Friday, 24 January 2014

Is Our Constitution Based on the Ten Commandments?

     There are monuments of the ten commandments outside courthouses and township halls all around the country. When a group trying to maintain the separation of church and state tries to remove the monument, the typical response is "This country was founded on Judeo-Christian values and our laws and Constitution are inspired by the ten commandments." Let's explore this idea.

1st commandment: "I am your one true god, and you will worship no other gods."

This goes against our very first Amendment and disallows the primary reason our forefathers left England! The right to practice or not practice a religion is what made America unique. How anyone could say our Constitution has anything to do with this is beyond me.

2nd commandment: "You may not make any graven images depicting anything in heaven or on Earth. You also shall not worship these images."

This one goes against two core American values: the freedom of speech, and once again, the freedom of religion.

3rd commandment: "Do not take God's name in vain."

This one also goes against our freedom of speech. When the U.N. proposed a ban on blasphemy last year, the U.S. was one of the first to say no. At the assembly, President Obama said:
"I know there are some who ask why we don’t just ban such a video. The answer is enshrined in our laws: our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech. Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs."

4th commandment: "Do not work on the Sabbath and keep it holy."

It's not illegal to work on Saturdays or Sundays. I also don't ever see this changing.

5th commandment: "Honor your father and your mother."

This command also has no place in our constitution or laws. Children are not required by law to obey their parents and it would be immoral to do so. If anything, the opposite is true. We do have laws in place to take children away from unfit parents who should not be honored.

6th commandment: "Do not murder."

This one is obviously a good idea. It's so good, every civilization has had this law since, well, civilization. There's nothing uniquely Judeo-Christian about this commandment at all. In fact, it was written in the Code of Hammurabi - a law code from Babylon that existed long before the Jewish holy books were written.

7th commandment: "Do not commit adultery."

Adultery is not illegal in the Constitution or any federal laws. It's illegal in a few states, but it's rarely enforced. Over the years, they have been decreasing in number and severity. Once again, this is not something our nation was based on.

8th commandment: "Do not steal."

Like number 6, this one is a good idea, but it's not uniquely Judeo-Christian.

9th commandment: "Do not lie."

Like number 6 and 8, this one is a good idea, but it's not uniquely Judeo-Christian.

10th commandment: "Do not covet your neighbor's possessions."

Not only is this not illegal, but it's also the underlying mechanism that drives capitalism. Back when the people lived in a caste system under God appointed monarchies, (Romans 13:1-7) this was useful to keep the peasants from pursuing class warfare. In a country like the USA where we claim to cherish upward mobility, we want people to want things. The free market is based on supply and demand!

So to summarize:
1, 2, 3, 4, (almost half) stand directly against our freedoms of religion and speech. These four alone make the monuments an affront to our laws.
57, and 10 are not reflected in our constitutional or federal laws. The last even undermines our economic model.
6, 8, and 9 are moral laws that we would have had anyway. (Every other country already had them as well.)

There are two more things I want to mention while we're on the subject.

     The first is that biblical morality is so often black and white. We're given unconditional morality dictated by absolute laws. True ethics are much more nuanced. Anyone who's had a university class on ethics has read "Being Good: A Short Introduction to Ethics" or something similar. Not only are there many shades of grey between right and wrong, but also in the corresponding punishments. The laws of the bible aren't anything like this. They list a crime followed by a punishment. Our own laws don't follow this template at all. God is not our judge. A judicial appointee is our judge.

     The second issue is that the nature of biblical divine law is nothing like our Constitution. God's laws are revealed as eternal truths. Our Constitution is a "living document" and can change. Imagine if our constitution stopped changing after the Bill of Rights. Our country would have collapsed! If our laws were based on the unchanging bible, we would still have slavery, women would not have any say (vote) over men, and our science/technology would have remained right where it was. With no acceptance or understanding of evolution, we would have never developed things like vaccines that combat ever evolving viruses.

If nothing here convinces you, then let the primary writer of the Constitution tell you himself in his own words:
"It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service [writing the constitution] had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven... it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses."
-John Adams, "A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America" (1787-88)

If you're religious, thank God for the separation between church and state. It's made our country strong!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

My History with the Emperor's Clothes

I was a big fan of the emperor's clothes. My family and friends weren't fashion experts, but they all knew about his legendary and wonderful fabric. One day, I overheard a few people speaking in hushed tones at my university. They said that the clothes were either invisible or didn't exist. What a radical and serious allegation! What's the likelihood of the emperor being naked? How could people not notice? How could my parents not have noticed? I didn't think much of it, but every time the topic of the emperor's clothes came up, their murmurings popped into my mind.
So I started going to the tailor's shop every week where he would tell the crowds about the fabric he had used while making the emperor's clothes. He said it was the softest he had ever felt and the most beautiful he had ever seen. The best part: he told us that he knew where to get more of the same fabric.  He promised to order a large supply of it when he could afford it and make a robe for each person at his shop! So, every week we would buy his clothes or sometimes just donate money to his shop. Occasionally he would donate clothes to disadvantaged children. I would say that was a win-win!
While many people came for his stories and his promise, I found myself enjoying the music he played in the background the most. It must have been the work of really great composers throughout the ages. I also noticed that the people who came to the tailor's shop were always really nice! I don't know if they were all genuinely nice, or if the tailor's shop and all his promises made people want to be nice. Either way, the effect was the same. This is where I belonged and the murmurers had nothing on us.
Except, they weren't murmuring anymore. Years had passed, and in that time they had started speaking out loud. They were writing books that accused the tailor of lying. They said the emperor's clothes were a "delusion" and that their belief was hurting society. Actually, it's true that the tailor and his closest followers wanted school to start every day with a mention of the emperor's fabric. It's true that in my sewing class, we had spent a lot of time talking about how to use the emperor's fabric rather than the fabric we had in stock. Also, it was the emperors opinion that the color chartreuse should never be worn. It was unnatural, eccentric, and it clashed with the emperor's clothes horribly. The townsfolk passed laws that made it illegal for people to wear chartreuse colored clothing. If chartreuse was your favorite color, you were out of luck. You couldn't even wear it in your own house. This started to seem wrong to me, but it was only a minority of people affected. I wasn't a fan of chartreuse myself, so I put it to the back of my mind.
I continued to ignore the books by the dissenters and started reading books about the emperor's fabric. In retrospect, I realize I only cared about hearing more about why I was right and why the dissenters were wrong. This was easy to do because there were a lot of books to choose from! Every book with positive things to say about the fabric was a bestseller in our town.
Yet, for some reason the number of dissenters continued to grow. One day, I got the crazy idea to hear what the dissenters had to say. I would have just a peek inside their insane world and be done with it. I borrowed one of their books from the library, and covered the front so nobody would see. I sat down on a bench one morning and started reading. It was so different! It discussed philosophies as old as the ancient Greeks, a history of "invisible" fabrics from all over the world, and the latest findings from fabric scientists! All of it relevant and all of it building up to an increasingly inescapable conclusion. The fabric books I had read started to fall down in my mind. My defenses were crumbling and every chapter dismantled yet another brick. As I was finishing the last chapter, I heard the emperor's processional bell down the street, which now sounded more like a funeral knell. My lifetime flashed in an instant as I re-imagined my whole life from this different perspective. I finished the book and suddenly noticed it was silent. I looked up, and to my horror, there was the emperor, and a crowd of people. The tailor's shipment had come in. Everyone was wearing their new robes of soft, beautiful, and most importantly: comforting fabric...and they were all naked.