Ten Commandments Up All Over A Public School

It is 2013. Am I stupid or just blindly optimistic for being surprised that a US public school has the Ten Commandments up everywhere?

Because there is such a school. Until May 15 of this year, which is 2013, they had the Ten Commandments posted in multiple places throughout the building. This is a public high school in Muldrow, Oklahoma, by the way, and you can read more about it here.

But, basically, they were threatened with a lawsuit after an anonymous student filed a complaint. The school relented, because I guess that they were aware that they were clearly in flagrant violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Members of the community complained that this was somehow persecution. The usual stuff that comes up with these things. Let me just clarify a few things:

The Ten Commandments are an integral part of religious doctrine for most Jews and Christians. They are found in the Torah (the first five books of what Christianity refers to as the Old Testament). These religious laws were, according to the narrative in Exodus, passed down to the Isrealites through Moses by their God, Yahweh.

The US government and its institutions cannot endorse any particular religion or establish an official religion. Which means that posting a set of religious laws is Unconstitutional. These laws are not only decidedly religious in origin, but they actively exclude American citizens of other faiths.

 

Let’s just break these things down:

1 – “You shall have no other gods before me.” This is, quite possibly, the most offensive and non-secular law within the Decalogue. It makes sense as a law within the Abrahamic faiths—it does not make sense as something in a public school where a student who, privately or publicly, is not a part of that faith will have to see it (outside of the context of someone’s school project or actual religious scholarship) hanging on the wall. In particular, many people within the US and elsewhere on the globe, are polytheists. We are exactly the sorts of people and are members of exactly the sort of faiths that the First Commandment is opposing. This should never be displayed on a public building in a way that suggests that I am unwelcome in the country of my birth.

2 – The second one is a little wordy. But this is the one about no graven images—no idols. Well, a lot of faiths use idols in their religious practices and many adherents possess these images out of devotion. A lot of overlap with the first one as to why this is offensive.

3 – Don’t take the name of the Abrahamic God in vain. That’s a specific restriction on members of that religion. Irrelevant to everyone else.

4 – This one is about the Sabbath. Not working on the Sabbath. Not bound by that restriction. I have done a great deal of work on both Saturday and Sunday, including going to my place of employment, homework, housework, yardwork, writing. Another specific restriction for the Judeo-Christian community.

5 – “Honor your father and your mother.” Well, not everyone has parents worth honoring. My father happens to be an awful person. While this one is not always good advice and while it is religious in origin, this one is not nearly as offensive as the first two.

6 – “Do not murder.” Well, yeah. Even if you believe that some people absolutely need killing, US law (and most laws) outlaw killing people under most circumstances.

7 – “Do not commit adultery.” Ridiculous. Even if interpreted by a narrow interpretation (“if you’re married, be monoamorous”), no government institution has a right to tell you anything of the sort. More widely interpreted, it’s a statement against not only extramarital sex, but premarital sex. Aww hell naw.

8 – “Do not steal.” Agreed! Inappropriate on a school’s wall because it, you know, is a religious doctrine, but in a vacuum, I have no problem with this rule.

9 – This one is about bearing false witness against your neighbor. I’m fine with this rule.

10 – The tenth one is really weird. This is the one about coveting your neighbor’s “possessions” (including livestock, servants, and wife—who does not seem to count as a neighbor). This one draws more of a “what the hell” response than the kind of moral outrage that some of the earlier ones elicit. (Though I should note that some people interpret this as a law against “mental crimes” of envy, while it is also argued that the original translation makes this a law against theft—specifically from your neighbor, which seems a little redundant with number eight)

 

The Ten Commandments are not and can never be secular symbols. They are not and can never be anything but a set of religious laws for a set of religious adherents. Hanging them up throughout the year (again, as opposed to displaying them as a part of a student’s classwork, such as a report on Judaism or Christianity or something along those lines) is absolutely an endorsement of particular religions over others. Unacceptable for any religion—mine included.

I think that it is fair to speculate that many of the people protesting the removal of the Ten Commandments would also protest the installation of, say, religious laws from the Qur’an. They would also protest a sign that began with “There is no God.”

Those two examples are how the Ten Commandments look to the rest of us.



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“An Army To Save America’s Souls”

I apologize in advance for any nightmares that this gives anyone. Because if you watch this video or even just read this article about it, it’s creepy.

Disclaimer: As I have mentioned before, I am not anti-Christian. I am opposed to a number of Christian beliefs, but I fully support Christians (most of whom, in my experience, are wonderful people) and their right to practice their faith.

I say that as a religious minority with many friends who are non-Christians, whether of minority faiths or non-religious. But I also say that as an American. Something like eighty-percent of US citizens are Christians; only about one-third (I say “only” like one-third is not terrifying) of US citizens would like to see the US adopt Christianity as its official state religion. So, the majority of US Christians are reasonable people who do not want the government imposing their beliefs upon their fellow citizens.

