What can you say about an oil painting of Jesus Christ holding the Constitution out to a child in the middle of a pan-patriotic orgy?
You probably don't want to say anything, at first. As with any great work of art, you'll want to study it carefully for its many nuances--what could this painting possibly mean? Fortunately, the artist anticipated some confusion over such an abstract piece and put up a website explaining all the symbolism, something that Picasso or Dali never had the decency to do.
Understandably, this ultra-conservative master worked has been mocked by liberal blogs, who never shoot for difficult targets when there's a ridiculously easy one dangling in front of them. (Some Christians even hate it.) And sure, it's hilarious, even by the high standard of internet memes, but if it's real and not an amazingly well-executed parody, it's also a pretty good illustration of how unhinged the Religious Right's rhetoric has gotten.
Now, I don't hate Republicans (at least, not more than Democrats), and I have no problem with Libertarians unless they talk about how great Atlas Shrugged is. Heck, even Christians are alright in my book as long as they don't start speaking in tongues and prophesying when I'm in the room. But I can't stand people who use dishonest arguments and there are a few elements of this painting that point to the non-factual, discourse-polluting way Christian Conservatives treat the Constitution.
#1: The painting's title, "One Nation Under God."
Conservatives are fond of saying the nation was founded "under God," usually as a preamble to a rambling assault against public schools, the courts, or Keith Olbermann. The Founding Fathers were Christian, the argument goes, so the Constitution must have been Christian. This ignores the utter absence of the word "God" in the Constitution as well as the grounding of the Founders' philosophy in the Enlightenment and John Locke in particular--the Enlightenment, for those of you who don't remember, was the intellectual movement in Europe against faith and towards reason. Maybe the thing that makes me the maddest about this painting's website is the description of John Locke: “It is not important that he was not a Christian. God often uses good men to fulfill his purposes.”
No, it is important Locke was not a Christian, just like it's important that the words "Under God" weren't added to the Pledge of Allegiance until 1954. Christians claiming Payne and the Founding Fathers as their own is like me saying Thomas Aquinas was a Christian. I'm not claiming that Aquinas' Christianity "isn't important" because he was a great philosopher, and snidely saying, "Often, even Christians are reasoanble."
#2: Farmers, "Truly the backbone of America," versus the evil lawyers.
That thing about farmers is a direct quote from the painting's website, and it's the type of thing right-wing politicians have been saying for a long time now. Meanwhile, the painting's "lawyer" character is over by Satan, counting his hundred-dollar bills, which he probably plans to spend on sodomy and abortions. From the painting, you'd think that the Constitution came into being spontaneously as a gift from Jesus to the "patriotic" Americans like farmers and small business owners. Actually, the opposite is true: the Founding Fathers, all lionized in this painting, were almost all lawyers, which helped make the Constitution the finely-crafted document it is. Lawyers, not farmers, are the backbone of this country.
What were the farmers doing while the lawyers created one of the most important texts in world history? They were rebelling against the government in protest against taxes and the court, while claiming that they were acting in the spirit of the revolution. One of the reasons all the rich lawyers decided to radically change the government was the current government couldn't stop the farmers from rebelling. And if those Libertarian "tea party" folks went back in time, you can guarantee that they'd be on the side of the farmers, not the Constitution--after all the Constitution represented the greatest expansion of
#3: The idea that the Constitution was divinely inspired.
The best thing about the Constitution is that unlike the BIble, the Koran, or Bill O'Reilly's memoirs, it doesn't claim to be a holy document. The Founding Fathers were smart and Enlightenment-bred enough to know that they were fallible, and included a mechanism that would allow future generations to alter their laws. If we create intelligent robots, for instance, but don't want those robots to have the same rights as humans, we can add a bit to all of the Amendments that says "...except for robots." Or if we decide that Jesus wrote the Constitution, we can put a statement at the end of the whole thing that states, "Oh, by the way, we couldn't have written this without Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior."
But two-thirds of the states and both houses of Congress have not added that piece to the Constitution, so it wasn't handed down from God. Actually, the USA was one of the first countries to claim it wasn't founded by God, which is pretty awesome. I'm proud of my country that was founded by men. Retconning the story of America so it includes Jesus, ignoring Locke's (and other's) non-Christian beliefs, pretending that the Founding Fathers were not lawyers and politicians but some kind of angelic spirits and that the Constitution is an inviolable, holy document--that shit is not okay, and is counter-factual. If you want to believe in small government, fine. If you want to believe in Jesus, fine. Just don't pretend the two things have to do with one another in any way, and don't pretend that the Founding Fathers would automatically be on the side of your anti-federalist, anti-empiricist crusade. And please, for Christ's sake, leave the painting to the liberals.