Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A 2nd look at Republican Ballot Proposition #4, on acknowledging God, prayer, and the 10 Commandments

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a rant about Republican Ballot Proposition #4, a proposal which reads follows:

No. 4 - Public Acknowledgment of God — The use of the word “God,” prayers, and the Ten Commandments should be allowed at public gatherings and public educational institutions, as well as permitted on government buildings and property.— YES or NO

This was my point: One passage toward the beginning of Exodus declares that we shouldn't misuse the name of God (by attaching God's name to the works of the Burleson Texas Independent School District, for instance), and that Jesus said we should pray in private, not standing on the streetcorners "like the hypocrites" who pray "to be seen by men".  (Hit the "rant" link above.)

There's one other thing I didn't mention in that post, something about the Ten Commandments:  Why do we want to live by these commands that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai?  We seem to have rejected most of them.  What follows is from the New International Version of the book of Exodus, Chapter 34.  The division I've used between the commandments is the one followed by most Rabbinic scholars:

14  (Commandment I) Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.
15  Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices.
16 And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same. 
17  (Commandment II)  Do not make cast idols.
18  (Commandment III) Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread. For seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in that month you came out of Egypt.
19 "The first offspring of every womb belongs to me, including all the firstborn males of your livestock, whether from herd or flock.
20 Redeem the firstborn donkey with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem all your firstborn sons. No one is to appear before me empty-handed.
21  (Commandment IV)  Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.
22   (Commandment V)  Celebrate the Feast of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year.
23  (Commandment VI) Three times a year all your men are to appear before the Sovereign LORD, the God of Israel.
24 I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your territory, and no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the LORD your God.
25  (Commandment VII)  Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast, and....
(Commandment VIII)  Do not let any of the sacrifice from the Passover Feast remain until morning.
26  (Commandment IX)  Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God.
(Commandment X)  Do not cook a young goat in its mother's milk.
27 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel."
28 Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.

These are the only commandments that the Jewish Scriptures refer to as "The Ten Commandments".  There were earlier rough drafts which, as far as I can tell, no human ever saw except Moses, and Moses might have just been blogging when he wrote those.  The ones listed above are the ones that made it down from Mount Sinai intact.  These are the ones that got toted around the wilderness in the Ark Of The Covenant.  These 10 Commandments are the ones that are to be "acknowledged at public gatherings and public educational institutions, as well as permitted on government buildings and property" in the state of Texas. 

Let's start with Commandment #10.  Do not cook a young goat in its mother's milk.  Do we need to acknowledge this, and make it a requirement for the concession stands at Texas High School football games?  If we carve this commandment into the walls of the state capitol, how long will it take to become part of Republican anti-immigrant rhetoric?  Them damn Mexicans ain't like us white folks.  Turn your back on 'em, and they'll bar-b-que a goat in its Mama's milk every time....
And finally, if this commandment becomes law of the land, will Libertarians have to stage ridiculous protests to prove that they have a right to cook a goat in its mother's milk? 

(Note to John Spivey of the Tarrant County Libertarian Party: I'll kill, clean and cook the baby goat, but you're going to have to do the milking.)

Moving on to Commandment #9, we see that we are to bring the best of the firstfruits of our soil to the house of the Lord.  I know my Bible pretty well, but this one eluded me.  I've resorted to Chabad.org, a website that breaks the Jewish calendar into daily topics for study.  Bikkurim is a term for the first-born, or the first-produced of just about anything:
Even in the seventh year, the offering of bikkurim is obligatory. Therefore, it is stated here, too: “the first fruits of your soil.” How are the bikkurim chosen? A person enters his field and sees a fig that has ripened. He winds a blade of grass around it as a sign and sanctifies it. Bikkurim are brought as an offering only from the seven species enumerated in Scripture: “A land of wheat and barley, and vines and figs and pomegranates, a land of oil-yielding olives and honey” (Deut. 8:8).
This spring, I can't wait to see Governor Rick Perry go into bikkurim mode and wander into a mesquite thicket looking for a ripe fig to sanctify by wrapping some buffalo grass around it.  

Despite my Southern Baptist upbringing, I grew up with Commandment #8:  Do not let any of the sacrifice from the Passover Feast remain until morning.  The Whited Mama was, and is, a great cook.  It is unusual for leftovers to remain past 8:00 p.m., much less midnight. 

