Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Which Will Be the Official Tennessee State Version of the Ten Commandments

Posted By on Tue, Mar 20, 2012 at 5:42 AM

10-commandments.jpg
The trouble with all the sneaky "Aren't I so clever? I found a way for us to display the Ten Commandments" bullshit is that it doesn't address all of the issues involved. The broad issue is whether a city or a state displaying the Ten Commandments is implicitly endorsing the merits of the religions that follow them (and the courts usually say that it is). It's also that it puts the state in the business of deciding which Christian denominations are right and, hell, even which book of the Bible is more authoritative than others.

Is that what you want, Christians of Tennessee? For these bozos to be deciding theological matters like "Which version of the Ten Commandments is right?" Think carefully. Choose the state legislator you least like and then ask if you trust him or her to answer that question correctly.

Southern Beale tackled this issue on her blog back in January. As she points out, even choosing how to number the commandments shows a bias toward one denomination over another.

Think it doesn’t matter whether coveting your neighbor’s wife is forbidden in No. 8 or No. 7? Wars have been fought over this stuff. Families have been torn apart, great schisms have occurred, the Reformation and revolutions. Do we want to reignite this debate? Does anyone seriously think the Anglican or Roman Catholic church wants to let the Southern Baptists decide which one is the right one?

And I'd like to add to that. The Ten Commandments appear twice in the Old Testament. Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. Those versions are almost identical. But only almost.

Check out Exodus 20:8-11.

8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Now check out Deuteronomy 5:12-15.

12 “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

So, which is it? Do we endorse the version in which we rest on the seventh day because God did? Or do we endorse the version in which we rest on the seventh day because the Israelites were slaves in Egypt and God freed them?

Or do we put up all versions — numbered in various ways, different reasons given, in the preferred translation of whatever local churches raise a stink — because the state legislature isn't qualified to be the final authority on which version is right?

See, that's the thing. The First Amendment's guarantee of the freedom of religion isn't about preventing religion from meddling in state affairs. It's about protecting religion from being meddled in by the state. There are a lot of snake-oil salesmen in this state who are selling an elixir that says on the label, "We are a Christian nation," but the bottle is actually full of a potion designed to let them use the weight of the state to impose their version of Christianity on other Christians.

The state shouldn't be in the business of deciding which Christians are the right ones. And you'd think more Christians would be nervous about legislation like this, which opens the doors for the state to make such decisions. But I guess not.

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