August 22, 2003

Fundamental Disconnect Dept.

Sometimes, in this nation of ours, there are certain happenings, events and thought processes which I fully admit that I Fundamentally Don't Understand. Among these things is the recent brouhaha over a marble display in an Alabama courthouse which informs the reader of the Ten Commandments set forth by the Lord our God.

Now, I will leave it up to the attorneys whether having such a display in a court of law is Constitutional or not. What I don't get is why the issue is such a big deal in the first place. Apparently there are some people who get so worked up about the issue that they engage in much wailing and gnashing of teeth, as evidenced by this excerpt from Oliver Willis' latest post:

In America we're free to practice our faith regardless of what it is as long as it does not harm another - but some people don't like that. They would prefer to tell you how to live the little dumb plan they've set out for you than have you make your own way, what is wrong with them?

Clearly I missed something here. I mean, we're talking about the Ten Commandments, the simplest yet clearest expression of the moral law as practiced by all human societies. We're not talking about putting a giant cross in the courthouse emblazoned with John 3:16; we're not talking about an overtly Christian display; we're not talking about a statue of St. John the Baptist. We're talking about basics of morality so easy to understand that even a child can grasp them -- even if kids won't fully grasp all the implications about Not Coveting Thy Neighbor's Wife. Maybe it's just me, but I can't understand how any rational person could find such a display threatening or discomforting or unpleasant.

It used to be that people who didn't believe in God had the decorum and, shall we say it, an inner sense of pride that kept them from causing trouble and discord when it came to religious matters. After all, if one was not religious, one didn't put much stock in these things and left it at that. Nowadays, it seems as if many non-religious people think it's fine and dandy to be whiny and petulant. And I'll admit I really don't understand why they think that way.

So I would ask Mr Willis to expound further on this topic. Specificially, to expound on what he finds wrong with the following dictates, which I have in some cases paraphrased:

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage:

1. You shall have no other gods before Me.

2. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath; or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down or serve them...

3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain...

4. Observe the sabbath day, and keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God ...

5. Honor your father and mother.

6. You shall not kill.

7. Neither shall you commit adultery.

8. Neither shall you steal.

9. Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor.

10. Neither shall you covet your neighbor's wife, and you shall not desire your neighbor's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor's.

-- Deut 5:6-16, excerpted.

I mean, really. That's what we're talking about here. Notice how it does not say, "You shall not attend worship at any place other than churches which hold to the tenets of Christianity as held by the Southern Baptist Convention." Notice how it does not say, "If you don't tithe your income to Me, like I've told you so many times, I will send forth an angry plague of locusts and wasps and insurance-salesmen to your door, for I am the LORD."

Instead, notice that when it comes right down to it, the Ten Commandments are Pretty Simple Rules for Living Life. If one wants to read more or less into them, that's his own business.

But I must say that I find it interesting that a display of the Ten Commandments causes such a visceral reaction among those who don't consider themselves all that religious. After all, if one is an atheist or otherwise non-religious, why would one care if a court justice decided to put up a monument praising the Ten Commandments? Are such people so unsure of themselves that they can't bear to be reminded that when all is said and done, there just might be something to those ten dictates?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at August 22, 2003 09:31 AM | TrackBack

It may seem silly to you or me, I suspect because it is usually atheists who start the foo-for-aw, and why should they care?

But I can understand how it might be uncomfortable or even threatening to, say, a Hindu polytheist because of its overt religious connection. Indeed, it is uncomfortable to me despite my upbringing in a Christian household and milieu.

A display of the Code of Hammurabi would be non-secular, and a display of law first being applied at the top as well as the bottom of society.

Posted by: John Anderson at August 22, 2003 11:24 AM

And we need to remove "Under God" from the Pledge, too, cuz see, that makes me uncomfortable and makes me question my own beliefs.

Give me a break.

You're absolutely right on all counts, Ben. If people were just a bit more secure in their beliefs that they could just go on about their lives without having to pry into the beliefs of *other* people, we wouldn't have these manufactured problems.

The Ten Commandments prescribe some pretty standard rules for good, clean, healthy living (although I'd take small issue with your posting of #6 -- isn't "murder" the more reliable translation?).

Being an atheist myself, I nonetheless find myself siding with the views of Christians over those of atheists in virtually any dispute. I salute the judge who is refusing to back down and I hope he takes this to the SCOTUS and wins.

Of course, anti-Christian bigotry comes out in some of the comments of the "other side," when they claim that because a judge proudly displays a beautiful stone of the Ten Commandments and makes no secret of his spiritual beliefs, the court is no longer impartial and unbiased. Give the man SOME credit, you losers.

Posted by: Kevin White at August 22, 2003 01:48 PM


I would not mind the Code of Hammurabi although I would note that it had a very ... well ... harsh application. Still, I fail to see how "making one uncomfortable" translates into "fundamental denial of one's human rights."


Thanks for your comments, as always. As for the translation of Commandment No. 6, that's straight out of the Revised Standard Version.

Posted by: Benjamin Kepple at August 22, 2003 03:12 PM

"Are such people so unsure of themselves that they can't bear to be reminded that when all is said and done, there just might be something to those ten dictates?"

I think you may have hit something on the head there.

I'm a non christian, and I'm finding it hard to understand exactly why this is such a rallying cry for the anti-religionists. And it is anti-religionists: I know atheists and agnostics who aren't on the "burn him!" line over this one.

As Acidman stated on Gutrumbles for himself on this, like him, I'm pretty secure in my beliefs... the site of the 10 commandments isn't going to damage my foundations. Then again, I also happen to think that from any perspective, those aren't bad guidelines to observe, christian or no.

