Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Molière's 'Tartuffe, or The Imposter' and the Texas Constitution

Banned Books and religious tests. The First Amendment. Molière's Tartuffe and the Texas Constitution. What the hell is all that about?

In 1664 in France, Molière wrote the play Tartuffe, ou l'Imposteur / Tartuffe, or The Imposter; it was staged once, then banned from the public eye for fear of disturbing the peace (that is to say, for questioning certain widely accepted practices among the ruling classes). In other words, it's a perfect topic of discussion during Banned Books Week.

Here's what one of Molière's powerful critics wrote about the playwright in 1664 (via this handy English translation extracted from the original French by Virginia Scott). 

According to this critic, Molière was: "A man, or rather a Demon clothed in flesh and dressed like a man . . . the most notable and impious freethinker who has ever lived, has had the wickedness and abomination to bring from his diabolical mind a play ready to be shown on the public stage to the derision of the Church . . . with the intention of rendering it ridiculous, contemptible, and odious. He would deserve, as a result of this sacrilegious and impious attack, to be tortured publicly as an example, and to be burned at the stake, in advance of the fires of Hell . . ."

~Pierre Roullé, curé de la paroisse Saint-Barthélémy, quoted in "The Quarrel of Tartuffe," Molière, Tartuffe (W. W. Norton Criticial Edition, 2009), page 66. 

(For an American context, the Salem Witch Trials began in 1692 -- 28 years later).

Tartuffe centers around the title character, a flim-flam man who exploits religious sentiments for his own gain as he plots to swindle his supporters out of their homes. In the 21st century, he's a cross between a megachurch televangelist and Big Donnie Trump. 

Thanks to Molière's satire (which by today's standards is very mild) and works like it -- right through Voltaire and the philosophes and the Constitution of the United States of America -- freedom of expression and the right to dissent are considered essential rights, not luxuries, let alone something to be tortured publicly and burned at the stake for.

Which brings me to something in the Texas Constitution that needs to be revised in this 21st century. The way it now stands both the wording and meaning is self-contradictory and completely illogical. The way it stands now, any lyin' Tartuffe can be elected to state office in Texas, but not so a single freethinking adult who admits that she or he does not necessarily believe in a Supreme Being.

Article I, Section 4 of the Texas Constitution (in place from 1876 to 2016+):

RELIGIOUS TESTS. No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.  

Did you catch the contradiction?  "No religious test shall be required . . . provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being." Having to "acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being" IS a religious test, and a very restrictive one.

To prove that Texas does perpetuate a restrictive religious test, all we have to do is find one non-religious belief or one religious belief system that does not acknowledge or require a Supreme Being in order to function.

Let's suggest some:

Secular humanism

Society of Friends/Quakers (specifically the Humanistic Society of Friends)
"Ground of being" (Paul Tillich)

Several of the above may believe in being, but not in "a [single] Supreme Being."

The United States Constitution dealt with this issue nearly one hundred years before the Lone Star's adoption of the 1876 Texas Constitution.

Article 6, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution: "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

Hence, even a casual reading of Tartuffe will help one realize that the Texas Constitution does require one's passing through a religious test in order to operate in any official capacity and that any hypocrite who pretends to believe in a Supreme Being simply by saying he/she does will be eligible for such offices, while a single reading of the US Constitution shows that the Texas Constitution is unsustainable as it now stands.

The core of Article I, Section 4 of the Texas Constitution should and must be changed to: "No religious test shall be required." Period. 

End of story.  Happy Banned Books Week. Viva Freedom of Expression and the right to dissent!

Today's Rune: Harvest.