Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Ten Commandments and the Seven Aphorisms

Slate has an article describing a current case before the Supreme Court regarding the rights of a group called Summum, a religious group founded in 1975 by a guy who had an encounter with aliens who conveyed a bunch of wisdom to him. Oh, and they mummify people and pets upon request.

And no, I'm not making any of this up.

Anyway, some Summum followers in Utah want to put up a monument in a local park which lists their "Seven Aphorisms". Incidentally, the same park already has a monument listing the Ten Commandments. Here are the Seven Aphorisms:

1. SUMMUM is MIND, thought; the universe is a mental creation.
2. As above, so below; as below, so above.
3. Nothing rests; everything moves; everything vibrates.
4. Everything is dual; everything has an opposing point; everything has its pair of opposites; like and unlike are the same; opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes bond; all truths are but partial truths; all paradoxes may be reconciled.
5. Everything flows out and in; everything has its season; all things rise and fall; the pendulum swing expresses itself in everything; the measure of the swing to the right is the measure of the swing to the left; rhythm compensates.
6. Every cause has its effect; every effect has its cause; everything happens according to Law; Chance is just a name for Law not recognized; there are many fields of causation, but nothing escapes the Law of Destiny.
7. Gender is in everything; everything has its masculine and feminine principles; Gender manifests on all levels.

Here are the Ten Commandments (though they may actually be divided in slightly different ways, depending on denomination):

1. I am the Lord your God
You shall have no other gods before me
You shall not make for yourself an idol
2. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of your God
3. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy
4. Honor your father and mother
5. You shall not murder
6. You shall not commit adultery
7. You shall not steal
8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor
9. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife
10. You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor

The case before the Supreme Court is framed primarily as a speech issue, and not a religious one, but the distinction is pretty thin. In 2005, the Supreme Court upheld the display of the Ten Commandments in Texas.

What I think this case makes transparently clear is that government and religion should stay out of each others' business as much as is practically possible. The catch-22 that the justices are in is that any reasoning they use to rule against the Seven Aphorisms can also be used against the Ten Commandments. If we want to uphold pluralism in this country, and one group can post their religious doctrine on government property, then all religious groups should be able to. To ban the Summums would be discriminatory.

So how about the simplest, fairest option that accords the most with the intent of the First Amendment...the government shouldn't be in the business of promoting religious speech, no matter how well-intentioned or innocuous. If people want to erect monuments with religious teachings on them on their front lawn, or their own private property, or billboards, or businesses, or whatever, bully for them. If they want to put it in a courthouse or a public park or a Federal building, no way. Let the government do its job, which doesn't include preaching or proselytizing. And let Americans pray and worship and observe their religions to the fullest extent they want to.

That sounds fair, doesn't it?


Vladimir Nesov said...

This talk of religious pluralism brought a crazy thought to my mind: like software-only virtual companies, we should have software-only virtual religions, which will have a constitutional right to spam the Internet with their automatically generated religious texts!

Kenny Wyland said...

That sounds fair, doesn't it?

Yes. It does.

mark said...

There is a huge difference between the two. One is over 4,000 years old, the foundation of three of the major religions of the world and the moral system that western civilization is based upon. A civilization that has come to dominate the whole world. The other is stupid.

If you can't see that, you might be the latter. Putting important historically important things on monumnets are important. Not forgetting how we got here is important. The ten commandments has been an important part of our history 3000 years before we learned to do algebra.

Kenny Wyland said...

The other is stupid.

Now, now, Mark, are you making sure to stay connected with other people in this statement? You're allowed to call the Seven Aphorisms stupid, but everyone else had better respect your religion, right?

If you can't see that, you might be the latter.

Hm, I don't think you are trying to stay connected with Derek here. Don't you understand, Mark, that this is going to make your life meaningless? Your "sweet and pleasant way" doesn't come across as "very loving and accepting." I guess this means you've adopted "egotism and narcissism."

Putting important historically important things on monumnets are important. Not forgetting how we got here is important. The ten commandments has been an important part of our history 3000 years before we learned to do algebra.

Let's set a few things straight here.

1) The Code of Hammurabi existed before the 10 Commandments. It was a recorded set of laws given to the people from a King. We give it the historical respect it deserves as a piece of history. We do not, however, base our laws directly on it simply because it is old. Much of it is barbaric while much of it is simple common sense.

2) The 10 Commandments were written approximately 1500 BC, Algebra was invented approximately 900 BC. For those of you keeping score at home, that's not 3000 years.

3) Let's actually look at the 10 Commandments and compare it with our laws:

1: No other Gods NOPE
2: No Idolatry NOPE
3: Using God's name in vain. NOPE
4: Keep the Sabbath NOPE
5: Honor parents NOPE
6: No murder YES!
7: No adultery NOPE (grounds for divorce, but not against the law)
8: No stealing YES!
9: No false witness YES!
10: No coveting NOPE

Ok, so we have 3 out of 10 that are reflected in today's laws. However, those same 3 exist in essentially every culture and even exist in the Code of Hammurabi which existed before the 10 Commandments. It's because they are common sense.

The point of Derek's post and the point of the whole court case is that if the government shouldn't be associated with religion at all, but if it is going to give space and time to a religious document such as the 10 Commandments it must provide the same space and time to all other religions to avoid showing favoritism to a particular religion.

Don't try to con anyone into thinking that the 10 Commandments is a secular document. It is a religious document and therefore should not be given material support by the government.