by ProfDave, ©2020
(Dec. 3, 2020) — Today’s snicker: The real reason you can’t have the Ten Commandments in the courthouse is that you cannot post “Thou shalt not Steal,” “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” and “Thou shalt not lie” in a building full of politicians without creating a hostile working environment (MPR, Pretty Good Joke Book).
Was banning the Ten Commandments such a good idea? Until 60 years ago we were all agreed that the Big Ten were the unquestioned foundation of English and American law, and the basis of Western morality. Now the document is forbidden in any legal context, censored from public display, and somehow deemed offensive to the general public.
[Warning: contents below may include sarcasm]
Discriminatory? I’ll say it is discriminatory! Banning it discriminates against all Christians, Jews, Muslims and most others. Its contents are just about universal. The problem is, it is “a hostile working environment” for evil doers – not for men and women of good will of any creed or none. Which are you?
Should the Ten Commandments be banned for the separation of church and state? Read them ever so carefully, you will find no church mentioned at all. Unless you mean separation of the state from sanity. Some “New Atheists” are perilously close. This is political correctness gone mad.
“Separation of church and state” is not, of course, a constitutional phrase. Nor is the Constitution itself, as a specific document that says or doesn’t say particular things, much observed these days.
The American understanding is that the state should not meddle in the affairs of the church nor the church meddle in the state. That is why churches are tax exempt and there are no religious tests for office. But it certainly does not mean the President cannot pray or the nation trust in God or government functionaries behave in a moral and ethical manner reinforced by their faith. “In God we trust” is still the national motto. The legislature can certainly make laws that say “thou shalt not steal.” Censoring anything because it happens to be found in a religious text makes no sense at all.
Was banning the Ten Commandments such a good idea? I am going to suggest that this drive by extremists is destructive nonsense at best. Even if there is no God and our morality is founded on a myth, the Ten Commandments do nothing but good for people of all creeds and no creed at all. They give no one any unfair advantages. Suppressing them can do nothing but harm to our society.
You see, whether you agree with the theology or not, the Ten Commandments reflect basic good sense and positive values. To reject everything that comes from the sacred writings of a society simply because of its source is irrational and chauvinistic. And to avoid basic good sense and positive values because they happen to be found in a sacred source abandons us to nonsense and negative values. Deconstruction is not a good thing. Breaking things is not progressive. Let the atheists and secularists hold their peace until they can build something more positive, a world more healthy, safe, free and meaningful than the Ten.
Political correctness has removed the Ten Commandments from the walls of schools, court houses and other public buildings, ostensibly because they carry a message specific to one “church,” and might influence someone towards that church and away from another. Someone might be offended.
Put them on trial. Put them up in the hallway of an inner-city public school and let’s see what influence they might have on the innocent passer-by. What is the clear and present danger? What is the religious bias being expressed? OK, how many would notice that it was even there? The few that did might gather that some respectable people respected a structure of ‘thou shalts’ and ‘thou shalt nots.’ Hardly revolutionary and a lot simpler and more digestible than a list of the local ordinances – “no loitering” and ‘no littering.” And shouldn’t we respect other people enough to respect what they believe anyway? Certain Christian, Jewish and Muslim students (85-95%) might be slightly reinforced in otherwise good intentions. Would that be a bad thing? Wait. That was the situation in every city sixty years ago. Was it a bad thing? Are our streets and schools safer now without the ‘Big Ten?’
I. Put them on trial one at a time. Start with the worst: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me!” How sectarian is that? It started out Jewish. No Christian denomination, sect or cult has any objection. Muslims have no problem – just disagreements over His nature. Atheists and Theravada Buddhist have no gods at all, so the question is moot for them. Only Polytheists have to ask “which god?” Not many of them around. So sticking to your own God(s) is a principle we can all live with.
Does it mean anything at all? Why, yes. Originally, it meant ethical monotheism instead of gods of fertility, war and/or horror – not variations on the “god” theme, but their opposites. Today, the “other gods” are self, money, power, food, sex, intoxication and the like. This commandment calls even Atheists and Polytheists to think about ultimate values. Good for everybody – almost everybody.
