The Constitution from a Perspective of Religion

There are some studies which suggest the primary reason for the creation of most religions was the dissemination of the rule of law. In other words, the earliest types of religions might have been created simply to make people abide by certain rules and regulations and adapt a specific way of life.

Why not steal, murder, plunder or commit adultery?

Because God(s) will punish whoever does so. This is the song that has been sung for thousands of years, most importantly because this way of thinking massively benefits the kings and priests. Other ‘transgressions’ God – or the supreme creator – also punished were revolts against the nobility or tax evasion to state or church.

I believe understanding the true nature of all religions is key to grasping the true calling of the constitution, otherwise known as the law of the land. For the purpose of this article – which cannot exceed 1000 words – we will assume a constitution fully respects the rights of the people, can be amended by the people in a reasonable manner, ensures checks and balances and successfully limits the power of the government. On the other hand, the constitutions of China, Russia or Ethiopia are seemingly fishy.

Religion enumerates the various laws people should abide by – of what and what not to do – with certain mythical stories thrown here and there to show why the laws do work. Most religions usually employ a certain document. In Christianity, it is the Bible, and in Islam, the Quran. Whenever a subject is in doubt, these documents give instructions in how to deal with troubling circumstances.

A constitution serves the same purpose. It does not have anecdotes relating to fabled figures, but it contains within it all the fundamental laws a citizen needs to live and work by in a particular country. And as a cleric turns to his Bible or Quran for solutions, a lawyer, or just any citizen for that matter, can consult the constitution for answers regarding legal difficulties.

But this is not to say a constitution is similar to religious documents – the difference is night and day. The obvious dissimilarity, to most, may be that in a democratic constitution there is no God, Supreme Leader, The Force or any lone individual who gets to dictate how the universe is run. Only the law is sacred and no one is above it.

A constitution can also be amended, by a Parliament or House of Representatives, as long as there is overwhelming support to do so. Of course, the make-up of most democratic nations makes it impossible to alter the constitution in a way the state can impinge on basic human rights. Even if the majority of citizens agree, for instance, the government cannot (and should not) prohibit the right to worship.

From generation to generation, the interpretation of the written word could differ, but the Bible, or Qur’an, itself cannot obviously be altered in any way. After all, it is the word of God.

The question of interpretation is slightly different when it comes to the constitution.

There are groups that hold forcefully diverging views on whether or not such documents should be taken literally. When the Declaration of Independence stated that “all men are created equal”, did it mean women were not? Liberal interpretation has risen to denote the “men” in the document could also mean women and African-Americans too.

All of these deference’s are merely technical though. What we need is a philosophical distinction to highlight the moral prominence of the constitution over any antique religious document whose authors are unknown.

The basic system of democracy is drawn up from religious institutions. Both types of organizations hold an entity (rule of law or God) as a rallying factor. Both funnel their powers through powerful entities like the government or the church. And both punish all those that do not abide by the rule.

In fact, the idea of punishment figures pretty heavily in most constitutions. What democracies heavily copied from religions is the idea of punishment as a way to ensure stability. Any type of illegal activity is prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Over the decades though, constitutional democracies have made it a point to set themselves apart from what generally defines religions by treating the subject matter of wrongdoers more discreetly. The key to constitutions is that they are created to regulate the power of the rich and powerful (which is rarely true when it comes to most religious institutions). They are created to ensure freedom and individuality. These things apply even to felons, who may be sent to prison, not for punishment but to isolate individuals that may be a detriment to society from society.

A constitution cannot direct the government to commit any inhumane acts, such as capital punishment or torture, even against those individuals whose actions may be unforgivable. Institutions should especially be judged in their policies, or views, towards those that are the most misguided. The most crucial feature of the constitution is in making it clear that the reason for being good, or law abiding, is not the fear of punishment but respect for liberty.

By Christian Tesfaye
Christian Tesfaye is a regular contributor to Fortune. He could be reached at

Published on Mar 25,2017 [ Vol 17 ,No 881]



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