American Culture

It's election time again, Christian America – now about those Ten Commandments, part II

Ten CommandmentsPart II of a series.

When last I ventured into the blogsophere, I had some opinions to share on the alleged righteousness of our two dominant candidates for President of the United States, through the lens of the first commandment. Today I’ll attempt a similar analysis by assessing them against the second Commandment, but first, a bit of what only appears to be a digression.

As anyone who has read my previous observations on American religious culture, particular on Christian culture, may guess, I have rather strong feelings on the matter. In itself, this may be seen as especially peculiar since I espouse no particular faith myself. In addition, it’s probably been noticed that I indulge in particularly strong language in these tirades. Not bound by any given dogma, I fail to see a disconnect there. Thirdly, for those of a sensitive nature, I would hazard to guess that my manner of expression comes across as inherently divisive, as drawing a distinct line between some kind of “them” and some kind of “us,” where them, generally, are Christians, with “us” applying to everyone else.

Indulge me while I attempt to make good on this seeming bit of hypocrisy on my part, since I also tend to cry foul over what I see as the predominantly divisive and destructive charade of our modern day politics and media, especially with respect to the overt religiosity of certain elements of our society. Given the topic of today’s epistle to American Christians, your indulgence is appreciated as it’s actually quite relevant.

I do, indeed, draw a line between a certain “us” and a certain “them.” There are those we think of here in this country as the people, as in, “we the people.” We are a diverse lot, driven by diverse passions, yet presumably with one all-encompassing line of demarcation…our nationality. This unruly, rowdy, passionate mass is the “us” I mean. Then there exists a tiny, tiny subset of the people, a cynical, manipulative, crafty minority gifted with playing us one against the other to their own ends. We find this tiny minority jibber-jabbering incessantly behind news desks as though they deliver news. We find them in the highest offices of the land, from the city council all the way up to the Oval Office. We find them behind pulpits and lecterns. We find them wrapped in a tapestry of customs and conceits, Bibles and blandishments, legalese and legerdemain. They put on every conceivable air of respectability in order to better peddle their ill-begotten wares, which, when stripped of their whitewash, are revealed to be only inducements for us to place trust where none is earned. By the time we finish unwrapping their samples of snake oil, we find nothing left but the bitter taste of empty promise. And for that empty promise, we set upon each other, instead of on them, like starving monkeys fighting for the last banana.

I draw this line sharply in the sand, between we the people and these garish hawkers of domestic discord, and I do it with an appeal to all that is sacred, to all that you hold sacred, to all that I hold sacred. Make no mistake, even for those without faith, such as myself, there is still that which may be deemed sacred. The objects of my veneration and of your veneration are not so far apart as you may think. When I see what I feel to be sacred, and what you believe to be sacred that I would like to believe is sacred, dragged through the dirt, I am not merely dismayed. I am outraged. And when I observe that those who most ought to be outraged line up like sheep for the shearing, I am outraged for you. Occasionally, in my passion, I am outraged at you, not for the purpose of division, but ultimately for unity.

When we the people allow charlatans cloaked in spurious piety to deceive us into believing that one faith should prevail beyond the pulpit and into the halls of government, that one reading of sacred texts is somehow legally superior to other readings of those same texts, that one set of customs alien to those who do not stringently hold to that exact same set of customs should become the law of the land, we risk one of the essential liberties guaranteed to us in the Constitution of these great United States of America. By skillfully playing on the potency of one word, Christian, we are lulled into a state of complacency wherein we forget (if we ever knew to begin with) the long, bloody history of Christian theology and schism. It is a very, very short and slippery slope from the pinnacle of having your one, solitary faith, Christianity, decreed as law from on high to the depths of discovery that it was the wrong Christians elevated to that station.

