Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The Ten Commandments, what's all the brouhaha?

Last Sunday, I was once again in my adult discussion class, and there were way too many possible ideas that could serve as grist for the blogging mill. But one topic caused me to continue thinking about it more than others: ethics. Often times we wonder 'what's happened to the world today?' and point our fingers at the various causes: teachers, parents, TV, politicians, etc. The subject of the Ten Commandments came up, and we discussed how we felt about posting a copy of them in public school classrooms. Most people were against it, but I have to admit, that even I was pretty foggy on what the commandments actually were.

Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. All reasonable ideals, wouldn't you think? Now, if that's what the Ten Commandments are, what's the big deal? Well, all it took was someone else more knowledgeable than I to remind us it also includes 'I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me.' The first few commandments are generally regarded as religious doctrines. Clearly, putting this kind of thing in a classroom is a clear endorsement of a specific brand of religion. This got me thinking. If we're so concerned about the cultural inculcation of ethics, why not distill the Ten Commandments into a simple moral code that does not push any one religion. Kind of like the 'New Ten Commandments.' Well, something about the phrase 'New Ten Commandments' sounded kind of familiar, so I decided to Google it.

Newsflash: I wasn't the first person to have this idea. In fact, there are lots of different takes on the idea. Some are actually pretty reasonable, some are pretty entertaining. I'm not going to offer my 'top ten,' but I do think it would make for an enlightening discussion in a church setting. Would a church be willing to discuss taking their brand of God out of the Ten Commandments? If one cares more about the greater good than proseletyzing, I think it's an excellent opportunity for a church to help society at large. I won't hold my breath on this though. I can't see how any organization that puts God at the center could conceive of distilling the Deity out of this brew.

But what brings me here today is the synchronicity of the topic. I was almost going to write on the 'New Ten Commandments,' but didn't feel strongly pulled enough. Then today, in a big surprise, the Supreme Court agreed to hear disputes from Kentucky and Texas over public displays of the Ten Commandments.

In the Kentucky case, the commandments were displayed at two county courthouses with other documents, such as the Magna Carta and Declaration of Independence. In the Texas case, a Ten Commandments monument is joined by various historical monuments on the Capitol grounds. You may remember that last year, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore lost his private battle against having his 2.6 ton granite monument of the Ten Commandments removed from the courthouse. It was surprising that the court would hear this argument, since they had avoided doing so for over twenty years, since a 1980 ruling against displaying it in public schoool classrooms. What seems to be going on here is an end run around the separation of church and state, by displaying the Commandments along with other historical documents. Hopefully the court will honor one of the most important tenets of our country (the separation of church and state for those of you confused by my use of interlocking parallel pronoun references), but then again, we're talking about the same court that stopped a presidential election in its tracks to appoint a winner.

In a world where fundamentalism of all kinds ironically brings out The Beast in people, I remain hopeful that the Ayatollahs of the Bible Belt can be kept from succeeding in their seemingly endless attempts at a coup d'etat of the United States government.

Oh, and one more thing:
The Christian, Jewish, and Islamic Ten Commandments

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