By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & Health Sciences
Long Beach City College (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In 1999, following the Columbine High School massacre, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Ten Commandments (10C) Defense Act Amendment by a vote of 248 to 180. This act called for the 10C to be posted in every public school room, courtroom and government building across our nation.[i] Supporters in Congress claimed that “God’s Laws” formed the basis of the American legal system. They also claimed that posting the 10C would reduce violence, drug usage and immoral sexual behavior and would help to return our society to the Bible and to God. Polls indicated that Congress had the support of 3 out of 4 Americans.
Yet, posting the 10C is a really bad idea, unless our goal is a medieval Christian theocracy. Consider:
Commandment No. 1: You shall have no other gods. I am a jealous God. Worshipers of all other faiths and atheists are to be put to death. (This commandment tells us that there are, indeed, other gods, not just the Hebrew’s tribal god. Is this really something Christians want their children to know? Also, the U.S. is arguably the most religiously diverse country in the world, with over 1000 different faiths and branches. By posting the 10C, does Congress really want our nation’s school children to be taught intolerance toward Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists and worshipers of other faiths, or no faiths?)
Commandment No. 2: You shall not worship false idols under penalty of death. (In past centuries Catholics and Protestants fought to the death [particularly when governments took sides] over disagreements as to what constituted idol worship. Does the U.S. government really want to take sides in this contentious theological debate?)
Commandment No. 3: You shall not misuse my name under penalty of death. (What does this mean? We better know, since the penalty for breaking this commandment is death. Will cartoons which make fun of this biblical god carry a death sentence? Could this commandment even mean that those sanctimonious, poll-obsessed politicians who repeatedly use the word “God” in their public speeches for political gain are committing blasphemy?)
Commandment No. 4: You shall not work on the Sabbath under penalty of death. (There are no exceptions given. Does Congress really expect all Americans to just quit work, plus shut down all the shopping malls, hospitals and fire departments on the Sabbath, whatever day that is, on penalty of death? Of course not! But since when did the Lord God Almighty, Creator and Ruler of the Universe tell Congress that it was O.K. to skip this commandment? Isn’t ignoring or overruling the SUPREME RULER OF THE UNIVERSE a very dangerous thing to do?)
Creation vs. Evolution: The 4th Commandment also confirms the Genesis creation story by telling us that “… in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them…” (Yet, our evolution from an ancient fish-like vertebrate over the last 500 million years is considered essentially a fact in the scientific community. The persistence of this Genesis creation myth speaks to the success of Christian schools and churches and to the dismal failure of our nation’s educational system. How can democracy survive if we continue to renounce extremely well-established science and even the scientific method, itself? Does Congress really want to shove our students back into the scientific dark ages by having these Genesis creation myths resurrected as “God-given” fact in our classrooms?[ii]
Commandment No. 5: I command you to honor your father and mother. Disobedient children who curse their parents are to be stoned to death. (Nuf said.)
Commandment No. 6: You shall not murder. (However, the Old Testament contains a great many divinely ordained exceptions to the 6th C that would be considered barbaric today in any morally advanced society. Congress, of course, never planned to post all of the exceptions to not killing in our nation’s class rooms. But why not? Again, if the Bible really is the Word of God Almighty, Creator and Ruler of the Universe, which almost all members of Congress publicly claim, then why shouldn’t our students and citizens also learn all of the God-approved reasons to kill?)
Commandment No. 7: You shall not commit adultery under penalty of death. (Nuf said)
Commandment No. 10: You are not to covet your neighbor’s wife or his ox or his slaves. (I wonder if Congress is aware that this commandment directly conflicts with our entire global economy, which is fueled by desire. Few Americans today see anything wrong with “coveting” a neighbor’s “ox” and offering to buy it. Also, most women spend considerable time and money making themselves attractive to men in general so that they might be desired or “coveted”.)
Only three of the Ten Commandments are codified into modern law — laws against killing, stealing and bearing false witness. But these three laws have been found in societies everywhere, religious or not, including ones that existed long before the Hebrews’ tribal god summoned Moses to the mountain. They would scarcely have required the ‘Supreme Ruler of the Universe’ to engrave them on two stone tablets. In 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that posting the Ten Commandments in public schools, courtrooms and government buildings was unconstitutional (Stone v. Graham). In 2005 the Court reconfirmed the 1980 ruling.
[i] During the 1950s and 1960s, the Fraternal Order of Eagles erected as many as 4,000 markers, statues, and monuments featuring the Ten Commandments in public parks, government buildings, etc.
[ii] Today these creation myths are still apparently believed by former President George W. Bush, two U.S. Supreme Court Justices, one-third of all high school biology teachers, roughly half of all Americans, including members of Congress… and by two-thirds of all Texans!