I take the tremendous risk of offering up my observations as a service to you. It could very well be that it is actually and exactly your kind of Christian taking the oath of office, and it may feel an immediate and gratifying victory, a step closer to a Kingdom of Heaven as you envision it becoming at long last a reality for all. But once that wall separating church and state is broken down, what guarantee have you that your champion will champion your faith as you would have it? Case in point, is Paul Ryan Catholic enough for Catholics when bishops have their doubts? Is President Obama Protestant enough, associated as he is with a church more closely aligned with Unitarians than with, for instance, Southern Baptists? Is Mitt Romney Christian enough, if Christian at all? Does the religiously inspired moral compass of any of these men point at your spiritual North? If not, then why, in the name of all that is holy, would you entrust any of them with matters of faith and use your religion as a litmus test for their qualification for office? Tread very carefully when attempting to vote your God’s chosen candidate into office, as you and your descendants may be in for a rather rude surprise. ‘Tis far, far better that we learn to abide by one another in our differences in faith by maintaining the wall of separation between church and state than that we should attempt to establish our own as supreme, lest we find that supreme power usurped by those we suppose to be pretenders.

That said, as long as this compulsion to rate candidates on perceived piety persists, let us continue that I may disabuse you of any notion that sanctity is a quality of any of these candidates, much less a qualification. You may note, incidentally, that my choice of enumerating the Ten Commandments is that presented on the Vatican’s very own website. Our Jewish and Protestant readers may not agree, but that’s rather the point, isn’t it? My apologies to those of all other faiths and those of no faith. Your opinion hasn’t been considered. That’s also rather the point, isn’t it?

II. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain,
for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain

Originally, I thought I was going to have a bear of a time illustrating this one in the context of this series. Lo and behold, the Democratic National Convention came to the rescue yesterday morning with a heavy dose of religious pandering and quite naturally feeding into the RNC’s proclivity for same.

Having opined a great deal already by way of introduction, I now yield to biblical commentary and your own judgment. All I ask is that you consider the following in light of the first part of this series and those parts yet to come. Decide for yourselves on the righteousness (no, not one) of your chosen candidate, pundits, and clergy and ask yourself whether or not such behavior as has been flaunted behind crosses and in front of flags across this nation does indeed constitute the taking of Adonai’s name in vain.

“You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?”
Matthew 7:16 NASB

The following quotes are all extracted from the entry on Exodus 20:7, emphasis mine.

Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible

This precept not only forbids all false oaths, but all common swearing where the name of God is used, or where he is appealed to as a witness of the truth.

Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament

שׁוא does not signify a lie (שׁקר), but according to its etymon שׁאה, to be waste, it denotes that which is waste and disorder, hence that which is empty, vain, and nugatory, for which there is no occasion. The word prohibits all employment of the name of God for vain and unworthy objects, and includes not only false swearing, which is condemned in Leviticus 19:12 as a profanation of the name of Jehovah, but trivial swearing in the ordinary intercourse of life, and every use of the name of God in the service of untruth and lying, for imprecation, witchcraft, or conjuring; whereas the true employment of the name of God is confined to “invocation, prayer, praise, and thanksgiving,” which proceeds from a pure, believing heart.

Wesley’s Notes

We take God’s name in vain, First, By hypocrisy, making profession of God’s name, but not living up to that profession.

Two down. Eight to go. Current score – Team Piety: 0 – Candidates: 2


Image credit: Photo of the Ten Commandments in St Mary’s Stanwell by Maxwell Hamilton, licensed under Creative Commons.

7 replies »

  1. a) Thanks for including one of your favored buzzwords, stupidicus. Based on style alone I thought it might be you, but I feel rather more assured. Having seen how fruitless our last “discussion,” if that’s what commenting right past each other can be called, I’ll spare us both any promise of prolonged sparring.

    You think this post divisive. C’est la vie. I do not. I see it as an attempt to cast a spotlight on the silliness of the “Christian” (whatever the hell that means when there’s hundreds of flavors, many mutually exclusive, unlike ice cream) voting bloc voting on faith over policy to what can ultimately be their own detriment. A failure to understand the potential detriment is, in this case, a failure to understand the importance of the separation of church and state.

    To wit, what appears here as divisive to you is actually an attempt, however wrongheaded, at unification away from a logically flawed approach to candidate selection. When we the people can agree to respect religious differences and get to the heart of genuine policy debate without the need for sufficient interjections of Jesus! in a cynically pandering ploy to keep the attention of some artificial “base,” maybe we can get some actual work accomplished. This, by the way, is what I would call a proposed solution. Sorry you missed that as well.