Seeing it on the wall in a public building might remind us of what is really important to us – what our priorities are. It just might turn a child back to the God of their mother, towards spirituality instead of sensuality, towards common good instead of selfishness. This would be a hostile working environment for pimps and pushers and a rebuke to revolutionaries whose agenda is to detach the coming generation from their parents and all things traditional. Perhaps that is why it is banned. Are our streets and schools safer now without it?
II. Put the second one on trial: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” The idea is that it isn’t good to mix physical objects with spiritual things – typical of the dark paganism of temple prostitutes and child sacrifice. Again, this is Jewish. Muslims are fanatical about it. And Christians agree, but allow religious art. Atheists have nothing to make an image of and only Hindu and some Buddhist people could possibly object. Call it art, for goodness sakes.
In practical terms, this commandment doesn’t seem to have much influence beyond an application of the first commandment. If we stick to one God, without mixing values and counter-values, we are not likely to confuse the work of the human hand with the Almighty One, the creature with the Creator. But if we make an idol of ourselves, the selfie serves just as well. Hmmh. We do have a problem, but we don’t recognize it.
So seeing this commandment on a wall in a public building is not likely to make too much of an impression. But it should. It might make a child wonder if all the demon and zombie representations in film and game (consequently nightmares) are really healthy. Or is the worship of those impossible fashion or porn models a good thing? Perhaps it would make those who traffic in them uncomfortable? What would the entertainment industry do without the horror of the dark side? Perhaps that is why the commandment is banned. Are our streets and schools safer now without it?
III. Put the third one on trial: “Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord Your God in vain.” Another rule Atheists don’t have to worry about. Does anyone have a problem with this one? Does anyone not have a problem with this one!
Whoever your God is, you shouldn’t misappropriate His brand for unworthy purposes. We do that a lot in our society: perjury and broken vows, hating people in the name of Jesus, raping and killing in the name of Allah, and manipulating people in the name of any god whatever. Christians, Jews and Muslims all observe this commandment in the breach. Even Hindus believe the gods should be respected. Maybe we should respect Hindus, Muslims, Jews and Christians, too?
So seeing this commandment on the wall of a public building might just remind us to be more respectful towards what we and others hold sacred. It might even prompt a child to be more respectful to other people. Is that such a bad thing? But it would be a hostile working environment for perjurers, bigots and hypocrites. Perhaps that is why it is banned. Are our streets and schools safer now without it?
IV. Put the fourth one on trial: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” I suppose the secularists may have a problem calling anything holy, but the idea of setting apart one day in seven is hardly controversial. It is about time our government acknowledges something as sacred. The only controversy is which day is the Sabbath: Friday, Saturday or Sunday? At the insistence of labor a century ago, the principle of a five day week is pretty much universal. We can all agree on that much.
The principle is that everyone should take one day a week off to rest and lift their eyes above mundane things, to recalibrate our minds and hearts according to higher purposes. Only the most spiritually impoverished have no purpose beyond biological imperatives. Let them keep working if they want to. There were obvious advantages when the whole society took the same day off, but the “blue laws” fell to the greed of shop-keepers and the envy of those who reverence nothing.
So seeing this commandment on the wall of a public building might just remind us to look up. We might interrupt the rat race, stop and think, and ask ourselves is this all there is? Perhaps we would turn our hearts to our values, our families, our churches, temples and lodges? Is that such a bad thing? But it would be a hostile working environment for the greedy and the workaholics. Perhaps that is why this commandment is banned. Are our streets and schools safer now without it?
V. Let’s put the fifth one on trial: “Honor your father and your mother.” Do you know any religion that disapproves of this? I don’t either. Admittedly, some parents that are not honor-able. How do you honor an abusive, absent or dead-beat dad? How do you honor a mother who neglected, abandoned or aborted you? Yes, we all agree that parenthood comes with moral responsibilities. But on the average, all other factors equal, there is obvious survival value in paying heed to one’s parents in early life, at least “that you may live long upon the earth,” and having children who take care of you to some degree in later life.
So seeing this commandment on the wall of a public building might just remind us to be more respectful to the wisdom and counsel of our parents. They have lived longer than we and have, and in all but extreme cases, made significant investments in us. Some gratitude is healthy. Seeing this commandment might also remind some parents of their duty. Seeing this message might just remind a child to think – if only of their parents’ bad example. But that would be a hostile working environment for those who wish to take advantage of children, turn them away from their parents’ values, and recruit them for their own agendas, drugs, gangs and other criminal enterprises, and for the dishonorable. Parents are “the enemy” to Politically Correct educators, too. Perhaps that is why this one is banned. Are our streets and schools safer now without it?
