I’ve been largely avoiding the foolishness with the Alabama judge and the Ten Commandments, but I read a couple posts today that got me thinking. One was from freespace, tallying up the damage the whole thing was doing. The other was from Allen Brill, who remarks:
What really puzzles me most is why Christians would want to go to the barricades over the Ten Commandments anyway. They are hardly the core of the faith. At least those folks in the end zones with their “John 3:16″ signs have a better understanding of what constitutes a Christian confession. I think the Establishment Clause as the Supreme Court has interpreted it reduces sectarian strife, and as we look around the world, that is surely a blessing. But if I am ever in a place where the protections of the Freedom to Exercise Clause are not in place, it is not the Ten Commandments for which I would be willing to go to the stake (or whatever). It is the Gospel of forgiveness and life, and it only, that is worth dying for.
He goes on to quote from Ephesians: “He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace.”
Now, I wouldn’t take this to mean we can merrily go breaking whatever commandments we wish; Jesus affirms most of them at various points. But it’s true that it’s weird for Christian fanatics to pick up on Mosaic laws, when it was made clear even in the Old Testament that those laws applied only to Jews. As Mark Kleiman pointed out, the rules that Yahweh laid on the whole world were the seven Noachide laws, which overlap somewhat with the Ten Commandments but are quite distinct. (Number 6, saying all nations should respect courts of justice, is something the renegade Moore should especially ponder.) In the Book of Acts, when the early church is sorting out the differences between Jewish and Gentile Christians, they essentially follow the Noachide guidelines.
Why the focus on the Ten Commandments? Well, no doubt one reason is their place in popular culture — Cecil B. DeMille didn’t make a movie called The Noachide Laws. But more to the point, people who adhere to that creepy confluence of fundamentalism and nationalism that Kynn Bartlett recently dubbed Christianism seem to think that they are the Jews of the Old Testament.
Consider Jerry Falwell’s infamous claim that 9/11 was the result of God’s “lifting the veil of protection” from America because he was displeased with our immorality. Now, there is some Biblical precedent for this; the OT tells of cases where God punished Israel’s unfaithfulness by letting its enemies conquer it. But Israel wasn’t just any nation; it was not only chosen by God, it was formed by God, with its government and laws made by his specific instructions. It was supposed to be “light of the world.” So when Israel messed up, God laid a beating on it.
The “Christianists” seem to be trying to form a similar narrative for the founding and history of America. I expect this informs Moore’s rhetoric about how this is a Christian nation founded on Christian values, and the Christian right’s contention that there’s a big “cover-up” going on of how devoutly religious the founding fathers actually were. The idea that America is the New Israel seems to have floated around for much of our history, and while I haven’t heard it said in so many words, a lot of people seem to believe it now.
I have complained before about how God in the OT seems to lump everybody by their national/ethic groupings, and reward and punish them en masse. But in his defense, in the New Testament he pretty clearly went out of that business. The parable of the Good Samaritan declared that your “neighbor” could include someone from an enemy camp. The first part of Allen’s Ephesians quote is Paul (a Jew) addressing the Gentiles: “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”
So if God doesn’t care any more if you’re a Jew or not, it seems even less likely to me that he cares whether you’re an American or not. The New Israel is the church, not a political entity. As for the monument, I kind of like Peter’s idea:
Given Alabama’s fondness for the death penalty, it seems to be that what Christians really should be doing is bringing picks and hammbers to demolish the monument so that the Word of God would not be profaned by association with the state’s machinery of death. That would be an act of Christian witness worth getting excited about…