    Your personal anecdote re: atheism serves to illustrate a point I made about opinions not mattering when they come from some classes.

    I’m unsurprised that you fail to see the connection between my connection between use of labels and the Dem convention re-injecting the word “God” into the platform. The connection has everything to do with an understanding of “in vain” as seen from a theological perspective. Cynically using God as a political move = vain. Simple.

    The overall statistic of 76% Christian rings meaningless in my ears when so many of the little schisms *ahem* denominations are mutually exclusive. Example: Southern Baptists and Catholics make strange bedfellows, as do Catholics and any of the Protestants when you get right down to it. My youthful experience with the SBC exposed me to a general revulsion for Catholics, “mackerel snappers” if you will, on the grounds of idolatry. Catholics aren’t “saved,” ergo, unless Catholics convert to a true Bible-believing faith, they’re destined for an eternity in Hell. Catholicism, on the other hand, has this wee issue with folks not following the lead of the papacy. Tip of iceberg barely chipped, point made.

    When BHO maintains the Office of Faith Based Initiatives instituted by Bush, the claim that, divisively speaking, rightwingnuts *ahem* are exclusively responsible for the breakdown of the wall separating church and state is laughable.

    Glad I could amuse you. Tit for tat, I found the incoherence of your rejoinder amusing. Or would that be dismaying?

    Pity we seem so prone to assailing each other when it seems in principle we agree on so many of the larger issues. I’ll just take it as illustrative of the failure of the American left. The right, whatever one thinks of them, are tight-knit and adhere well to a solitary message, however ridiculous it seems to others. By comparison, the left is far too internally fractured to establish a truly unified front. Time and again I see arguments within the left boiling down to a) you don’t agree with me; b) you don’t agree with me sufficiently; c) you don’t agree with me in a manner sensitive to my needs; and/or d) you agree with me for all the wrong reasons.

    Funny thing about sweet beverages, btw. If you drink Kool-Aid before eating something tart, the perceived tartness is dramatically increased, often to a disagreeable level. It rather impairs one’s ability to enjoy tasty tart offerings.

  2. indeed, very divisive and completely lacking in a solution that would bridge the divide you created.

    As one who’s been an atheist since before I had facial hair, and, for almost half a century now, it’s similar to but not to be confused with, being a stranger in a strange land minus the Martian upbringing and training, but with much martyrdom falling short of death. MY maslovian need to belong was left largely unsatisfied, and I was made to feel like a leper. A gay black muslim would get elected in this country before an atheist like me and that has been enshrined in several state constitutions While things are getting slowly better, it’s no doubt still the reality of the matter.

    Now, what I don’t get is the indictment of the use of a label — god — that means different things to different people, ranging from the role it has in our world — interactive or not — to what is or is not permissable in terms of sins. The religion test – or more accurately, the belief in a god test that BHO/the dems sought to reiterate – doesn’t appear to be applicable to any of your quotes. It was merely a wise response to the political reality that by a huge majority, most in this country do, that without which, the rightwingnuts would have been more than happy to exploit with charges of godlessness, which their love for gays and abortions indicate. It is on issues such as those that we predominantly if not exclusively see the invocation of the big guy’s name being served up with American apple pie, and gee, which side of the ideological spectrum does that come from? I for example, don’t see BHO invoking JC’s dictates as to our responsibility for the poor in his speeches regarding tax fairness or issues impinging upon social justice, do you?

    As an atheist, I have less difficulty understanding and more approval of that action, than I did the Jerusalem thing.

    As Saint Raygun so accurately noted long ago, “morality and politics” are inseparable, and given that the morality most embraced in this country is rooted in Judeo-xtian ethics and was long before it was labeled thusly I see that “tiny minority” you wrote about failing quite miserably in their quest, and the individuals chosen meaning and living of such as being determinative in their voting choices, not their “religion”, because a vast majority of them belong to “xtianity”, and of course, even in whatever designation like “Catholic” for example you could look at, we see pro-choice/contraception, etc, and their adversaries as well.