The terrifying video is made starring conservative Christian teenagers. Their message? That public schools are godless dens of debauchery where Christians are oppressed for their faith. That young Christians across the nation need to rally and, basically, that the country needs to backtrack in terms of religious freedoms by about sixty years.

It’s easy to look at this video and, after ignoring that a few of them set off your gaydar (they’re going to have some internal struggles in a few years), say “Oh these kids are horrible.”

But they aren’t. They say some scary things and they say some awful things. They also say some untrue things, of course. But you know that most kids at that age repeat the values of their parents—particularly when they are raised in households where differences of opinion are not accepted. This is not a representative sample of Christians or Christian teens or even conservative Christian teens. This is a representative sample of fringe-right evangelical statements, spoken through the mouths of teens.

Hate the message; pity these particular messengers.

So let’s just get a few things straight:

No one, including the Supreme Court, has banned students from praying in schools. Teachers and administrators are not allowed to lead students in prayer. Students are not allowed to disrupt class for any reason, including leading others in prayer. If a student wants to pray before eating or at any other moment of free time during the day, that has never been forbidden. They can pray privately. So long as they are not disruptive, they may pray in groups. There are multiple afterschool clubs dedicated to various Christian groups.

Creation is not a scientific theory. If you have that as a religious belief, then you have that as a religious belief and you presumably believe that either your God or the devil has planted a false trail of evidence to lead scientists to other conclusions. While I do not equate the two as beliefs, as educational topics, Creationism has as much of a place in a science classroom as Ancient Aliens has in a history classroom.

Images shown in sex education (for those students lucky enough to receive actual, comprehensive sex education rather than counterproductive abstinence-only drivel) are not pornographic. You see drawn cross-sections of people’s internal genital organs within a vague silhouette of human bodies. You might see some thermal images in video if you really get the whole story. That’s it.

Much like your right to swing your fist, your right to religious freedom ends at another person. Protecting everyone’s religious autonomy is not oppression, it’s . . . stopping some people from oppressing others.

I really wish that we could rescue young people from growing up in these kinds of mindsets. I think that everyone deserves more of a chance than these kids have. Perhaps, one day, when I give this wretched world the queen it deserves.

 

PS: They describe themselves as an army, which is horrifying enough. But I snorted with laughter when they said that Christ was their commander. If you want to express your faith by saying “Christ our king” or something like that, that’s fine. But I didn’t picture that. I just pictured Cobra Commander. Not the image that you want.

 



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The Bible Miniseries

Were any of you able to watch the History Channel’s miniseries, The Bible, all of the way through?

I’ll be honest—I started to watch. I did not make it very far. I did not even make it to what people are calling the “ninja angels” in Sodom. I mostly just saw Noah telling the story of Genesis in a thick Scottish brogue while the ark comically rocks back and forth.

Yes, that’s really how it began.

I did not grow up in a household of an Abrahamic faith, so, aside from reading a passage from the Old Testament in my high school World Literature class (we were comparing Noah’s Ark and a couple of other snippets with The Epic Of Gilgamesh), I had no direct exposure to the Bible until college, when I bought a copy of the Bible for a class (Old Testament Literature, a very interesting class) and read through the Old Testament.

So I was able to get through reading it, but not very far in the miniseries. At some point, I may try again, but goodness it was a little odd.

The main things that I read and heard about from the series were the ninja angels (killing the people of Sodom), Noah’s Scottish brogue (which I had already seen), and Jesus, who was apparently “super hot.” (Thus, the picture at the top of this post)

I’m not much for beards, but yeah, he’s hot. And, for some reason, white? White with a tan is still white.

A lot of people have strong opinions about religion and its portrayal on television. I mean, you have shows like The CW’s Supernatural, which, if you take it too seriously, is all but guaranteed to offend you on religious grounds no matter what beliefs you have. I happen to like Supernatural, but I also know to not take it seriously. Then The History Channel has Ancient Aliens, which is offensive to anyone with a sense of reason, but which also essentially reduces all religious belief to a bunch of confused humans misinterpreting contact with extraterrestrials.

I would like to just dismiss Ancient Aliens by assuming that we live in a reasonable world and that no one takes it seriously. But we live in a world where people believe in vast Illuminati conspiracies and actually take Glenn Beck seriously. Sadly, people will take just about anything seriously.

Personally, I think that putting religious material on television makes sense. If you can write it down, you can put it on television, whether it’s from a holy book (pretty specific to the Abrahamic faiths) or from other religious writings, storytelling, and, especially, history.

The Bible miniseries got a lot of viewers. I have to wonder how many of those were just “the Sunday crowd.” By which I mean, how many people watched it purely because of what it was—because they felt some level of religious obligation to watch it? Kind of like how I really like a few members of the cast of the See-Fee (SyFy) Channel’s new series, Defiance, so I tried to watch it even though it can’t really hold my interest in the long run and some of the makeup is positively cringe-worthy.

