Skip to comments.The Ten Commandments vs. America
Posted on 09/05/2003 1:45:10 PM PDT by G. Stolyarov II
In all the discussion about displaying the Ten Commandments in the Alabama courthouse, has anyone asked the fundamental question: what are the Ten Commandments? What is their philosophic meaning and what kind of society do they imply? Religious conservatives claim that the Ten Commandments supplied the moral grounding for the establishment of America. But is that even possible? Let's put aside the historical question of what sources the Founding Fathers, mostly Deists, drew upon. The deeper question is: can a nation of freedom, individualism and the pursuit of happiness be based on the Ten Commandments? Let's look at the commandments. The wording differs among the Catholic, Protestant and Hebrew versions, but the content is the same. The first commandment is: "I am the Lord thy God." As first, it is the fundamental. Its point is the assertion that the individual is not an independent being with a right to live his own life but the vassal of an invisible Lord. It says, in effect, "I own you; you must obey me." Could America be based on this? Is such a servile idea even consistent with what America represents: the land of the free, independent, sovereign individual who exists for his own sake? The question is rhetorical. The second commandment is an elaboration of the above, with material about not serving any other god and not worshipping "graven images" (idols). The Hebrew and Protestant versions threaten heretics with reprisals against their descendantsinherited sin"visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation . . ." This primitive conception of law and morality flatly contradicts American values. Inherited guilt is an impossible and degrading concept. How can you be guilty for something you didn't do? In philosophic terms, it represents the doctrine of determinism, the idea that your choices count for nothing, that factors beyond your control govern your "destiny." This is the denial of free will and therefore of self-responsibility. The nation of the self-made man cannot be squared with the ugly notion that you are to be punished for the "sin" of your great-grandfather. The numbering differs among the various versions, but the next two or three commandments proscribe taking the Lord's name "in vain" and spending a special day, the Sabbath, in propitiating Him. In sum, the first set of commandments orders you to bow, fawn, grovel and obey. This is impossible to reconcile with the American concept of a self-reliant, self-owning individual. The middle commandment, "Honor thy father and mother," is manifestly unjust. Justice demands that you honor those who deserve honor, who have earned it by their choices and actions. Your particular father and mother may or may not deserve your honorthat is for you to judge on the basis of how they have treated you and of a rational evaluation of their moral character. To demand that Stalin's daughter honor Stalin is not only obscene, but also demonstrates the demand for mindlessness implicit in the first set of commandments. You are commanded not to think or judge, but to jettison your reason and simply obey. The second set of commandments is unobjectionable but is common to virtually every organized societythe commandments against murder, theft, perjury and the like. But what is objectionable is the notion that there is no rational, earthly basis for refraining from criminal behavior, that it is only the not-to-be-questioned decree of a supernatural Punisher that makes acts like theft and murder wrong. The basic philosophy of the Ten Commandments is the polar opposite of the philosophy underlying the American ideal of a free society. Freedom requires: a metaphysics of the natural, not the supernatural; of free will, not determinism; of the primary reality of the individual, not the tribe or the family; an epistemology of individual thought, applying strict logic, based on individual perception of reality, not obedience and dogma; an ethics of rational self-interest, to achieve chosen values, for the purpose of individual happiness on this earth, not fearful, dutiful appeasement of "a jealous God" who issues "commandments." Rather than the Ten Commandments, the actual grounding for American values is that captured by Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged: "If I were to speak your kind of language, I would say that man's only moral commandment is: Thou shalt think. But a 'moral commandment' is a contradiction in terms. The moral is the chosen, not the forced; the understood, not the obeyed. The moral is the rational, and reason accepts no commandments."
I stopped there. Some of the Founders were Diests. Most were not.
With or without paragraphs.
Maybe you should have kept reading. :) Incidentally, both Thomas Jefferson (who inspired the First Amendment and first coined the phrase "separation of church and state" when explaining its establishment clause) and John Madison (who actually drafted the First Amendment) were both Deists. So was George Washington, who presided over the Constitutional Convention.
The only "Framer" who was clearly a a deist, was Thomas Paine. His Age of Reason makes it perfectly clear that that was his viewpoint at the end of his life (though not when he wrote his towering works, Common Sense and The American Crisis).
This is typical of the leftists; when you give an inch, they take a mile. People like Binswanger and the Ayn Rand Institute shove Tom Paine into the "atheist" category -- they take each political philosopher, and shove them one more notch to the left than they really were.
