Everybody’s all atwitter, alarmed or amused by Justice Antonin Scalia’s silly suggestion to “ask the nearest hippie” about freedom and intimacy. But I’m more dismayed by his admission that he doesn’t have a clue what spirituality means. Really?
That a Supreme Court justice hasn’t paid any attention to society in the past, oh, four decades, is troublesome — he’s apparently still stewing about “free sex” and “women’s lib.” But that a man who prides himself on his “traditional Christian values” has never in his life bothered to ponder spirituality is horrifying.
Let me back up for those of you who may have been stoned and having illicit sex under a peace-sign-covered VW van instead of following the latest news.
In his dissent last week from the historic 5-4 Supreme Court decision to allow marriage equality for gay people, Scalia took issue with the gay-hippie-liberal-flag-burning lawyers on the equality side who opined that: “The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality.”
Scalia’s response to this: “Really? Who ever thought that intimacy and spirituality [whatever that means] were freedoms? And if intimacy is, one would think Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage. Ask the nearest hippie.”
So yeah, the hippie reference is funny, the kind of thing your grumpy grandpa might say. But as a follower of Jesus and one who reads the Bible, the spirituality thing sends me over the rainbow, so to speak.
The Spirit of the Bible
I suppose I should not be surprised that Scalia doesn’t get spirituality. He comes from a time period when adolescents simply took the behavioral rules their parents taught them (disguised as values) and their black leather Bibles, and decided they had all the answers they would ever need. About everything.
But the Bible, Justice Scalia, is not an answer book. It’s a story book, part of the story of humans and their God, a story that started long before anybody wrote down the words, and a story that continues today.
Let’s not argue about the inerrancy of the Bible, though. Even if it were an answer book, remember how it starts? In the first sentence of Genesis, it says “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” The Spirit. Of God.
And the very same spirit that hovered over the waters and that inspired humans to write that beautiful book is still around today! That’s right, Justice Scalia. The Spirit of God is still working. And the story of God and humanity continues to be written every day by every human being who has a longing for peace and wholeness and justice.
So that’s what spirituality is, in my opinion. People of good will — people wanting to bring good to the world, and willing to work for it — seeking a power greater than themselves to give them the inspiration, guidance, and strength to persevere as they slowly bend that “arc of history,” as Martin Luther King said, “toward justice.” Some of these people call themselves Christians, some don’t.
An awful lot of spirit-led people have been hanging on the end of that arc for a long time, pulling and pulling it towards compassion and justice for all people. It bent quite a bit last week.
Speaking of hanging on the arc of justice, did you see this video of Bree Newsome taking down the confederate flag in Charleston? (What a week!) Did you hear what she said? As she hung from the flagpole and removed that flapping symbol of racism, she called out, “In the name of God, this flag comes down today . . . the Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid?”
That’s spirituality, Justice Scalia. Christian spirituality. That, right there, is someone connected to the power and the strength of the Holy Spirit.
Fear of Love
I personally think that the only power strong enough to conquer fear (which leads to anger and hate) is love. Fear comes from not knowing, not understanding, not being in control — many people are afraid of gay people, black people, and even spirituality for these reasons.
The Spirit of God is a fearful thing in some ways. You can’t control it. Like love. (The Bible says that God is love.) As Jesus says in John 3:8, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Our little ego-selves — the defensive shells we’ve built around our vulnerable, loving selves — don’t like this windy spirit one bit. The ego needs to maintain its illusion of control, and to hold fast to its world views, so that it can sit in judgment on everyone else. And have all the answers. Our egos — our “false selves” as Thomas Merton called them — don’t care for authentic spirituality. They prefer religion and its prescriptive rules; it’s easier to control. All in one book. Feels safer.
Why Would Jesus Do?
Turns out, though, Jesus did not come to establish a religion or to write a book. He came to help us better know and connect with God so that we all “might have life, and have it to the full,” a life with the freedom and dignity to be fully who we were made to be and who we already are: beloved children of God, carrying that wild spirit inside us. Yup, even gay people. And hippies.
Jesus also said that he could help us all be One, reconciled to God and to everyone else through what he called the Spirit of Truth. He told his followers that this spirit would “teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” Such as “love your neighbors” and “set at liberty those who are oppressed.”
Something that Jesus never said, by the way, was one word about homosexuality. Not one word. If it were important to him, wouldn’t he have mentioned it?
So my closing argument, Justice Scalia, is that, yes, it’s risky when you acknowledge the Spirit and pay attention to where it might be leading you. It opens you up to all kinds of people who aren’t like you, and you find yourself looking for points of connection, things to love, instead of differences and things that separate you. You might even have to change your mind about some things.
The Bible says that “the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
I think those might be nice qualities in a Supreme Court Justice.