Reasonable Doubt

Washington Times 6.27.00
Balint Vazsonyi

When I filed my last column ("How much longer under God?", June 13), little did I know that less than a week later the U.S. Supreme Court would hand own a decision placing the question posed in the column front and center.

The question, of course, is not whether any church or religion has a place in government; that was decided once and for all by America's Founders. The question is whether a relationship between Americans and God is to be discouraged to the point where those who retain such a relationship begin to feel persecuted.

For centuries now, Western civilization has progressed along two separate and conflicting paths. In a somewhat generalized manner, these may be described as Anglo-American on the one side, and Franco-Germanic on the other. The two hold opposing views about law, morality, economics, and political philosophy in general.

Naturally, they disagree about the relationship between Heaven and Earth.

By and large, Anglo-American thinkers have lived in peace with God. Whether believers or not, they saw no need to challenge God's existence, or to require followers to denounce their faith.

The Franco-Germanic line, on the other hand, cannot see its way to coexist with an authority higher than human reason, which they regard as the ultimate form of matter. And, as a matter of fact, in contemplating our origins, dead matter is all they can perceive.

How dead matter became life is not yet clear. They are working on it.

But I digress.

The fact of the matter is that, although Friedrich Nietzsche was first credited with declaring God dead, a century earlier the great thinker Immanuel Kant already represented himself to be free from error - a hitherto divine privilege - in the preface to his "Critique of Pure Reason."

For several years now, I have tried to portray the Anglo-American/Franco-Germanic dichotomy in a variety of ways. Here comes a fresh one.

In assessing man's ability to comprehend and evaluate the universe, and to chart the future, the Anglo-American line might be described as one of reasonable doubt. The other is one of terrifying certainty.

The Anglo-American vs. Franco-Germanic dispute has defined America's national debate since the late 1960s. Differing positions on education, gun control, even social security reflect that same dispute.

One of the blessings of the Constitution used to be that no one had to take sides - there were no sides to take. Interpretations of the Constitution abounded, but the debate was about the Constitution, not about choosing between the American model and an alien philosophy that cannot tolerate the existence of God.

That is the philosophy that prompts the American Civil Liberties Union to sue the State of Virginia because of a moment of silence in its schools (which just might help reduce outbursts of violence).

That is the philosophy which, like a virus, has infected six justices of the U.S. Supreme Court to the point of using their stratospheric position to bludgeon young, impressionable students into the ground. The opinion written by Justice John Paul Stevens makes no attempt to hide the Court's move to preventive behavior control - a basic tenet of Franco-Germanic theory and practice.

Most likely, the justices are oblivious to the virus gnawing at their American roots. If called as a witness in their own defense, they would recite honorable motives.

But they have fallen victim to fundamental misconceptions about this unique land. The Constitution of the United States was not created as an empty shell, to be filled with the content du jour, a receptacle of the baggage people carry as they arrive from mostly failed societies.

The Constitution was erected as an umbrella under which people from every direction of the wind may be safe, enjoy opportunity, and benefit by that exceptional generation of men who applied the best of their knowledge, wisdom, and instinct - in that order - to make available the blessings of liberty to all.

The continued availability of the successful American model is contingent upon retaining it. Among other things, that means interpretations of the Constitution cannot be insinuated to the level of enumerated rights in the Constitution.

The quantity and vehemence of responses to my last column is an indication of the importance so many attach to this discussion. Misunderstandings are thus to be avoided wherever possible. Debates ought to proceed not on what one thinks the other has said, but what actually was said.

No one of sound mind proposes that a church, or religion in general should have a role in government. But it is important to realize that "separation of church and state" is merely a doctrine, albeit a long-standing one, whereas the free exercise of religion is an enumerated right. That right has now been subordinated to a doctrine by the Supreme Court.

Further, it is helpful to remember that Thomas Jefferson - whatever else he said subsequently - chose to cite God not only as a permanent part of America's birth certificate, but the source of enumerated rights, thereby quarantining those rights beyond the reach of mortals.

Last but not least, what is at issue here is not God's role in government, but a presence in the affairs of those who believe they depend on it.

Not all do. Some are possessed of an enviable certainty about man's omnipotence.

The rest of us retain a healthy dose of reasonable doubt.