Our Divine Constitution
69 Pages Posted: 16 May 2013 Last revised: 19 May 2013
Date Written: May 15, 2013
The presumption that God is omnibenevolent — inherently just, wise, kind, and merciful — is so pervasive as to be almost a tautology. Were God not just, God would not be God. And the United States Constitution, often analogized to a religious document, has regularly been spoken of in the same way. While we accept that the Constitution can tolerate injustice, we are highly resistant to the notion that it can actively command it. When that appears to occur, we are torn between our intuition that the Constitution must allow for justice, and our instinct that our sense of justice cannot deviate from the dictates of the Constitution. We reject either that the contested point is the true command of the Constitution, or the true requirement of justice. Moreover, because Western political thought predicates the legitimacy of constitutional law on its consistency with prefigured conceptions of justice, if we cannot adopt either of these apologias, the only remaining move seems to be rejection of the Constitution itself.
In this review of Robert A. Burt’s book "In the Whirlwind: God and Humanity in Conflict," I address this tension both in terms of theology and legal philosophy. Borrowing from the literature on "protest theology", I argue that neither our faith in the Constitution nor our faith in God is or can be predicated on the idea that these sovereigns are always behaving in a perfectly just manner. But I also reject the notion that injustice is an inherent part of these entities or that our relationship with them is unrelated to our desire for them to help instantiate justice. Our commitment to God and the Constitution is not dependent on their supposed perfection. It exists because it is a relationship we find meaningful even in spite of continual, mutual failings. It persists in spite of those shortcomings not because either God or the Constitution is "truly" or "essentially" just, but because we think it is a relationship worth preserving, and that each can at least be appealed to in the language in justice.
Keywords: book review, law and theology, Judaism, constitutional law, public law
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation