I am starting to hate the Ten Commandments. Or rather, I’m starting to hate their role in our society.
A lot of reactionary assholes out there think the solution to all problems is simply to stick up a copy of the Ten Commandments where folks can see it, and hey! problem solved! This week, reactionary asshole-in-chief Glenn Beck suggested that if we’d only pay more attention to the Ten Commandments, catastrophes like the earthquake in Japan wouldn’t happen. In my home state of Virginia, school officials in Giles County posted the Ten Commandments on the wall of a local high school after the Columbine shootings as “a natural reaction to such an alarming moral breakdown.” (How or why it was a natural reaction is unclear.) When there were complaints that posting religious scripture in a public school violated the church-state divide, the Commandments were removed. This sparked outrage among the local conservative Christians, students began sticking copies onto the wall with tape in protest, and the school board voted to officially re-post them. Now the ACLU is spearheading a lawsuit to remove them again.
Lather, rinse, repeat. Fighting over posting the Ten Commandments in public schools, courthouses and civic buildings happens constantly in the US. It’s enough to make me want to do away with the damn things altogether, because to be perfectly frank, the majority of people—including the Ten Commandments’ most vocal cheerleaders—truly have no fucking clue what they are or what they mean. For the majority of Christians—and it’s always Christians who want to post the Ten Commandments—the Commandments are just a talisman. They are a shorthand for God, morality, religion, family values, all that righteous stuff that Christians love to get righteous about.
Problem is, the whole notion that Real Americans can or will follow all the Ten Commandments is patently absurd. Are they going to get rid of their crucifixes, paintings and figurines of Jesus? (Thou shalt not make for thyself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.) Will they give up any kind of work or play on Sunday and only go to church? (Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy). Will they give up saying “I swear to God” or “Oh my fucking God?” (Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain)?
And will they hold those observances of the Commandments to be just as important as the commandments not to murder or commit adultery or steal? Because the Ten Commandments do not give precedence to the bans on murdering and cheating. Murdering and cheating, according to the Ten Commandments, are just as bad as painting a picture of Noah’s Ark or saying “Oh my fucking God!”
Yeah, I don’t think so either. And since we know they’re not going to do it, who are they to tell the rest of us that we should? Especially people like Congressman Lynn Westmoreland, who, as you can see in the video above, wants the Ten Commandments posted in every courthouse in Georgia even though he doesn’t actually know what they are. (Believe me, if you questioned a roomful of fundamentalist Christians, an awful lot would be similarly ignorant about the particulars).
Religious people who want to wave the Ten Commandments before our eyes at every possible opportunity are using them as a blunt instrument to bludgeon their Christian beliefs—not Judeo-Christian, mind you, just Christian—into everyone else whether we like it or not. Which is not only in violation of the First Amendment when it’s done in a public space, but a completely dickish and intolerant thing way to treat your fellow citizens (dickish and intolerant being the usual hallmarks of fundamentalist Christianity).
So even when I go to shul tomorrow night and stand before the tablets engraved with the Ten Commandments, worshipping the God who we believe gave them to
Charlton Heston Moses, I’m going to be wishing that my fellow Americans would just give the Ten Commandments a rest already.