Ten Commandments in Alabama

It’s old news by now, but there’s been some recent twists that make me wanna write about it. Judge Roy Moore, chief justice of Alabama, placed a large granite monument with the Ten Commandments on it in the rotunda of the Alabama State Judicial Building. After typical posturing by the typical groups, the Supreme Court ordered it removed. It seemed like a tempest in a teapot to me. There’s lots of religious and almost-religious displays around, even on public lands, and even though I don’t care for them personally, I don’t find myself getting upset about them.

It seemed pretty obvious that what Judge Moore was really after was getting some publicity, and some hard-core supporters, before making a bid for some political office, say, governor. Well, worse has been done in the pursuit of fame, so I’m not even going to criticize that. So why am I even bothering writing? Two follow-ups make this more interesting.

Across the country, in Casper, Wyoming, there’s another fight going on about religious displays. There’s been a Ten Commandments monument in a public park there for quite some time. A group from Wisconsin (who knew they ever visited Casper?) is trying to get rid of it, just like Moore’s monument. Now one Fred Phelps wants to install his own religious monument, celebrating the death and descent into hell of Matthew Shepard, the gay student who was murdered there. Rev. Phelps claims that if the Ten Commandments is there, then surely Lev 18:22 ought to be there also. A real gem of Christian charity and forgiveness, he is. Anyway, this demonstrates just how tricky religion can be. Since there’s scientific basis to almost none of it, none of it can be demonstrated/proven (or disproven), and one man’s opinion is no more wrong (or right) than any other’s. This gets far too tricky for politicians to control, and probably is the best reason for keeping the government and the religions as far apart as possible. After all, if a little religion (the Ten Commandments) is good, why isn’t more religion (Lev 18:22) even better?

The other curious thing was how many letters came into the editors about the Ten Commandments being the foundation of our legal systems. Of the 10, only 2 (killing and stealing) have any resemblance to our current laws. Every society, no matter the religion, has restrictions on killing and stealing, so to somehow link them to the Ten Commandments merely shows how far some folks will go to convince themselves that this is a Christian nation, enforceable by the government (at the point of a gun, like governments always do).

The following letter to the editor, published November 22, 2003, written by one Geoff Burkman, expresses this thought better than I can.

Several letters on Nov. 6 trotted out the tired argument that morality and ethics depend on religion.
I’d love to know what logic these folks have studied. Morality and ethics hinge on the mundane requirements of living human societies, rather than esoteric supernatural knowledge.
No one needs religion to understand that murder, theft and mendacity are bad things. No one needs religion to know that families are a good thing.
The writers, in their defenses of church/state entanglement, fail to understand the true dangers of such entanglement.
At times, it galls me that the DDN [Dayton Daily News] continues to print such nonsensical letters. Perhaps the DDN enjoys dragging out dead horses to beat, or perhaps the DDN simply enjoys enticing counterarguments from the likes of curmudgeons like me.

November 22, 2003.

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