Thursday, March 03, 2005

Ten, Again

Yesterday's post did not have benefit of some of the Justices' comments on the Ten Commandments cases. Justice Scalia, quoted in Slate, takes the prize: "When someone walks by the commandments, they are not studying the text. They are acknowledging that the government derives its authority from God."

If I'd known this was what I was doing, I wouldn't have been quite so tolerant of the original Big Ten in the public garden. I was under the impression our government derived its authority from the governed.

I hope any Christians in the house will see this opinion for the delusional thinking it represents. But in case there's any doubt, read Brooke Allen's "Our Godless Constitution" in The Nation.

She recounts how the Founding Fathers "understood the necessity of at least paying lip service to the piety of most American voters" — much like today's politicians. But privately, most kept conventional religion at arm's length.

James Madison: "What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution."

If Washington referred to the Almighty, "he was careful to refer to Him not as 'God' but with some nondenominational moniker like 'Great Author' or 'Almighty Being.'" Just as the "Creator" endowed us with certain inalienable rights.

Ben Franklin knew the political value of professing religious sentiments before the masses, but also cautioned: "A man compounded of law and gospel is able to cheat a whole country with his religion and then destroy them under color of law."

Thomas Jefferson, the author of separation of church and state, saw churchgoing as a presidential obligation, but was careful to tolerate religion without advancing it: "It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

As Allen concludes: "All of our leaders, Democrat and Republican, have attended church, and have made very sure they are seen to do so. But there is a difference between offering this gesture of respect for majority beliefs and manipulating and pandering to the bigotry, prejudice and millennial fantasies of Christian extremists."

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