What if they got their wish?
The scene: Philadelphia, 1787. The Reverend Jerry Falwell has travelled back in time, 200 years, to beg the Founding Fathers to write the Constitution in accordance with God’s will. He sends a letter to that effect to the Father of the Constitution, James Madison, accompanied by a King James Bible. Madison reads the letter and, fascinated, invites Falwell for an interview.
“Okay, Reverend Falwell, I have read your letter, and I took the liberty of refreshing my memory about Biblical law using the Bible you helpfully provided. Quite frankly, I only had to read the first few books to find all I needed to find. And I have one or two concerns.
“You want the laws of America to mandate a lot of offerings to the priests. Make the priest a gold lampstand with seven lamps, a curtained tabernacle with courtyard, an altar, a gold table, gold dishes and cups, a gold ark, silver, bronze, goat hair, the skin of a sea cow, incense, wood, oil, gems.... And a priestly costume with turban, breastplate and sash. Everybody must pay the money to the priest as ransom for his life. Daily, weekly, monthly offerings to God and the priests. Lots of slaughtering animals for offerings, to the priest. Unintentional sin, meat for the priest, then smash the pot you cooked it in. Making a careless oath, a pigeon for the priest. Unintentional defilement, a goat to the priest. New baby, a lamb for the priest. Fellowship offering, kidneys and liver for the priest....You see, we sort of take a dim view toward subsidizing the church like this. All that food, I’m not surprised you got yourself a gut there, Reverend.
“Let’s see, what other rules do you have here? Don’t eat fat. Or rabbits or pigs; shellfish, eagles, vultures, ravens, owls, hawks, storks, bats, weasels, rats, lizards. Don’t eat the meat of an animal that was killed by another animal. The only bugs you can eat are locust, katydid, cricket or grasshopper. Anyone who eats the fat from an offering, or blood, must be banished....I’m not really sure we want the Constitution to get down into the menu stuff like this.
“We weren’t planning on saying quite so much about sex in the Constitution. For starters, you’ve got all the men slicing up their penises, and I got to tell you, that’s a deal breaker right there. No sex with any relative; no sex with a woman and her daughter both; or your neighbor’s wife. Death penalty for sleeping with another man’s wife, or gay sex, or sex with an animal. Gee, your book has that David and Jonathan stuff that sounds an awful lot like gay sex – your love surpasses the love of women, and so forth?
“A wife can’t attack the groin of her husband’s enemy – you folks have a lot of problems with that, where you come from? And a man with injured genitals can’t go to church – does that have anything to do with the first rule? Sounds like there was a great story behind this stuff. Some kind of humdinger of a Saturday night massacre.
“In your letter you said you want to ban abortion, but your own book, in the Book of Numbers, prescribes abortion. It’s right there in black and white. If a woman has allegedly slept with another man, give her these bitter waters; her belly will swell and thighs waste away. But if she is innocent, she can bear a child. In other words, abortion. It’s right there in Numbers. Are you for abortion or against it?
“You have a lot to say about women here, and none of it’s good. No woman can take a vow or oath without her father’s or husband’s permission. No woman with property can marry outside her tribe. Women can’t wear men’s clothes. In monetary terms, a woman is worth three-fifths of a man – hey, we were going to use that rule for slaves! You can escape punishment for raping a virgin by paying a fine. You can sell your daughter into slavery. If you capture a girl in battle, shave her head and let her mourn her dead for a month; then she’s all yours, to do what you want. If a new groom accuses his wife of not being a virgin, and she can’t prove him wrong, she gets death by stoning....See, if I put this stuff in the Constitution, my wife Dolly would have me sleeping in the barn all summer.
“Let’s see now. You can’t plant more than one kind of seed in a field, or plow with an ox and an ass together, or wear clothing of different fibers together....Now you’ve lost the mill owners up north.
“You have lots of slavery in here, which is good – half our country owns slaves. God’s will, right?
“Hmm. You’ve got two whole chapters of rules on how the priest must treat skin rashes. And two more on cleaning mildew. And another on men with unclean bodily discharges. You see, we’d need a really good writer like Jefferson to make that literary leap from ‘securing the blessings of liberty’ to ‘discharges of pus’. So let’s skip all that too.
“No tattoos. Don’t cut the hair on the side of your head or beard – see, the Pennsylvanians won’t go for that. Everybody must wear tassels on the corners of their clothes. And this is for the men...?
“Put blood on your door on Passover, and make bread without yeast. Don’t eat bloody meat. Don’t build a tower that reaches the sky. Don’t covet your neighbor’s wife – big big problems with that one. Don’t charge interest on a loan – see, right there you lost Hamilton and the banks. When you’re camping, bury your crap with your sword – see, I’m sure that’s good advice for Franklin’s farmer almanac, but perhaps not in the Constitution.
“Let’s see, here. You seem to be using the death penalty an awful lot, for all sorts of things. Violating the Sabbath rules, disobeying your father, drunkenness, prophesying falsely, sex with animals, reaching out for the tree of knowledge, taking one more look back at your hometown as God is destroying it with fire and death. You can kill a burglar, but not after sunrise. You got a lot of dead people here, Reverend.
“And you seem to have a lot of stoning here. Stoning to death for a stubborn child, stoning for blasphemy, stoning if your wife suggests you serve other gods. Do you have any idea how long and how painful an execution by stoning is? Stone after stone after stone after stone?
“If a bull tramples someone twice, it’s death by stoning for the bull and the owner both. Have you ever tried to throw a bunch of rocks at a bull? Particularly a bull who has a habit of stomping the crap out of people? I mean, are you from farm country?
“See, Reverend...I’m sorry, but this stuff is just a little too fire and brimstone for our needs. Because WE ALL CAME TO AMERICA TO GET AWAY FROM BLOOD-CRAZED LOONS LIKE YOU.
“Thanks for stopping by! Don’t forget to pick up a copy of Tom Paine on the way out!”
And here’s the punch line: the scenario isn’t completely crazy. William Jennings Bryan was almost elected president three times. President, as in President of the United States. And like Falwell, Bryan was a Bible-thumping maniac; later in life Bryan led the jihad in Tennessee to crush a schoolteacher for daring to teach evolution in a high school. This messianic ayatollah nitwit could have been running the country just as the world was ramping up for World War I. Anybody up for a holy war?