Commandment #7 is a problem.  Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast.  It really has come to this.  I'm 48 years old, I make good money, and I have a fairly popular website.  Yet here I am sitting in a corner at Starbucks writing, and instantly deleting, adolescent jokes about bloody yeast infections. 

I could go on and on in this vein, but I hope you get the idea by now.  When we start talking about God, prayer, or even the Ten Commandments, we all bring our histories, traditions, and loyalties to the discussion.  Like it or not, these are THE Ten Commandments.  Exodus calls them The Ten Commandments.  Everything that came before was a rough draft.  You can look it up. 

Do we really want to open this can of worms at every Texas city council and county courthouse meeting?

If you've got a few more minutes, go to this post about the 10 Commandments.  Don't read the comments.  See if you can detect something strange about the way we portray the 10 C's in art and sculpture. 


Anonymous said...

What a silly proposal to begin with. The freedom to say the word "god" and to speak of the ten commandments? Absolutely they can say whatever they want.

If this proposal read that people must abide by the ten commandments, I would agree with your post. However, as a libertarian, and taking this proposal as it's written, there is no argument for answering 'no'.

Freedom is freedom. This is a freedom of speech issue. As I said, it is a silly proposal.

TarrantLibertyGuy said...

Mmmm. Goat hock alfredo... I'll be glad to do the milkin!

TarrantLibertyGuy said...

By the way... God is sounding an awful lot like my Mom at the beginning of 34:

1 The LORD said to Moses, "Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.

For full effect, I hope God paused for about 5 seconds, like this: "...that were on the first tablets.......... (pause)............ , which you BROKE.

Then God scrunches up His face and looks away and starts humming the Ink Spots' hit, "The Whole Towns Talkin' About the Jones Boy" - in order to let it settle in.

That's how my Mom would do it.

Mike said...

Interesting.. You are not really doing justice to the commandments that would be used. I have not actually heard the items you listed as the 10 commandments. The 10 commandments I was always taught, have seen and understand to be are different...


From there you can see how different interpretations typically apply the following commandments into 10 but they basically are:

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

Some faiths, like Orthodox Christianity combine the first few and the bottom two...

I have never heard or seen some of the dietary restrictions listed as "The" Ten Commandments that Moses received on Sinai.

If you want to give a history lesson that would be just fine. Otherwise this post appears to suffer from slight intellectual dishonesty..

Mike said...

By the way. Thank you for teaching me something new: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ritual_Decalogue

I have not heard of the Ritual Decalogue (though I am familiar with the dietary restrictions from the Old Testament that you referenced... Just never in the context of the 10 commandments)

Otherwise... I like everything you say on your blog and stand alongside you on many principles and positions. I just think the impact of the Bible or mention of God on government won't erase freedoms and turn us into a theocracy... :-)

I don't want a theocracy myself. Why? Because it would be run by man. We aren't great at handling power and any theocracy would start to look like a Muslim nation... Power, greed, murder for non belief, erasing of the rights of minorities and of women, etc. Nah.. I think our founders setup as near to perfect a form of government as we can get.

I believe that a lot of the principles of liberty we all enjoy and love to defend can be found in Christ, though. I believe that the Declaration of Independence, which served as the raison d'etre for the later Constitution and bill of rights, shows clearly what it means to be created beings. It means we have rights that are not grantable or revokable by other men. It means we have rights that are completely a part of who we are. They are as inseparable from us as our physical characteristics (inalienable). Why? Because they come from God Himself. To me that encourages me to fight for liberty all the much more.

But... I do want to see Christ allowed to be discussed. I do want to see a mention of God here and there if someone in a position of power decides to. That mention isn't removing your right to disagree or disbelieve or mention the flying spaghetti monster if you wish. In fact, the concept of God given liberty tells me that I should defend your right to not believe as fiercely as I should defend my right to openly believe. If that makes any sense? Anyway.. This East Coaster is rambling... Goodnight.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

Thanks for the encouraging words. However, I'm not the one who originally wrote Verse 28, which refers to these laws as "The 10 Commandments".
If there was any intellectual dishonesty going on, it was on the part of the early Christian church, which wanted to distance itself from the final version by going with the earlier (smashed) version of the laws.