Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Ten Commandments

The Supreme Court recently heard arguments on whether public displays of The Ten Commandments is constitutional. The situation has received enormous media attention of late, but I first caught wind of the widespread nature of the situation when Judge Ray Moore launched his now infamous fight to keep large stone monuments of the Commandments in his courthouse. A decent timeline of those events is contained here.

The Washington Post editorial on the recent Supreme Court arguments is here. And the Post's news article on the cases is here. (I like the Washington Post because their links basically never expire, unlike *cough* the New York Times.)

By now the arguments about separation of church and state are well discussed, so I won't touch upon them again. I do, however, have a few residual questions -- nonlegal ones -- about the whole discussion of the Ten-Commandments-on-Public-Property issue.

First, the question of whether the Commandments are really non-religious. Proponents of the Commandments try to tell their opponents that the Commandments are simply codifications of simple rules (like "thou shalt not kill") which all of us observe anyway. But here's what a lot of people overlook: The First Commandment (in all the versions I've seen, though I'm told there are differing versions of the Commandments) is "I am your God, your only God, and thou shall have no other God above me." Holy crap, dude. If this isn't an endorsement of one religion over any other, I don't know what is. This is clearly a religious document. And as such it has no place in a public position where it can be construed as indoctrination or endorsement.

By the way, there is some delicious crow-eating to the whole "it's actually a secular monument!" argument, especially when it has to be made by fundies. It's basically denying the importance of the Commandments in order to further the cause of proliferating their display. Isn't that basically turning your back on your religion just so that your religion can be advanced?

Second, another of the Commandments that I see is a prohibition against "graven images." I've generally understood this Commandment to be an indictment of ostentatious statues and representations of heathen gods, like Baal. Wouldn't a large monument of the Commandments constitute some form of a "graven image"?

Similarly, in C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, Lewis made reference to those Christians who elevate form above substance. In a series of letters among a set of underling fallen angels, we see devils laughing at humans who think their souls are saved when really they're not (according to Lewis's understanding of his religion). One of the letters had a demon laughing at one particular human, because although that human professed to pray every night before bed, she pretty much considered her God to be actually located in an upper corner of her bedroom. She was praying to a corner (complete with spiderwebs) instead of to an actual spiritual source. As such, Lewis argues, she wasn't actually a good Christian; she was just going through the motions and fooling herself at the same time. Because true faith in your religion needs no outside validation. Is this much different from ultra-right wing religious wingnuts who insist on erecting huge monuments of the Ten Commandments on public property? Are they elevating form above substance? Especially when "being a good Christian" means erecting these monuments but still supporting the death penalty (in contravention of the anti-killing Commandment), working on the Sabbath, or maybe even committing adultery.

Third, somewhere or another in the Bible -- I forget where -- doesn't Jesus condemn people who wear faith on their sleeve? Doesn't He say something comparing people who outwardly and gaudily profess their faith unfavorably to those who simply lead honest, good Christian lives, without the "I'm so much better than you because I go to church" air about them?

If I'm right, then isn't insisting on putting up ginormous displays of the Ten Commandments pretty contrary to those teachings of the Bible? If these people live their lives according to Christian teachings, why then do they feel the need to outwardly display their faith so much, shouting it to the world?

I personally find it ironic that when gay people hold hands or otherwise display affection for each other in public, far-right conservatives will recoil and scream about how gay people are so "in-your-face" with their sexuality. (Even though hand-holding and mild kissing is of the same caliber as heterosexual couples would engage in.) Even the more moderate conservatives profess to be "okay with what gays do behind closed doors" so long as they don't "flaunt" their sexuality in public. Yet large ostentatious displays of the Ten Commandments is acceptable to these people. Aren't large displays of your religious mandates "flaunting" your religion? I have no objection to Christians, but why do they have to flaunt their Christianity at me?

So yeah, I have an issue with the Ten Commandments. First Amendment considerations aside, I still have objections to the exercise of that religion where it serves to oppress others. It's not just Christianity. It's any religion that would impose their beliefs on anyone else.

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