As the author on an upcoming book on Tom Paine (entitled These Are the Times that Try Men's Souls) I will cheerfully take Binswanger on, nose to nose and research to reseach.
Is he reading this thread? Binswanger, you are a liar, and should be ashamed of yourself. There, does that cover the waterfront?
It was John Wycliffe, in the 14th century who said, "This Bible is for the government of the people, by the people, for the people"
George Washington was a Christian. His own personal writings and an affirmation by his own family strongly rebut this lie.
I'm very tired of the re-writing of American history to support the lies of the godless.
Washington was a Christian. A true believer. His writings make this abundantly clear.
Like I stated earlier, some founders were Deists. Most were not.
Ouch, did I write that? :) James Madison. Dam spellchecker is on the blink again.
You have no historical basis for that assertion. The "separation of church and state," as we know it, was discovered by the Warren Court in 1962. It is nowhere in the Constitution or any other founding document.
2 deists, one no pref and 52 Chritstinas, mostly Calivinists a conservative sect.
No. Jefferson used the phrase in a famous 1802 letter to describe the meaning and intent of the establishment clause. Madison was, if anything, an even stronger advocate of separation of church and state than was Jefferson.
Likewise, Jefferson did not construct a "wall of separation", Justice Hugo Black did that in Everson in 1946. In fact Jefferson and Madison authored a law, while members of the Virginia Legislature, proscribing penalties for breaking the Sabbath. Jefferson, as POTUS, used the public treasury to build Catholic missions for the Indians and man them with the word of God, the Bible.
And that's the rest of the story.
To assert that a phrase used one time in private correspondence should determine our national policy is stretching it.
A resolution calling for a national day of Prayer:
RESOLVED, That a joint committee of both Houses be directed to wait upon the President of the United States, to request that he would recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging, with grateful hearts, that many signal favors of almighty God, especially by affording them the opportunity peaceably to establish a Constitution of government for their safety and happiness.
US Congress, 25 Sep 1789
Well, since the SCOTUS has deemed it perfectly proper to cite the private correspondence of a POTUS to a Baptist minister in Danbury, CT as legal precedent, there is a simple solution to the matter.
President Bush can simply write a letter to a current Baptist minister in Danbury, Ct letting him know that displaying the Ten Commandments, praying before football games, voluntary rectitation of the Pledge with the words "under God" and voluntary prayer in public institutions are indeed Constitutional.
ALRIGHT! PIZZA'S HERE! Sausage, extra cheese and mushrooms (for the wife) Gotta go.
Regarding religion, the First Amendment was intended to accomplish three purposes. First, it was intended to prevent the establishment of a national church or religion, or the giving of any religious sect or denomination a preferred status. Second, it was designed to safeguard the right of freedom of conscience in religious beliefs against invasion solely by the national Government. Third, it was so constructed in order to allow the States, unimpeded, to deal with religious establishments and aid to religious institutions as they saw fit.
I don't know why an invisible country (you can't find "America" on a map) would have trouble serving an "invisible Lord".
These historical points are interesting, but the overall point -- and one of the key points of the original article -- is that separation of church and state is essential to a free society. Jefferson and Madison were absolutely correct on this point. We have the benefit of more than 5,000 years of human history to illustrate the consequences of people who try to impose their particular religion on the rest of us. We saw it in spades during the Dark and Middle Ages, the heyday of religious rule. We see it today in places like Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as in the Islamofascist terrorist movement. In sum, theocracy and religious fanaticism, in all of their forms, is hazardous to human life and well-being.
The Bill of Rights hadn't yet been ratified and therefore were not yet the law of the land. Nice try. :)
The founding fathers knew that, which is why they were always respectful of the God of the Bible, even though they were deists. They knew that if they didn't make it appear they had God on their side, they wouldn't have Christians on their side. And today, that means they wouldn't have anybody at all.
Something for you secular humanists to consider, when the US government collapses and the government jobs you guys always hold go unfunded.
"CONGRESS shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
The phrase that governs all the rest of the sentence is " Congress shall make no law..." It is addressed to no other branch of government. Even if we make a giant leap to the view that the First Amendment was made applicable to the states by the 14th Amendment, it is still not clear what application could be made of it.
The 14th Amendment provides that " The CONGRESS shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article." But how can Congress legislate about matters concerning which the governing phrase is, CONGRESS shall make no law? The obvious answer is that it can't.
