Thursday, August 05, 2004

Roy Moore’s Confusion:

Moore was on C-Span this morning. I find his confusion fascinating because there is a long tradition (in some circles) of such confusion relating to God and rights and this misunderstanding was in fact helpful—perhaps decisive—in getting orthodox Christians, during the founding, to agree to our "modern" founding political principles. "Modern politics," of course, solved the political/theological problem by separating Church & State.

So let me explain this confusion: On the one hand Moore argues that the Ten Commandments are binding organic law (indeed, they represent “God’s law” which is the highest law), that our public laws are based on these Commands. (Moore isn’t the first to make this error. Since long before our founding, some Christian judges held the Ten Commandments to be part of the common law. Jefferson termed these holdings as “fraudulent” and “judicial usurpations.”) Moore also would probably argue that, since they occupy such a high place, no public law should ever contradict the Ten Commandments.

On the other hand, Moore claims that the Declaration of Independence is also organic law. And he recognizes that non-Christian religions have some sort of right to worship in the United States (but he also seems to hint that the Christian religion should get some sort of preferential treatment—but he did say that “God gives Muslims the right to worship the way they choose”). And this is because, as the Declaration states, God grants us inalienable rights and the rights of conscience are part of those rights.

So what’s the problem? Well, let’s look at the first of those Ten Commandments: “Thou shall have no other Gods before me.” Elsewhere in (I do believe) Leviticus, God commands His followers to stone to death those who would encourage them to worship “false gods.” How this equates to the right of Muslims or Hindus to worship as they please is beyond me (the Hindus unquestionably worship false gods. Muslims might argue that they worship the same God. But many orthodox Christians tell me that Allah is not the God of the Bible, rather a Pagan Moon God, making him a false god as well). Yet, Jefferson’s nature’s God seems to be the very opposite of this “jealous” God of the Bible. Nature’s God grants us the right to worship twenty Gods or no God, in Jefferson’s words.

Thus we’ve stumbled upon a problem: Nature’s God arguably is not the God of the Bible. Nowhere in the Bible does it speak of “unalienable rights” or the “liberty to worship or not” as one chooses. And in fact, as long as Christians were in power—up until a particular point in Western history—the powers that be did not historically understand their faith as demanding those outside of it be granted the right to worship as they pleased. I am referring to the pre-Enlightenment period when there was no distinction between Church and State and when the Ten Commandments truly were part and parcel of the public laws of each “Christian state.”

So at what point in history did it all begin to change? Dissident Protestants first began to speak of toleration because they bore the brunt of such persecution. They began itching for a theoretical solution that Hobbes, Locke and other Enlightenment philosophers gave and that our founders -- Madison, Jefferson, et al. -- implemented. And this was the notion of “rights” in general and the rights of conscience in particular. It’s true that Locke tied the notion of rights to God. But he did this, not because the Bible demanded it, but because he “discovered” using the tool of reason unaided by Biblical revelation, that God did indeed grant us inalienable rights (a cynic who believes “natural rights" to be of human construction would argue that Locke tied rights to God because he needed the ultimate “trump.” After all, he was arguing against another doctrine—Divine rule of Kings—that was similarly grounded in this highest of all authorities).

So nature’s God may not be the God of the Bible. But to most Christians—during the founding as well as during the present time—familiar with the Declaration of Independence, “nature’s God” and the God of the Bible are one and the same. And indeed, if the “rights” philosophers could get a Christian populace to believe that their God grants each sect as well as other religions the right to worship as they pleased…“political/theological problem solved.”

So could nature’s God be the God of the Bible? Perhaps. But in order for this to be so, Christians seeking to reconcile the two concepts, must “properly understand” their faith as being compatible with such Enlightenment doctrines. But we’ve already seen how granting the inalienable right to non-Christians to worship as they please seems to conflict with certain very important Biblical texts. One solution would be to read those Biblical texts as presently reflecting private law—the law of individual conscience—not of any kind of public duty. That’s fine. But it also belies the notion that the Ten Commandments, taken as a whole, are, in any way, part of our public laws.

The Ten Commandments were indeed historically public laws—they certainly were the public laws of the “Ancient Jewish Tribe.” But since our founding, they have not been part of our public laws, because to hold that they are would conflict with the true organic law that founds our nation—the Declaration of Independence.

It’s interesting that if you look at the public display of the Ten Commandments at the Supreme Court, we see Moses and his Ten Commandments standing right next to figures such as Confucius, Hammurabi, and Mohammed.

The following is a desription:

Courtroom friezes portray Moses as one of 18 historic lawgivers. He is given equal prominence with lawgivers from a variety of religious backgrounds, including Islam, Confucianism, sun worship, and both Egyptian and Greco-Roman paganism. While Moses is shown holding the tables of the Ten Commandments, Muhammad is shown holding the Quran, the primary source of Islamic law, and the first pharaoh, Menes, is shown holding the ankh, an Egyptian mythological symbol representing eternal life. Other figures are shown holding secular legal documents. England’s 12th-century King John is shown holding the Magna Carta, which he signed, while the Dutch legal scholar and statesman Hugo Grotius is shown holding his 1625 book, Concerning the Law of War and Peace, one of the first books on international law.

The frieze also includes Greco-Roman-style allegorical figures, including Equity, Philosophy, Right of Man, Liberty and Peace. To see an actual image of this frieze, visit this page on the Supreme Court’s Web site.

The intent was clearly to show some historically prominent law givers throughout Western and other cultures. But the Ten Commandments are no more part of our public laws as are the laws of Confucianism and sun worship or any of these other historical displays.

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