What’s with the continuing Christian obsession with the Ten Commandments, anyway? The most recent was a report that a granite monument engraved with the Ten Commandments had been erected on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol. The monument lasted less than 24 hours. Early the next morning an individual destroyed it by ramming it with his car. He stated that, while he was a born-again Christian, he also respected the First Amendment to the Constitution. The man was taken into custody, suspected of having mental illness issues.
This episode once again raises questions. Why do Christians treat the Ten Commandments as a symbol of their faith? Why not just stick with a cross or one of those stylized drawings of a fish that you see on car bumpers? They’re simple and get the message across that the person displaying the symbol is a Christian. Some of the fish symbols even have a cross in place of the fish’s eye, just to make the point clearer.
In a prior essay, I pointed out that the Ten Commandments are, in fact, a dreadful choice as a symbol of Christianity. They are primitive and woefully incomplete. They tacitly endorse slavery. They portray God as jealous, demanding, and vengeful. And perhaps most puzzling, they have nothing to do with the contemporary Christian message of a loving God and the promise of salvation through Christ’s sacrifice. If Christians wanted to proclaim their faith with biblical quotes, there surely would be better choices. The 23rd Psalm has always been a fan favorite, with its portrayal of God as a good shepherd who ensures the well-being of his flock. John 3:16 might be another choice, promising salvation for those who accept Christ’s divinity. After all, isn’t that the essence of Christian faith?
No one objects (or should object) to individuals who might want to declare their faith by posting the Ten Commandments on private property or on social media. Churches do it all the time. No, what is telling about this obsession with the Ten Commandments is the insistence that they be posted on government property, particularly state capitols and courthouses. This demand bespeaks a more active agenda than the simple one of expressing one's Christian faith. Instead, it represents the belief that ours should be a Christian nation, governed by Christian laws. This would include worship of the Christian god, as well as the establishment of rules of personal conduct consistent with whatever brand of Christianity the proponents might be advocating. Such a position, in my view, is a clear violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
For anyone who questions this analysis, who supports the public display of the Ten Commandments on government property, I would ask that you consider the following: How would you respond if Americans were predominantly Muslim rather than Christian, and there were proposals for the erection on government property of monuments that contained precepts of Sharia law from the Koran or other Islamic writings?
© 2017 John M. Phillips