    The largest religion in the US is Christianity, practiced by the majority of the population (76% in 2008[6]).

    Furthermore, in regards to breaking down the wall of separation and creating a theocracy, again, the guilt for that can be given exclusively to the rightwingnuts. This can be seen in the efforts of the Dominionists and their very long-held desire and quest to undermine Marbury v Madison, culminating in legislative efforts such as this which can hardly be reasonably compared to BHO/the dems including “god” in the dem platform, regardless of their reasons for having done so. The idea that both parties share the same nefarious motives and goals for their use of the “god” word, is patently ridiculous. For example, I doubt if BHO should decide to bomb Iran, he’ll be saying anything like this.

    And in conclusion, I found this particularly amusing

    When we the people allow charlatans cloaked in spurious piety to deceive us into believing that one faith should prevail beyond the pulpit and into the halls of government, that one reading of sacred texts is somehow legally superior to other readings of those same texts, that one set of customs alien to those who do not stringently hold to that exact same set of customs should become the law of the land, we risk one of the essential liberties guaranteed to us in the Constitution of these great United States of America.

    Not because of the previously mentioned flaws so much, as the idea that the “deceived” have anyone to blame for having been than themselves, given there’s no deception involved with supporting a theocracy so blatant in the making, but rather “morality” based support for it.

    It ain’t no

    “There’s an old saying in Tennessee – I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee – that says, fool me once, shame on – shame on you. Fool me – you can’t get fooled again.”


  3. Sorry Frank, you’re the one that said it had the potential for divisiveness,

    “Thirdly, for those of a sensitive nature, I would hazard to guess that my manner of expression comes across as inherently divisive, as drawing a distinct line between some kind of “them” and some kind of “us,” where them, generally, are Christians, with “us” applying to everyone else.”

    I was merely concurring, with a comment on the lack of a solution I thought was a requirement here on this highbrow “blog” in tow, according to some anyway.

    I think that my anecdote and opinion regarding the putting of the word in their platform would be widely shared amongst thinking atheists, given the stakes in this election. I see absolutely no threat from it in terms of a breach of the separation of C&S doctrine, but I do understand and appreciate both the motive – rebutting a lie – and the consequences of not having done so. Perhaps maybe you can explain to the readers how defending oneself or an org in which you are a member against untrue charges, leads inexorably ONLY to the single (and erroneous one) conclusion you arrived at.

    We are in disagreement here, plain and simple, and over what I see once again, as the use of a false equivalence to paint far more broadly across the political/ideological divide than the known facts in the case will reasonably allow. You are not gonna derail or bury anything with the repetition of the infantile and baseless “koolaid/incoherent” talk again either as a diversion. That’s just an example of your inner troll you can’t control, and the product of your previously established reading comp impediments that makes you a very poor adversary. And trust me, I know what “reciprocation” means too, and have more practice at that than writing about the WOS you seem to think is being smashed down with malice and forethought by sledgehammer-wielding, demolition bogeymen of every religious and political stripe, and who are hammering away with equal fervor to breach that wall so as to impose their own brand of religion-based tyranny first. SO what those godless, socialistic, and lazy dems couldn’t carry John Henry’s tattered underwear, no? Your pov is all but if not diametrically opposed to those who’d likely freely admit it is their goal alone, hence the godlessness charge we hear and read so frequently. You don’t even accept verbal and written confessions?

    The facts are and will remain the unadulterated facts. The dems invocation or use of “God” or even xtianity generally as authority and justification for their policy choices and pursuits is all but completely absent in the public square, which is why you dodged the examples of rightwingnuts doing it I provided, and failed to cite a single instance of BHO/the dems doing it, now or in the past, beyond merely recognizing his presence/their belief in him which was done in response to the charge they are godless, not cynicism. It’s no different from an “Oh yes I do believe in God” when claims to the contrary are made against one individual by another, kinda the way you did my troll charge previously. I can’t blame you for denying it, but think it pretty stupid to then provide another example of troll-like behavior here. “God” likely wouldn’t have been included but for that challenge, and in the final analysis, differs not from the refutation of any other lie the rightwingnuts have told, like producing a birth certificate for example. Gee, who was he being cynical towards and trying to manipulate with that gesture? The idea that “god” would find their affirmation of belief in him as an affront is ridiculous, and your describing their motive as “cynical” only betrays your motives. The “vain” designation is the product of your having this silly idea entrenched in your head that the dems generally share in equal measure the guilt for everything that’s wrong in this country now, so you “vainly” search the pile of straw in search of anything that will satisfy that pov.

