Saturday, May 24, 2008

10 Commandments the Foundation of Law? Where?

The Religious Freedom Coalition, led by Bill Murray (son of Madelyn), is pushing for a Ten Commandments Weekend, in order to "recognize the Ten Commandments as the foundation of law in this country".

"But with Nancy Pelosi in charge of the House and Harry Reid in charge of the Senate, we can't have a voice. We can't get these out and open and celebrate the Ten Commandments," he contends.

What do you mean you don't have a voice? You just used your voice didn't you? You can organize all the 10C celebrating you can stand and no one will lift a finger to stop you. Did jackbooted thugs come drag you away? Of course not.

Now if there were a Truth Police, THEY might come drag you away for uttering such nonsense, since the 10C are in no way, shape, or form, the foundation of law in this country. Our foundation is the constitution, which was based in part on English common law and the writings of John Locke. The 10C appear nowhere, directly or otherwise, in the constitution, nor do they have any relevance to most of the laws we have in this country.

Don't believe me? Let's review the 10C:

1) No gods but Yahweh
2) No idols
3) No Lord's name in vain
4) Keep the Sabbath Holy
5) Honor parents
6) No murder
7) No adultery
8) No theft
9) No bearing false witness
10) No coveting others' goods

Now compare this to American society. We have a constitutional right to worship any gods or no gods, can make any idol we care to, say whatever name of whatever gods in whatever fashion we choose, and keep or not keep any holy day we choose, or none. So not only do Commandments 1-4 not form the basis for our laws, they actually are ILLEGAL according to the first amendment the founders chose to make to the constitution.

Honoring our parents, avoiding adultery, and not coveting others' goods might be good ideas, but they are rarely made into law. It also hardly taxes our imaginative limits to conceive of scenarios where it would be wise to do otherwise. Should abusive parents be honored? Life is rarely so simple.

That leaves murder, theft and bearing false witness. While these are common in our laws, and rightly so, the 10C can hardly take credit for them. They exist in practically every society, though with a notably wide range of interpretation: who one can kill lawfully in one society can be very different than in another. And judging from the incessantly dishonest nature of the creationists and their quotemining (ie lying), bearing false witness doesn't mch form the basis for their behavior either. So, far from being the basis of our laws, the bulk of the 10C would be illegal to put into law, and the few parts worthy of that are so universal that one would have to be truly blinkered to give the 10C credit for them. The 10C is outdated and irrelevant to modern life.


alex said...

Nice post. The only critique would be with the last sentence: "The 10C is outdated and irrelevant to modern life."

I think you meant "irrelevant to American law", which is how your first and fourth paragraphs implied it. Since there are hundreds of thousands (small, admittedly, but still there) of modern American people living modern lives who put great stock in these 10 Cs, I just can't see these Cs being called "irrelevant to modern life".

ScienceAvenger said...

I would dispute that there are even that many people who actually live by the 10C. Oh, there are plenty who give it lip service, but that that isn't the same thing at all.

alex said...

Your mentioning the ideas about "giving the law lip service" and the "incessantly dishonest nature of the creationists, bearing false witness" confuses me.
This has nothing to do with the laws themselves being outdated and irrelevant.
Are the laws that prohibit jaywalking irrelevant? Do many people give them lipservice and break them? Does that make them irrelevant?

ScienceAvenger said...

What's confusing about it? They tout the laws, but then don't even follow them. So how relevant can they be?

I'd say any law that is ignored, daily, by 99.9% of the population, without penalty or cost is irrelevant to their lives. If that isn't irrelevant, what is?

alex said...

I totally agree. But I disagree with your belief that the hypothetical percentages you gave are based in reality.

James F. McGrath said...

On the one hand, it would be unconstitutional for the first several commandments to become part of American law. In that sense, the two are at odds.

On the other hand, it is the first amendment that protects the right of individuals to observe these commandments if they are committed to doing so.

I also recommend the Stephen Colbert clip where he interviews a senator or representative who has been emphasizing the public display of the ten commandments. When Colbert asks him to actually list the commandments...well, I'll let you see what happens...

ScienceAvenger said...

Alex said: "But I disagree with your belief that the hypothetical percentages you gave are based in reality."

You sure seemed to think so earlier when you claimed the figure was "hundreds of thousands". There are approximately 300M Americans. 300,000 is 0.1%. Even if we assumed the figure was 1,000,000, that would make my revised "irrelevant" figure 99.7%. The point still stands.

alex said...

Damn, I thought you were referring to jaywalking this time!