Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Coalescence of church and state

The Louisiana State House of Representatives just unanimously passed a resolution to have a monument depicting the Ten Commandments on the state capitol grounds.

When challenged regarding this apparent defiance of church/state separation, lawmakers replied that there was no conflict.  "The proposed monument is more of an historic marker than a religious one," said Representative Patrick Williams (D-Shreveport).  "It's the role the Ten Commandments plays in shaping society and laws that's being recognized.  It's about our historical heritage."

Williams is also the one who responded to a question about why the legislative session was opened with a prayer with puzzlement.  "How do you define what 'separation' is?  After all, all denominations are allowed to pray."

Williams' opinion was mirrored by Representative Page Cortez (R-Lafayette).  "I don't see a problem having the Ten Commandments out in front of the Capitol," Cortez said.  "The Ten Commandments is the basis of Judeo-Christian principles.  A monument is simply a reflection of what we stand for."

It's simply a celebration of our "historical heritage," then?  Odd that no one is proposing erecting a monument to the Code of Hammurabi (one of the first codified legal systems) or the Magna Carta (which was one of the inspirations for the Bill of Rights).  Both of these form a major part of our "historical heritage."

As far as "how do you define separation?" -- well, Representative Williams, it's simple.  If it implies a governmental establishment of religion, it's not.  How's that?  And let's look at the Ten Commandments.  Oh, how about Number One:  "Honor the Lord thy God, who brought you out of slavery in the land of Egypt; you shall have no other God before me."  Hmmm, that seems pretty unequivocal.

The "historical heritage" argument is just a wedge, the same as the "teach the controversy" foolishness that gets brought up regarding evolution.  "In the interest of critical thinking, students should be encouraged to examine all sides of the argument, and look at alternate explanations."  Just as no one is proposing a monument to the Magna Carta, no one wants science teachers to "teach the controversy" about, for example, the periodic table.  The only realm of science in which anyone wants us to "teach the controversy" is evolutionary biology -- the one area that conflicts with traditional Christianity.  (And incidentally, there is no more "controversy" over evolution in the realm of peer-reviewed science than there is over the laws of chemistry.)

The interesting thing about the erecting of a monument to the Ten Commandments is that everyone is focusing on defending themselves against arguments over why they shouldn't be displayed, and no one seems to have a cogent argument about why they should be.  What earthly purpose does such a monument serve?  Let legislators pray in their churches.  Let them study biblical writings in their spare time.  Why do we need a religious monument on governmental grounds?  "Honor the Lord thy God" has no place in government, nor the schools (nor, for the record, in the Pledge of Allegiance).  The whole thing smacks of the Christian majority doing this just because they are a majority -- i.e., just because they can.

You might ask why I'm bothered by this.  Certainly, I can just ignore it; it would do me no harm, it might seem, to walk past the monument without stopping, and allow the Christians to have their little victory.  But what worries me is that old cliché of the slippery slope.  The Pledge of Allegiance, complete with "under god," is by law recited every morning over the loudspeakers at every public school in the United States.  Swearing-in rituals conclude with "so help me god."  Even our currency states "In God We Trust."  If America moves toward becoming a theocracy, it won't be a sudden collapse of the secular government and its replacement by a religious ruler, as it was when the Shah of Iran fled and was replaced by Ayatollah Khomeini.  It will be little step by little step, drip by drip, until one day we wake up and find ourselves in a country where Christianity drives policy, where religious law and secular law have coalesced to the point that they are indistinguishable.

1 comment:

  1. I think we are already at the point where Christianity DOES drive policy. Why else do we care what faith some politician claims to believe? Why does anyone care about Mitt Romney and his Mormon beliefs? Why else would politicians refer to war in the middle east as a Crusade?

    No, I am afraid the theocracy is here, but merely shrouded in ignorance. At least folks in Iran knew when their democracy was replaced. We sold our democracy away. All in the name of fear.