Notes From Babel

Why the Wholesale Separation of Church and State Is Tantamount to Anarchy

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The very use of language in our Constitution presupposes some transcendental, extra empirical source of truths that go behind the written text of the founding document itself. The use of words as if they have an objective, universal meaning, in crafting them using rules of grammar and syntax, such that each clause, each sentence, each paragraph, and the work as a whole, exhibit continuity, consistency, and collaboration in bringing about a manifest purpose—all of these things indicate something more fundamental than anything actually written in the document. In other words, for the Constitution to make any sense, we have to accept certain transcendental rules before we even come to the text. We have to bring a certain set of presuppositions, such as that words have a certain meaning, and that their meaning is resolute; that concepts have a real, objective relation to concretes; that the rules of logic have universal application, etc. Although this is not a complete list of the presuppositions necessary to make a constitution intelligible, at a minimum, these things at a minimum must be included. [more…]

To illustrate, consider that the Constitution never says that a law enacted by Congress abridging the freedom of speech is unconstitutional. What it does say is “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” It seems obvious to the point of silliness to bother explaining why it would be “unconstitutional” for Congress to make such a law. The Constitution says “shall make no law.” Congress makes such a law. We take for granted the rules—the laws—that get us from those two things to “unconstitutionality.” However, the word “unconstitutional” does not even appear in the Constitution, so what could we possibly mean by saying such a thing? Clearly then, what we are doing is employing presuppositions: the rules of logic, the rules against contradiction, the rules of concepts and self-identification, etc., operate as our implicit, extra constitutional premise: a governmental action in consistent with the Constitution is unconstitutional.

This incredibly critical interplay between the language expressed in our founding document and the transcendental precepts is put in danger of being utterly trampled by rash talk about erecting a “wall” between government and religion. Whatever the relationship between government and religion, it is most certainly not the case that there can be NO relationship. By suggesting otherwise, we would throw out the baby with the bathwater: if government is to be forbidden from espousing any transcendental, extra empirical truths, government would be rendered forbidden to exist in the first place. In other words, and as David Hume identified, there can be no intelligibility of any truth in this world, observable or otherwise, which does not itself depend on the existence of some truth that, by its nature, cannot be observed.

This is why the appeal to “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” in the Declaration of Independence is critical: it establishes that very necessary precondition for that makes anything in our world, and particularly in our constitutional republic, intelligible and rational in the first place.

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Written by Tim Kowal

November 16, 2008 at 2:36 am

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