    I fully understand the doctrine of separation of church and state, and the threats to it, that come in their entirety from the “prayer in schools”, etc crowd on the right behind the “Constitutional Restoration Act of 2004/5” and more. BHO’s support for the FBIs isn’t even remotely comparable to the threat theocratic interests of a great many on the right pose, but you keep thinking that. Furthermore, unless and until an ENDA act is passed, enshrining that form of discrimination into federal civil rights laws, it’s a sticky wicket as they say, assuming nothing has changed with that. Get back to me when one is and he doesn’t then impose it on them both, no? And by all means, show us how the FBIs break down any walls or make any substantial inroads that threaten theocratic rule, as I argued it, not as you “interpreted” it.

    “Furthermore, in regards to breaking down the wall of separation and creating a theocracy, again, the guilt for that can be given exclusively to the rightwingnuts.”

    BHO has no interest in a theocracy, and you can’t show that he does, as can and has been demonstrated on the part of others.

    I always find your flawed thinking and ignoring of important distinctions such as that remarkably similar to the thinking of the common rightwingnut, kinda like the frequent and repeated use of “kool-aid” is, when they run outta ammo.

    Of course dems are like herding cats, and rightwingers are like stormtroopers on the march. That’s nothing new, but it is one of the major reasons why I think your party-wide participation in the “systemic lie” stuff with rightwingers is BS.

    And who cares what is “meaningless” to you? None of that stuff that addressed the various religious groups serves as a refutation to the fact that there is disagreement even between the Catholics, Southern Baptists, etc, etc, etc, on political issues like abortion, gay rights, etc, stemming from their individual morality derived from whatever xtian brand they claim and share. Christine O’Donnell is a Catholic now, but I suspect her political povs and support haven’t changed one iota. For example, this makes it clear that shared religion isn’t the determining factor in the political choices people make, but rather the morality they find in xtianity that leads them to their choices. It is therefore not so much a question of respecting or disrespecting the chosen “religion” of others that’s the underlying problem, but rather the different moral povs and choices that ALL originate under the “xtian” umbrella. You haven’t properly identified the problem, therefore you can’t offer solutions. The only viable solution to this problem is universal adoption of a morality that’s tethered to reality and the human world and its conditions today, and abandonment of the product of unsophisticated minds long dead that no longer fit societal needs and satisfy the needs of and for progress. We need to be Vulcanized, minus the eradication or suppression of emotions. For example, opposition to abortion and contraception in a warming world awaiting Lord Chaos, with diminishing life-providing resources, while taxing those available already, is a recipe for disaster. But then, since when did needless loss of life and avoidable human misery ever stand in the way of the Holy Warriors, no? Certainly Mutt’s preference that Roe v Wade be overturned is based on the latter and not the former, despite its focus on conserving what we –mankind in toto — have left, no?

    But anyway, we also know who stands for and works towards that progress, including keeping the archaic, morality-based wants of others outta the public square and our bedrooms, and us safe from theocratic rule. So your efforts to paint both sides as equally guilty godmongerers with the same interests, goals, and motives, stemming from a cynical desire to exploit the unseen and intangible one for their own political goals simply isn’t supported by the facts.

    But keep on keeping on with your faith-based reasoning, and clinging to the “both sides are equally guilty, if not in practice, in principle, of this and that” crap. The devil isn’t always in the details, sometimes it’s merely the unvarnished truth. Maybe you should try wrestling with it for awhile, as opposed to that mythical hoofed and horned fellow, no?