VI. Put the sixth one on trial: “Thou shalt not kill.” Does anyone object to that? No religion or ethical system defends murder. The only debate is about the exceptions: war, law enforcement, infidels, the sick or miserable, the elderly, the socially useless, the expensive, the unwanted? Yourself?
The Judeo-Christian idea behind this command is that all human beings are bearers of the image of God. Human life is intrinsically and inviolably sacred. Only God has the right to take it and the state acts on His behalf only to uphold its sacredness. Jesus goes still further: to hate is to murder in the heart, to break the commandment in the eyes of the Holy One. Muslims, Atheists and even humanists may reject human sacredness and the guilt of “murder in the heart,” but hardly the words, “Thou shalt not kill.”
So seeing this commandment on the wall of a public building might just remind us of the value of humanity. Would a child stop and think that hating and killing might be wrong and not entertaining? Perhaps he/she would value their own lives just a little more? Gun violence – and every other kind – might be ever so slightly discouraged. Would that be such a bad thing? What would that do to our youth? But it might cut into the sales of violent toys and entertainment – and the advertisers who depend on it. This commandment would create a hostile working environment for racists, street gangs, terrorists, abortionists, purveyors of violence and suicide. Perhaps that is why it is banned. Are our streets and schools safer now without it?
VII. Put the seventh one on trial: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” This is the one the “Baby Boomers” really wanted to get rid of and may be the prime objection to the whole code. But every religion and culture agrees that you should not cheat on your spouse. Even good friends can be offended by “double-timing.” “Swinging” never worked.
The devil is in the details. Adultery is a breach of the exclusive sexual bond of marriage. Define ‘breach.’ Any sexual activity outside marriage – before, during and after with no exceptions for business trips or what happens in Vegas? Define ‘marriage.’ Can you marry just anybody? Is it “so long as you both shall love?” Contemporary Western society is in rebellion against the Judeo-Christian definitions. And Jesus made it even worse by making adultery an act of the mind “looking at a woman to lust after her!” There goes a multi-billion dollar industry! Just a glimpse of this command would bring guilt to so many of us, but for the forgiveness found in Christ. So, it is discriminatory against non-Christian faiths? Hardly. Or just against us sinners?
So seeing this commandment on the wall of a public building might just remind us of what a marriage was supposed to be like. Perhaps adults would feel a pang of healthy guilt – the kind that leads to repentance? Seeing this message might just remind a child of what a home was supposed to be. Would that be a bad thing? Would they wonder if there is more to sex than what they learned at school and on the flat screen? But that would be a hostile working environment for pornographers, pedophiles, traffickers, purveyors of condoms and abortions, sexual recruiters and social revolutionaries. Children might reproach their parents. That is probably why it is banned. Are our streets and schools safer now without it?
VIII. Put the eighth on trial: “Thou shalt not steal.” This is an easy one. Even Communists are forbidden to steal from “the people,” though [sarcasm font] confiscation is not stealing in that “religion.” In capitalism it is “profit” – “buyer beware” – but it isn’t stealing. Taxes and national debt are in the same category. So who can object to the eighth commandment?
Seeing this commandment on the wall of a public building might just remind us to be marginally more honest. Seeing this on the wall of an inner-city school just might remind a child to stay out of Momma’s purse, not to shoplift, not to take someone’s lunch money. But it would be a hostile working environment for pickpockets, embezzlers, pay-day loan sharks, some (but not all) Wall Street brokers, congressmen and business tycoons. Truth be known, it might make a lot of us feel guilty. We might feel the need to change our ways. That is probably why it is banned. Are our streets and schools safer now without it?
IX. Put the ninth on trial: “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” Again, this is against no one’s religion. All ethical systems agree that lying is wrong. Our legal system depends on witnesses telling “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” Right? Even though post-moderns don’t believe there is such a thing as truth, they know what “false witness” is.
