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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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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Not Your Life, Not Your Soul

I’ve talked about this before—this being the religious rights of young children and infants. Circumcision, where it is not medically necessary (in most cases, it is not), should not be practiced upon infants or upon children too young to give informed consent (if you’re too young to have a say in which parent should have custody of you in a divorce, you’re too young to consent to minor elective surgery).

And I have mentioned that infant baptism is creepy as hell. And please do not misunderstand my meaning—if you are fifteen or twenty and you decide that you are a Christian and want to dedicate yourself to whichever denomination of that faith, more power to you. Get baptized. If you decide on Judaism or Islam, then, by all means, get circumcised. At such a time as you are capable of making that decision for yourself.

I understand the mechanics of baptism—which, depending upon the denomination or the family, ranges from a pledge by the family to raise the infant as a Christian to claiming the child’s soul for the Christian God to divinely cleansing the infant of spiritual evil (sin) believed to be inherent to all humans. As with all religious rites, some members of faith communities treat these as expected social events and give them no more thought than one would a bridal shower, while others hold baptism and other early religious rites as being of vital spiritual importance—as well as mandatory.

Please stop it. Like the title says—it’s not your life. It’s not your soul. This extends beyond infancy and early childhood. If you are a Christian and your thirteen-year-old wants to start reading about Theravada Buddhism or another denomination of Christianity or otherwise does not believe what you do—that’s normal.

Adolescence is a standard time for children to begin striking out on their own in small ways—questioning the political views of their parents, seeking alternative activities ( Like the cliche: “But you love football.” “No, dad. You love football! I like ballet!”), discovering where they fit in socially, and very likely reconsidering their religious beliefs. Atheists may take up an interest in Jesus. Reform Jews may look into Orthodox Judaism. Agnostics may start reading about contemporary Paganism.

It’s called being in high school. Students are more open about it in larger schools, when greater diversity makes them feel more comfortable being honest with themselves (my school had about a dozen Pagan students and you were likely to have an openly LGBT classmate in every class, especially by senior year—but, in college, I met people who never met a non-Christian until high school).

It’s also called growing up.

If you’re a Methodist and you are worried that your child may leave the church because he or she is reading about Buddhism in his or her free time, relax. Sometimes, students just read about their friends’ beliefs, or for school projects. And sometimes looking at other faiths can help you to put your own into perspective—and to strengthen your preexisting beliefs. Faith is not worth anything if it cannot be challenged.

Now, in some religions (namely, the Abrahamic religions), being outside of the faith is believed to have severe consequences—beyond simply making one’s parents uncomfortable. I’m a Pagan. Specifically, an eclectic Revivalist. If my child became a Buddhist or an atheist or a Christian, my response would be mild, mostly silent, disappointment. I would much prefer that to a child who did sports, dangerous drugs, or worse, was an otherkin. That’s it. I would never raise my child to be a member of my faith. I would not withhold affection or financial support or dangle incentives in the hopes of getting a hollow admission of adherence.

Why? Because, in any religion, accepting a label and having genuine belief and devotion are radically different. Going through the motions without true belief is completely meaningless.

You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink. Your children are not equines—in this metaphor, you can recommend your favorite drinking spots and watch them figure it out for themselves. That way, if they choose the same one that you chose, whether they are in middle school or college or later in adulthood, it will actually mean something.

(Christians are certainly taking notice of drops in church attendance and religious adherence among their children who go to college and, for the first time, find that they have a choice. Give them a choice earlier on, and they’re more likely to make one that will make you happy. Even if they make another choice, it will still be their choice.)



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‘Doomsday’ Is A Bit Of A Stretch

photo of doomsday pictures
First of all, every time some yahoo says something about the impending “doomsday,” I think about the DC supervillain, Doomsday, and then I think about Superman: Doomsday, the animated film (arguably not for kids) which gets me to cry every time that I see it because after watching Superman get beaten to death by a horrible monster, you then see Lois Lane and Martha Kent crying and I just can’t handle it.

ANYWAY, you guys, the world is not ending this December 21st. And I think that few people would agree with me more than the ancient Mayans. Or contemporary Mayans, really.

It’s not a doomsday prophesy. It’s not really a prophesy (the word “prophecy” is generally misused, but that is an entirely different issue). It’s a calendar marking cyclical events. In the simplest terms, the Mayan “Long Count” calendar is a very lengthy unit of time as expressed in the charting of time. Just like a decade or a century or a millennium. In this case, it was based upon (and I won’t walk you through the math that adds up to it), a period of 5,125 years.

At the end of such a period, there is a transition—to the next set of years. That is all. You celebrate it like you celebrate the dawn of a new millennium. That was the Mayan view of things. It’s an arbitrary date to celebrate the passing of time. I am writing a book. I am reasonably pleased when I finish writing a chapter; I am much more excited when I finish a chapter whose number is a multiple of ten. Why? Mostly because our numbering system is a base-ten system, and so we tend to identify milestones by multiples of ten.

Like any significant date on the calendar, you will always have crazy people who believe that doomsday is here. Not only is this not what the Mayans believed (or believe) about this upcoming Winter Solstice (that’s the 21st, you guys). It is just not a Mayan kind of belief. It is, though not uniquely so, a Judeo-Christian concept. One of the beliefs of early Judaism which set it apart from the beliefs of other northwestern Semitic peoples was that there would be a divinely ordained End Of The World in which the dead would be bodily resurrected—which was why burial in which bodies were intact until burial was important. Christianity has, from the very beginning, held a belief in the very imminent end of the world, one that has evolved with time (and, interestingly, a coded message to fellow Christians became the Book of Revelation which …

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