The Neil Gorsuch Pick

It really befuddles me why the Republican-controlled Senate’s refusal to give Merrick Garland a hearing is so controversial. Even historians and legal scholars are foaming at the mouth over “constitutionalists” such as Ted Cruz acting in such an “unconstitutional” manner. All in the name of winning back the White House and nominating someone such as Neil Gorsuch.

The cause of my confusion is that there is really nothing to be confused about. The Constitution is quite clear on this matter. The United States government functions according to separation of powers and a series of checks and balances. The Senate confirmation process for the Supreme Court is part of the check on both presidential and judicial power, which necessarily entails misuse, overreach, and activism, among others. Article II, Section II, Clause II of the Constitution states:

The President…shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law….

There is nothing that requires the Senate to, A) give a nominee a hearing, or B) confirm said nominee. In fact, quite the opposite. Indicated Gouverneur Morris, “As the President was to nominate, there would be responsibility, and as the Senate was to concur, there would be security.” In other words, the “buck stops” with the President in selecting quality individuals for such important positions, in Harry Truman’s words, but the Senate would assure the soundness of any nominee.

Now, this arrangement was ultimately implemented with a radically different conception of the Senate than exists today, and that seemingly makes a difference. The Senate was originally designed to comprise the nation’s best, most educated, most cultured, most worldly (in the sense of “knowing the world,” not materialism) and be a bulwark against the populism of the House. However, with the direct election of Senators today one can plausibly make the argument this intention has ceased to be (if it ever did, except in theory). Perhaps this explains the nettlesome nature of this aspect of the Constitution, as well as others such as the Electoral College; meaning, we are dealing with a system of government intended to operate one way, according to philosophies and mechanisms modern Americans are aghast over, yet, their vestiges remain in altered form. Because their vestiges remain, but only in altered form, there is a dissonance between their original design and purpose, and how they operate, or are perceived to operate, today.

#Election2016

“I look East, West, North, South, and I do not see Sauron. But I see that Saruman has many descendants. We Hobbits have against them no magic weapons. Yet, my gentle Hobbits, I give you this toast: To the Hobbits. May they outlast the Sarumans and see spring again in the trees.”

– J. R. R. Tolkien

Mike Rowe: Federalist

“If you want me to say something political, how about this – read more. Spend a few hours every week studying American history, human nature,  and economic theory.”

I knew there was a reason I loved Mike Rowe, the Dirty Jobs guy: he’s a Federalist. Why the Republican Party has not forced him to be their candidate is beyond me. I don’t know the man, I don’t know where he stands on some very important so-called “cultural” issues, but every time he picks up his figurative pen he is unashamed, articulate, approachable, thankful, insightful, humble, and exactly what we need.

For the context of Rowe’s comments and the rest of his Federalist-like thoughts go here.

“Secular” Jefferson?

This is a second follow up to my initial thoughts on the latest “Christian nation” ballyhoo. In this post I would like to reflect on Thomas Jefferson’s “secularism.”

In my essay juxtaposing Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson’s contrasting understanding of human nature, I painted Hamilton as much more of an authentic Christian and referred to Jefferson as “much more secular.” (For the record, I consider Hamilton something of a latter-day Augustine of Hippo and would dissent from those historians who view the “robust” portion of his life as an absence of religion; instead, I see the Augustinian search for restfulness in that Truth found only in God. Admittedly, this is an ahistorical bordering on theological argument.) Peter Onuf and Annette Gordon-Reed’s scholarship communicated via the aforementioned “Christian nation” ballyhoo that Jefferson in fact considered himself a devout Christian forces me to reevaluate, or at least re-present my position vis-à-vis Jefferson.

Professor Gordon-Reed has claimed both on the C-Span book discussion and on Twitter it is not for her to define someone else’s Christianity, nor does she consider it appropriate for others to do so. In other words, without getting into her reasoning (she explains it on the C-Span discussion), if Jefferson says he is a Christian, she takes him at his word. Let’s use Gordon-Reed’s logic and apply it to two modern individuals:

I have implied in the past President Obama is not authentically Christian, despite the soon-to-be former President’s own words. John Fea, on the other hand, rather famously landed in Glenn Beck’s sights for positing exactly opposite my assertion.

Presidential nominee Donald Trump (God help us) claims he is a Christian. Articles such as this found on the Patheos Atheist Channel running through the veracity of Trump’s Christianity is indicative of any number of articles sprouting up recently on the Internet. Two additional samples, again from John Fea (he’s a veritable treasure trove of topical sources), of more recent variety – in each of them Professor Fea doesn’t explicitly denounce Trump’s Christianity, but he sure might be suggesting Trump’s Christianity is perhaps slightly suspect.

What’s the point to all this?

Who is and isn’t authentically Christian (or authentically X) won’t be going away anytime soon. The fact these debates aren’t going away seems to refute Gordon-Reed’s preference not to define someone else’s Christianity, for the simple fact there are standards of Christianity we Christians hold others accountable to (all the individuals I have discussed in these posts claim to be Christian: Onuf, Gordon-Reed, Fea, myself). We might fiercely disagree about these standards, but nevertheless these standards exist. In Jefferson’s day, the very same arguments were held, as Jefferson’s political opponents accused him of atheism. At bare minimum, to call oneself Christian obliges a particular disposition and set of outward behaviors.

Where it becomes thorny are articles of faith. But to use Jefferson and Unitarians as an example (I have heard some, such as my former professor Glenn Sunshine refer to Jefferson as a Unitarian rationalist, and to be honest I’m not sure if there’s a difference between “Unitarian” and “Unitarian rationalist,” because it’s not a term I’ve heard expressed outside of a handful of academics), to deny the supernatural and still refer to oneself as a Christian…that puts the individual within a decided minority, to the point where I imagine my allegation of a “secular” Jefferson carries weight. Some might rebut Jefferson attended Christian services regularly and used federal money to pay for weekly Christian services in federal buildings, yet if the account we have is in any way accurate, Jefferson only performed these actions to set a good example, not out of any personal belief.

Ultimately, no one can judge a person’s soul and no one can read a person’s heart, and we must be cautious to ensure we do not give that impression. However, as I indicated in my first post over this controversy, definitions do matter, and we can define someone else’s religion, or at least have the debate if nothing else.

**Addendum**

To be clear, when I speak of “[denying] the supernatural and still [referring] to oneself as a Christian…that puts the individual within a decided minority,” I am harkening back to my previous post in which I reflected upon how the expunging of the miraculous from the Bible turns the book as well as Jesus into nothing but an ethical guidebook no different from what can be found in any number of other, non-Christian sources.