We all know in our hearts that telling lies is wrong – although we do it. A lot! It is tax season or it is an election year. We are bombarded with advertising, spam and telemarketers. We can’t even trust the news anymore. Post-modern tribalism excuses us from telling the truth to outsiders: we can spin our stories and redefine our words to accomplish our “we” purpose against “them.” So what we say means precisely what we want it to mean to you in order to advance the cause. Pass the bill in order to find out what is in it? [sarcasm font] That isn’t bearing false witness, it is our truth for you! What does that do to trust, to integrity, to relationships?
So seeing this commandment on the wall of a public building might just remind us of the value of integrity. On the walls of an innercity school, it might help a child to tell the truth. Would that be such a bad thing? But it would create a hostile working environment for cheats, liars, perjurers, false advertisers, and deceivers of all kinds. The ninth commandment would contradict popular post-modernism and suggest a higher standard. That is probably why it is banned. Are our streets and schools safer now without it?
X. Put the tenth on trial: “Thou shalt not covet.” Whoa! What’s covet? Moses defined it as wanting something that belongs to someone else (eg house, car, wife or employee). It is OK to want something that is for sale; it is wrong to want the store, what is not for you but for somebody else. It is robbery or adultery in the heart with a twist – because the desire is to deprive someone else in order to gain the particular thing.
Is this injunction contrary to any – or no – religion? Capitalists and Communists might accuse one another of violation. Strict socialists would deny that anything belongs to anyone in particular (even spouses?) but would condemn those who covet what belongs to “the people.” Of course, covetousness is closely related to greed, the mortal sin that animates our economy and “the revolution,” too! What would this commandment do to advertising?
So seeing this commandment on the wall of a public building might just remind us to respect what pertains to others. It just might make us more content with what we have. On the wall of an inner-city school, it just might help a child not to be envious of the pimp with his fancy car and clothes, or to mug a classmate for his shoes. Would that be a bad thing? But it would be a hostile working environment for scammers, con-artists, gamblers, advertisers and politicians – all who take advantage of greed and covetousness. That is probably why the 10th is banned. Are our streets and schools safer now without it?
Was banning the Ten Commandments such a good idea? Putting them on trial, one at a time, reveals that their content, whatever their origins, is not specific to any one “church” or cultural tradition, but common to virtually all. Apart from a superstitious fear of the word “God,” even Atheists cannot seriously be offended. If He does not exist, why be troubled by a name? So philosophical or religious objections boil down to the secularist objection to anything spiritual at all and a tiny number of dedicated polytheists not directly affirmed by the first two commands. How is that a confusion of “church and state?” Is it enough of a conflict to censor the values of the majority?
So seeing these commandments on the wall of a public building might just remind us to aim at being better than we are. Seeing them on the wall of an inner-city school might encourage a child to do right instead of wrong. The impact of their content is overwhelmingly positive. Those who are offended and discriminated against by the Ten Commandments are primarily the wrong doers: pimps and pushers, perjurers, bigots, hypocrites, the greedy and the workaholics, the dishonorable, racists, street gangs, terrorists, abortionists, purveyors of violence and suicide, entertainers who glorify the “dark side,” subverters of parental guidance, pornographers, pedophiles, traffickers, sexual recruiters, pickpockets, embezzlers, pay-day loan sharks, some (but not all) Wall Street brokers, corrupt congressmen and greedy business tycoons, cheats, liars, perjurers, false advertisers, and deceivers of all kinds, scammers, con-artists, gamblers, advertisers and politicians, all who take advantage of greed and covetousness and of the innocence of children.
Quite a list, huh? Not to mention the elites who wish to take the nation and our children in directions the majority might not want to go. But the big problem is that, taken seriously, the Ten Commandments make us all feel guilty. Particularly if taken in the Christian sense. Who among us has not hated, lusted, stolen, lied, and coveted? Who of us has not put ourselves on the god-pedestal or worshiped at the shrine of mammon? Used God for our own purposes? On the other hand, Christianity is the only faith that offers flat-out forgiveness, thus the big ten remind us of a problem we all have – a gap between our ideals and our performance – for which only Christianity has the antidote. There’s the discrimination. So guilt is probably the real reason why they are banned. Are our streets and schools safer now without them?
David W. Heughins (“ProfDave”) is Adjunct Professor of History at Nazarene Bible College. He holds a BA from Eastern Nazarene College and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Holiness in 12 Steps (2020). He is a Vietnam veteran and is retired, living with his daughter and three grandchildren in Connecticut.