(Seriously, I love a couple of those cast members to pieces, but I didn’t make it to the third episode of Defiance and I doubt that I’ll go back to it, even though I want more actual science fiction on television and I love the concept of a television series that is tied to an MMO)

When you make a religious broadcast (or statement), you are bound to offend someone. This miniseries on The Bible followed the Bible’s narratives of events, rather than what archeology and history suggest actually happened. That’s pretty much expected. I’m not offended by The History Channel telling that story. I don’t believe in it—it would be weird if I did, considering that I’m not Jewish or Christian or Muslim.

So, I’m glad that The History Channel did this. It’s certainly better than their Fake History shows like Ancient Aliens and their ridiculous reality shows (stuff about truckers and pawn shops, maybe?).

Speaking of History Channel programming, have you guys seen any of Vikings? I saw the beginning and I really enjoyed it. I haven’t caught up yet, but I love it. And not just because some of my ancestors were vikings. But, yes, also because of that.



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My State Almost Tried To Ignore The Constitution

I live in North Carolina. That’s the United States east coast. My state has the Biltmore in the beautiful mountains to the west, Charlotte with major banking institutions in the southwest, well-known excellent hospitals and a major hub of technology businesses in Research Triangle Park, and our coastline in the east has beaches, a warm ocean, and the North Carolina sound is known for both Blackbeard’s activities and Roanoke Island (where an early colony vanished, leaving the word: “Croatoan” as the only clue regarding their disappearance). Large portions of The Hunger Games and Iron Man 3 were filmed here.

So, I like my state. Did we join with the bad guys* during the Civil War? Yes. Were we the home state of one of the worst US Senators in living memory, the late Jesse Helms? Unfortunately, yes. BUT for most of my life, we’ve had a Democratic governor. In 2008, North Carolina turned blue and voted to elect President Obama. We have a good education system and some wonderful universities (including Duke, of course—I did not go there for college, but I participated in some wonderful Duke programs in my early teens).

So, when I say that my state’s behavior on the governmental level since 2010 has been scary and out-of-character, I mean it. I cringe when my state is mentioned on The Daily Show because it used to be that we would get mentioned on the news because a hurricane had devastated our east coast or because of a record-setting outbreak of tornadoes in Raleigh in April 2011 that had meteorologists from all over the country in a tizzy.

Now, in 2010, as happened all over the country, a wave of scary, fringe-right Republicans (and I do mean fringe-right) came into office. In spring of 2012, there was a vote and Amendment One passed—strictly defining marriage between one man and one woman as the only legally recognized domestic union in the state. Politicians from both sides of the aisle argued fiercely against it, but it passed. For the record, the parts of the state with universities in them? They voted against Amendment One. As seen in the map below.

The counties in which I have lived and a county in which I intend to live? All voted against Amendment One. The state’s urban areas all fell under this category. But, like the rest of the world, North Carolina is getting better with time.

That said, we got a little scare as the speaker of our (currently terrifying) state house of representatives put forward but then buried (after a few days of embarrassing national media attention) a bill which would have attempted to render North Carolina exempt from the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Stupid, right? The Supremacy Clause in the Constitution is there for a reason. And the First Amendment is . . . I mean, really important. You can read more about that story here.

It kind of gets worse, though. Spurred by interest in the topic, a poll found that one-third of those Americans who participated (hopefully they oversampled some demographic, because that is just too high a fraction) would favor making Christianity the official religion in their home states. It also found that one-third would favor making Christianity the official religion of the United States.

One. Third. Of Americans.

Guys, that’s terrifying. I don’t even want my religion as the official faith of my state or country, much less someone else’s.

Honestly, I was more comfortable when it was just a few state representatives in my state acting up while they’re still in power. Embarrassing, sure, but just a bump in the road of progress.

One-Third of Americans want an official** state religion. If that’s true, I don’t even know what to do about that. It’s scary.

 

*Guys, Lincoln and the Union weren’t perfect, but let’s not ever pretend that the good guys/bad guys line is not obvious. I don’t like the states having the power to set different ages of consent or requirements for a driver’s license, and you can disagree with me if you like. But the Confederacy was fighting for the rights of the states to own human beings because of their race. Those are called the bad guys. And I say “we,” because it’s not like I’m from NC because my parents happened to move here. My maternal grandfather’s grandmother remembered the Civil War, including the parts about her family’s slaves. Which they owned in some numbers, apparently. That makes me all kinds of uncomfortable.

**Talk about official state religions is a great time to use the “Muslim Test.” When conservative Christian politicians try to draft legislation to let prayers be said over a loudspeaker at a public school sportsball game or something like that, just see how they would respond to their own idea if it were in the form of Muslim prayer. As an outsider, I don’t see much of a difference between the idea of living in an officially Christian nation or an officially Muslim nation, but the sorts of people who draft this kind of legislation tend to see a huge difference.



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