It's a non issue to me. There's a ton of things the Gov is doing I can get bent about, that actually are bending or breaking the constitution, without having it be a threat to me that a judge has the commandments on his wall.

Posted by: Ironbear at August 22, 2003 04:37 PM

"sight of", not "site of". Proofread, IB, proofread. Sorry bout that.

Posted by: Ironbear at August 22, 2003 04:40 PM

Here's the deal. When the Supreme Court of Alabama abides by "Thou Shalt Not Kill" by overturning every death penalty appeal that goes before it, it can keep the Ten Commandments. Otherwise, it's nothing but hypocrisy. I have nothing against the death penalty conceptually, either. Rampant hypocrisy bothers me. The courts of Alabama violate the Ten Commandments all the time, and so I can't see how the Chief Justice finds them to be all that significant, since he and the other judges ignore it all the time. The commandment is against killing. Period. Not "Killing unless the court sentences you to death. " Not "unless you can come up with a good reason." Thou. Shalt. Not. Kill.

What also bothers me about this is that the Chief Justice is blatantly defying a court order. Something I am certain he would not tolerate were it an order of his.

Posted by: Geoff Brown at August 22, 2003 06:26 PM

He's defying the court order as a citizen. I'm sure he wouldn't tolerate that sort of thing. That's why he's been suspended, something he knew was coming his way.

There is debate about the Sixth Commandment:

And from

"Murder is different than killing - based on motive of hatred and revenge. God has given government the right to kill. Capital punishment is justice for murder - not revenge. Murder happens in the heart even without killing. Use of military authority and force is permitted. Pacifism is not reguired. The Bible is the one book that can be laid on top of the US flag."

^This is the way the Pastor at my Lutheran church always taught us to read the Sixth. Opinions do vary.

Posted by: Kevin White at August 23, 2003 05:29 AM

I just resent the fact that government feels it has the right to present these religious dictates as truth. You say that these are good rules to live by, but, I hate to tell you - there's quite a few people who don't live by the first four. Who don't believe in the Judeo-Christian God, who don't keep the Judeo-Christian Sabbath days hold, who hold no prohibition against graven images, and who don't really care about the Lord's name being taken in vain. Those are religious mandates, and as a matter of principle, I don't want my government advocating religious beliefs to me.

Is that okay?

Posted by: jesse at August 23, 2003 11:46 PM

That's fine.

Tell me, what on earth does the way the government treats you have to do with a judge's desire to display a stone with the Ten Commandments in a courthouse?

Come back when they make a law about observing the Sabbath, forcing people to only believe in God, or using the name of God in vain, and then we'll talk.

Posted by: Kevin White at August 24, 2003 12:41 AM

The problem, in case you don't get it, is that a judge who's supposed to uphold our country's laws has promised to uphold these rules (including sabbath observation, names in vain, and all the rest of this foolishness) over our country's laws. I dont' know how you can *not* see that as a problem.

Second, commandments 1-4 have nothing to do with important moral laws that all societies abide by. They're abitrary regulations for people of a few faiths.

Posted by: Anil at August 24, 2003 12:50 AM

Anil, by that standard, NO judge should be of any faith at all, is that right? We need devout atheists in the courts.

That's absurd, as is the idea that "this foolishness" (i.e., 1-4 or so) ever makes it into a COURT CASE.

Posted by: Kevin White at August 24, 2003 10:01 AM

Ever hear of blue laws? The ones that say you can't sell liquor, open businesses, etc. on Sundays? Those were laws passed so that we woulod observe the Sabbath. And the idea that somehow God condones killing that isn't "murder" is unsupported. Read the commandment. Either you shalt not kill, or you shall. It just isn't ambiguous. In the legal profession, we say that this language is "clear on its face" -- unneeding of interpretation. And if that Commandment is open to interpretation and exceptions, why not the others? Is it okay to covet my neighbor's wife if my neighbor is an asshole who beats her and doesn't appreciate her? Do you still have to honor thy mother if she walks out and abandons your family? Is it okay to steal if you would starve if you did not?

Starts to sound more like the "Ten Suggestions" at the point where you say, "Well, okay, you can kill in certain situations, even thought the Commandment says, clearly, that you cannot." I happen to feel that there are such situations, but I at least have my doubts about the authenticity of the Commandments. It saves me from the--let's just be honest--weaselling that others have to do to reconcile their unfaltering view that the Commandments must be followed with their behavior that violates one or more of them.

Posted by: Geoff Brown at August 24, 2003 11:19 AM

Alright, I'm now going to extricate myself from the argument, lest I find myself -- an atheist -- arguing in defense of the Ten Commandments against Christians. ;)

Posted by: Kevin White at August 24, 2003 12:50 PM

"Alright, I'm now going to extricate myself from the argument, lest I find myself -- an atheist -- arguing in defense of the Ten Commandments against Christians. ;)" - Kevin White

*grin* Good plan, Kevin. That struck me as a prime example of absurdity early there also, shortly after I posted. ;]

Posted by: Ironbear at August 24, 2003 06:54 PM

"Instead, notice that when it comes right down to it, the Ten Commandments are Pretty Simple Rules for Living Life. If one wants to read more or less into them, that's his own business. "

Except for that bit about not having any Gods other than the God of Abraham. Or not making graven images. Or taking the name of the God of Abraham in vain.

Those are behavioral prescriptions that are extremely specific to Judaism and its descendants. They aren't really part of any "simplest yet clearest expression of the moral law as practiced by all human societies".

The remaining seven do fill that role, however.

Posted by: Ken at August 25, 2003 02:54 PM