That aside and even supposing the the 14th made the First applicable to the states, there was NO grant of power to the Federal courts to lay down rules as to what constituted an establishment of religion, what states governments might authorize regarding religion, how local governments might celebrate religious occasions etc. No such powers are granted to any branch of the federal government, including Congress, by the First Amendment.
For nearly 70 years after the adoption of the 14th Amendment, the courts and and just about everybody else believed the First Amendment meant what it said, no more no less.It was not until the 1930's and 40's that the federal judiciary started to stick it's nose under the tent of state authority in the matter of religion and morals.
The fed courts have hijacked a power not enumerated to them in the Constitution
So, those who crafted the 1st Amendment immediately disregarded it and had a "let's proclaim a national day of prayer and acknowledge God before this monster we have created comes into effect and we will no longer be allowed to" attitude?
I think not.
Again historically inaccurate. The 14th Amendment was never intended to apply the establishment clause to the states. That is evidenced by the Blaine Amendment which failed and 14 other attempts to begin the amendment process in Congress applying the 1st Amendment to the states.
The 14th Amendment was intended to protect the individual rights of all US citizens. A worthy cause. The establishment clause was a restraint on the federal government, not an individual right.
Of note here is that all the states managed to disestablish state religions without the omnipotent 14th Amendment and it's penumbras.
But that's neither here nor there. The Constitution never required the banning of religion from the public square. Quite the contrary as evidenced by Article 1 Section 7 of the US Constituion which proscribes doing business on Sunday, a bow to the Fourth Commandment. More to the point the founders acknowledged that rights come from God, "the Creator", not from the state, the SCOTUS or Presidents writing letters to Danbury Baptists.
Banning of religion from the public square is Marxist, not Jeffersonian.
Which brings us to your final paragraph. Undoubtedly in times past there has been lots of killing and mayhem due to religion and there is to this day. But if you want to go purely on a numbers basis Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot et al have religion beat by miles and there deeds have been in the recent past, not ancient history.
You can argue that God shoul be banned from the public square because it offends some folk but you can't do it honestly from a historical or Constitutional basis.
If you want God and religion banned from public you should do it honestly be amending the Constitution to do just that and not rely on judicial activism whne it accords with your ideology. When they come for your guns don't be surprised if they find a right to be free of weapons in the 14th Amendment.
The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: that it connected in one indissoluble bond civil government with the principles of Christianity.
-John Quincy Adams
(Source: John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1851), Vol. VI, p. 9.)
At least two ways that I know of. One, the privileges and immunities clause -- the rights set forth in the First Amendment (including but not limited to the establishment clause) are privileges and immunities of all US citizens. Two, these rights are part of our substantive right to liberty under the due process clause. I personally prefer the first method, but my understanding is that the Supreme Court essentially adopted the second method.
A third method is the Ninth Amendment, which should be construed to incorporate by reference the individual rights philosophy set forth in the Declaration of Independence. My understanding is that no court has ever used the Ninth Amendment this way -- unfortunately.
The federal courts have this power of judicial review under Article III -- a question of law that has been settled since the Marbury vs. Madison case. Moreover, the right to religious freedom -- which is what we are discussing here -- can equally be derived from the Ninth Amendment, the privileges and immunities clause of the 14th Amendment, or the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.
I agree that the 14th Amendment was intended to protect individual rights, but would add that religious freedom (and, more broadly, intellectual freedom) is not only an individual right, but arguably one of the most important individual rights we have. The Founding Fathers, such as Jefferson and Madison, were acutely aware of the long, sorry history of the commingling of church and state during that time that historians now call the Dark and Middle Ages. Indeed, many people came from Old Europe to the New World to escape religious tyranny.
If the State has the right to impose religion on you, then it effectively owns or controls your mind and your life -- the very opposite of the State's recognition of your "inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." It is no accident that the man who wrote these words in the Declaration of Independence was also the man who explained that the establishment clause of the First Amendment established the principle of separation of church and state.
I don't think that our choice is between religion and Communism (or Marxism, or socialism), but between freedom and statism -- whether the government recognizes your inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, or whether the government violates these rights to some degree by asserting ownership or control over your mind, your property, and your life. Theocracy, or religious tyranny, is merely one form of statism. Communism is another form of statism. Both forms, and many other variations, are to be distinguished from the constitutional republic that our Founding Fathers actually intended for us, a form that -- albeit imperfectly -- was based on the individual rights philosophy outlined in the Declaration of Independence.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.