a scary position for the president of the United States to hold. This country was conceived of and instituted by men, forward-thinking men who deliberately drew up documents that separated the governing of the country from the influence of religion. They did not believe that “God” had handed them a mission to reform the world. They simply believed that individuals are born with certain innate rights and in this country, the government should support those rights rather than abridge them. It had nothing to do with God and everything to do with the right to choose not only your religion but your livelihood, and to determine your destiny not by your birth but by the choices that you make.

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are certainly inspiring — but the only thing the writing was inspired by was the determination of the Founding Fathers to establish a land where every man had a voice and no man would be oppressed by others. In retrospect, they are remarkably progressive documents, though parts of them certainly reflect the prejudices of their time. The truly remarkable thing is that the framers recognized that their writings contained inherent prejudices, and that time would necessitate adjustments and changes to reflect progress and different circumstances. That’s why they included procedures for making those changes and adjustments. That’s something you won’t see in documents that are generally regarded as inspired by God — a tacit admission that there is room for error and a mechanism for correcting errors as they come to light.


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