Don’t covet your neighbor’s ox.
Does that truly sound like an issue worthy of an omnipotent deity, seeking to
address the most vital moral issues human beings might face? Or does it sound
like something that would be written by a class of property-owners seeking to
protect their goods - and invoking common superstitious beliefs to buttress
The Supreme Court on Wednesday heard arguments on two cases relating to the
posting of the Ten Commandments on government grounds. A recent poll showed that
seventy-six percent of Americans support this religious display - a fact which
played into the hands of Justice Antonin Scalia.
According to Scalia, the Ten Commandments constitute "a symbol that
government authority comes from God…it is a profoundly religious message, but
it’s shared by the vast majority of the people…It seems to me that the minority
has to be tolerant of the majority’s view."
Frightening words from the land’s highest court. His issue, here, is not the
law - not the U.S. Constitution - but simply the majority viewpoint. (Which, of
course, he happens to share.)
In principle - but less and less in practice - our government is based on the
general concept of majority rule with certain minimum protections provided for
every citizen. The first amendment to the Constitution prohibits any "law
respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise
thereof." People have a right to their religious beliefs, if so inclined, and
the government will avoid entanglement.
But certain religious adherents - primarily the so-called "Religious Right" -
don’t respect that wall between church and state. (At least not between
their church and the state.) They want a right-leaning Supreme Court to
vote against the Bill of Rights and push this government further into the hands
of their god.
Let’s examine this majority rule issue from a different angle.
Imagine, for instance, that a majority of Americans favored something other
than the Ten Commandments. Perhaps they began placing, on government buildings,
large and explicit photos of an unclothed couple engaged in sexual intercourse.
From the majority viewpoint, it could easily be argued that nudity was the
natural state of humanity; that sexual coupling was the means of our very
existence. Both nudity and sex, of course, preceded the existence of the Holy
Would Justice Scalia still declare, "It seems to be that the minority has to
be tolerant of the majority’s view?"
Of course he wouldn’t, any more than he would have voted in favor of Al Gore
if the electoral circumstances had been reversed in 2000’s Bush v. Gore
It’s not law, it’s ideology.
Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying, "It will not do to investigate the
subject of religion too closely, as it is apt to lead to Infidelity."
Let’s investigate anyway.
There are numerous laws and punishments detailed in the Bible besides
the Ten Commandments. If the Supreme Court rules to allow the display of the
Decalogue on government property, let’s also insist that other such holy laws
also be displayed.
If a woman has lied to her husband about her virginity, "…they shall bring
out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall
stone her with stones that she die…" (Deuteronomy 22:13-21
Adultery’s another clear capital case: "…the man that committeth adultery
with another man’s wife…the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to
death." (Leviticus 20:10)
If a man rapes a virgin woman who is neither married nor engaged, "…the
man…shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall
be his wife…" (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)
A woman forced, by law, to marry her rapist? Let’s throw that one up on the
The list, of course, goes on: "…whoever doeth work [on the Sabbath day] shall
be put to death." (Exodus 35:2). "And he that curseth his father, or his mother,
shall surely be put to death." (Exodus 21:17). "If a man have a stubborn and
rebellious son…all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he
die…" (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).
If the concept of church-state separation is to be judicially eroded, let’s
not do it by half-measures. For every "Thou shalt not kill" and "Honor thy
father and thy mother" there exists a litany of decrees that should turn the
stomach of every decent human being.
If the Bible were indeed the words of a god, it would not be a god
worthy of worship. But since the book was written by men, let’s simply accept
that it reflected the prevailing attitudes of unenlightened people during a
harsh period of human history.
Let’s accept the Holy Bible for the antiquated, violent, sexist,
morally reprehensible work that it is.