One Empty Gesture Requiring Posting the Ten Commandments

Holy platitudes, Batman!

Party like it’s 1956!

I’m not religious, but I deeply respect people of faith. Of course, I see the difference between religion and faith. The former is a hierarchical power structure; the latter is personal lived experience. I respect people’s lived experience far more than I respect power structures.

This week, a hierarchical power structure in Louisiana has decreed that the Ten Commandments shall be displayed in every classroom in their state.

This action, of course, violates the US Constitution, specifically its First Amendment which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Also, of course, the hierarchical power structure in Louisiana will argue that they aren’t Congress, and thus are free to pass laws establishing religion and prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Casuistry.

The US court system will waste a lot of time over the next few years arguing over the alleged technicality that supposedly allows a hierarchical power structure in Louisiana to coerce citizens with their particular vision of religion. But this law isn’t about the Constitution, law, or even religion. Like all right-wing political actions, this is about concentrating power.

An Empty Gesture of Power

This new law is about power, but it is ultimately an empty gesture. Why? Multiple reasons.

The Ten Commandments appear in a story within the Jewish Scriptures — yes, Jewish Scriptures, the Torah. It’s from what Christians slightly condescendingly label the “Old Testament.” That’s because Christianity has the “New Testament” that tells a story of a new covenant between God and humanity that replaced the old covenant between God and the Hebrews. Within Christianity, there has been much rational theological debate over how much of the old covenant — the Law (Torah) to which Jewish people are subjects — still applies to Christians. The consensus has been that most of the Jewish Law does not apply but that the Ten Commandments are still a good idea.

Why are the Ten Commandments accepted? To be honest, because unlike the Torah’s commandments about food, clothing, hairstyles, and the like, the Ten Commandments are both easy to follow and pretty much basic ethical principles accepted by all human societies.

Going backwards from Number 10, the Commandments say don’t covet, don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, and honor your parents. You’d be hard-pressed to find a society that doesn’t teach those six ethical virtues.

Commandment Number 4 is the idea of the Sabbath. Great idea. I’m not Jewish, but I reserve one day of the week to not work but relax and refresh. It’s a great practice. Jesus, in the “New Testament,” says the Sabbath was created for people not people for the Sabbath. It exists to benefit people. Heck, what society doesn’t acknowledge that people need time off? I mean, besides capitalism.

Commandment Number 3 is about not taking God’s name in vain. The historical rationale for that is unclear, but in practice it’s an admonition to be true to your word, don’t be a hypocrite. This ethical virtue is also universal to humanity, though not practiced as much as it should be.

The prohibition of graven images in Commandment Number 2 is quite straightforward. Muslims take that one seriously. Christians, not so much. Will the people who voted for the Louisiana law obey the Commandment and take down all crucifixes, especially the ones with Jesus? Defining “graven image” has been another issue sparking much rational theological debate throughout Christian history.

The Top Line as the Bottom Line

Commandment Number 1 is the main point of this new law. “No other gods,” understood to mean “no other religions or lived experiences than the one interpretation of religion we accept.” That’s the power play of the hierarchical power structure in Louisiana. That’s why it violates the clear intention of the First Amendment. It establishes one religion and implies that it prohibits all others.

Posting the Ten Commandments is a hypocritical, vain, and empty gesture. It’s not about promoting ethics to students because there are many other ways to do that. No, this is a right-wing attempt to concentrate power.

The supposed Christians behind this law would be obeying Commandment Number 3 if they were honest and just require posters in schools declaring “No non-Christians (as we define it) allowed.” It would look good next to a “Big Brother Is Watching You” poster.

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