    • I was merely concurring, with a comment on the lack of a solution I thought was a requirement here on this highbrow “blog” in tow, according to some anyway.

      You’re getting tiresome. If you don’t like this site, you’re welcome to go troll elsewhere.

  4. play it again sam.

    who’s trolling? I’d could just as easily and sustain saying you two are in tandem. Where’s the “trolling” to be found in that comment? The highbrow designation isn’t an insult, and the lack of a solution was a critique Franky attacked me over for not providing previously. Maybe “highhorse” is a better characterization of this place, because it seems to me like in my meager experiences/interactions here, the writers can shovel all the BS of the insulting kind they want, and without any fear of reciprocation, because what, your next effort will be showing me the door?

    I’ve done nothing but offer topical arguments with every response to the top post submitted, only to be assaulted by Franky with talk of my being some gullible, knownothing nitwit.

    I’ve read material on this site for several years now, just haven’t participated until recently. What are you saying here, that this “blog” doesn’t satisfy the definition “Used colloquially as a noun or adjective, highbrow is synonymous with intellectual; as an adjective, it also means elite, and generally carries a connotation of high culture.” or that baseless charges of trollhood (given what few buttons I’ve pushed were in reaction to the drawing of first blood from others. What, button pushing for thee but not for me is the rule?) and “kool-aid” drinking are what I can expect when the “arguments” of the writers here fall apart?

    I’ll leave when I’m ready, or banned for merely dishing out what others were so willing to dispense, because they were otherwise unarmed and impotent in the face of the alleged lowbrow troll that takes them to task on what they specifically assert and allege in the course of their argumentation. OBviously you don’t know what a troll is “In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory,[3] extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as a forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response[4] or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.[5 ,and I hardly satisfy the definition, since by far my text investment are put into topical and focused rebuttals — something a real “troll” would never do. Franky made it clear from the onset that his forte is weaving personal insults into his responses in lieu of a substantive rebuttal, and the only thing you’ve accomplished here is prompting me to reconsider whether “highbrow” is an apt designation or not.

    BY all means, get over yourself and your petty emotions, and demonstrate my trollhood and means of trolling that differs in substance or form from that those I’ve responded to offered first. Otherwise, you lose.

  5. I’m gonna go out on a limb here, stupidicus.

    Print out your comments. Any one of your long, rambling, incoherent, and annoying strings of letters will do. Get it proofread by a high school teacher. Revise until it can at least get a C.

    99% of the reason I can’t be bothered responding to you is that you submit gibberish. If I misconstrue anything you say, I’d hazard to guess it’s because your thinking is so sloppy and your writing is so abysmally poor that actually understanding you, much less agreeing with you or effectively debating with you requires more of the reader than you require of yourself.

    “Otherwise, you lose.” SRSLY? For realz, yo? tfw.

    Dude, dudette, whatever, really, crawl back into mom’s basement and join a raid in WoW or something. There are 14 year old miscreants who are only missing your voice in their headsets to make their experience complete.

    And lest you think this is just another round in some kind of flame war, no. There is no war. As far as I’m concerned, you are well and truly dismissed. You add nothing. You are part of the problem. Were moderation of posts one of my responsibilities, no S&R reader would ever need brain bleach to flush out the stain of your verbal miscarriages. Your posts would not see the light of day.

    Others may indulge you as they wish. As for me, “stupidicus” will simply be shorthand for, “Nothing to see here. Move along.”

    • Seriously. I mean, the frustrating thing is that for all I know, stupidicus is right about a thing or two. The problem is, the writing is so caught up in self-indulgence that it’s impossible to read. (Not that he cares, but I do speak with at least a little authority on the subject, having actually been a writing and comm professor.) The only thing that comes through with any clarity is snottiness and arrogance. When you project attitude despite your inability to communicate clearly, you’re going to wind up being the sort that people loathe even if you agree with them.

      And it isn’t just us. Stupidicus is a well-established brand in other forums and seems not to be terribly loved anywhere. Fine, that’s really not my concern. So do as you will. Just don’t be surprised when everyone stops paying attention.