by Edwin Kagin
America’s Own Religious Extremism to the Forefront
Volume 1, Number 9
supply of brand new copies of
FUNDAMENTALS OF EXTREMISM
with slightly damaged covers
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of the activities of the
says JOHN SHELBY SPONG best-selling author of Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism
image for details or visit your favorite online bookseller.
have just read this brilliant book from start to finish, almost
without a break, and I am stunned and horrified by what I have
says RICHARD DAWKINS author of Unweaving
the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder
Fundamentals of Extremism is
now listed in
Welcome to issue 9 of Fundamentally Aware. If you’re not yet a subscriber to my complimentary e-newsletter, be sure to sign up. You’ll find details in the lower left column.
Just a reminder that many events have been added to my book tour at http://www.newbostonbooks.com/Tours%20and%20Events.htm, which is updated regularly.
could be no better time to review the issue of the Ten Commandments as
the basis for American law than now with Chief Justice Roy Moore
continuing his uphill fight to keep his monstrous monument in
As always, please feel free to share your comments with me.
1. Are the Ten Commandments Adequate or even Appropriate for Today’s Society?
2. Politically Incorrect
3. The Ten Commandments: a New Basis for Lawlessness
4. Conservative Christian Views on Education
following is excerpted from Chapter 5: The Social Implications of
Armageddon by Kimberly Blaker in
The Fundamentals of Extremism.
fundamentalists take the Bible literally, they firmly believe these
commandments are both necessary and sufficient to regulate society.
For a pre-industrial tribal society, fundamentalists may be right. But
there are many risks to imposing outdated rules on modern
three makes sacred any words that refer to the Judeo-Christian God in
the command, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in
vain.” The fourth sets up the Sabbath. And the fifth commandment
requires adherents “Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days
may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”[i]
This commandment may have some value. But without a companion piece
for parents to treat their children in a manner deserving of a
child’s respect, it is inefficient and even dangerous.
six, “Thou shalt not kill,”[ii]
is one upon which everyone can agree. A secular American law, however,
has remained intact without the need for the religious order of it.
This “common-sense” mandate originated at a time when people
actually did need to be told killing was wrong. By the twenty-first
century, contemporary society recognizes that killing other humans is
generally wrong. It is also developing definitions of when it is
necessary to break this rule such as in war or self-defense. Broad
theological prohibitions only hamper the development of suitable
exceptions, while offering anti-abortionists justification for their
cause. . . .
to the seventh commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”[iii]
Marriage is one of the three cultural universals;[iv]
that is, every known culture defines marriage in one way or another,
though definitions of marriage vary widely over time and location. The
Old Testament defines marriage and adultery for a new religion, and
our current law regarding marriage mirrors this definition in many
basic respects, including the definition of adultery.
exception is that the Old Testament laws pertaining to adultery did
not pertain to men, but rather women, except for men who had affairs
with married women. . . . When considering what social rules should
govern marriage, recognizing changes in life span and lifestyles is
necessary. While people marry much later and divorce more often than a
century ago, the average amount of time-spent married has changed very
little. . . .
shalt not steal”[v]
is the succinct eighth commandment. This is firmly on “common
sense” ground. From petty theft to grand larceny, stealing is the
subject of a huge proportion of criminal law. Today, the Golden Rule
can easily cover theft. Therefore, this commandment, while not
actually counterproductive, serves no explicit purpose in defining
morality and law. Our society universally recognizes the desirability
and practicality of ownership.
nine is, essentially, an injunction against lying: “Thou shalt not
bear false witness against thy neighbor.”[vi]
However, as sweeping and broad as most of the commandments are, the
restriction “against thy neighbor” sets this one apart. There are
a number of interpretations of the “neighbor” clause. Critics of
Biblical ethics interpret it most literally to mean it is perfectly
all right to lie about any number of things, including total
strangers. But it is only a violation to be disloyal and untrue about
those of your community or tribe. . . .
final component of the commands is perhaps the most telling when
considering the era of this rule set: “Thou shalt not covet thy
neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor
his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any
thing that is thy neighbour's.”[vii]
Like bearing false witness, restricting covetousness could be a useful
injunction in our current society, if it did not as a piece include
the definition of what is owned. Our laws against owning people are
seventy years younger than the U.S. Constitution. They were the
breaking point in our only Civil War. There may be value in denouncing
covetousness in today’s competitive social arena. Yet, the reference
to a wife or servants as the property of another person is completely
inappropriate for our contemporary moral code. It can serve as a
justification to those who would undermine the civil liberties of
vulnerable groups. . . .
more on this issue and on the moral and social development of
fundamentalists in Kimberly Blaker’s chapter “The Social
Implications of Armageddon” in The
Fundamentals of Extremism: the Christian Right in America.
“Today's court ruling is a victory for those who believe, as I do, that the Ten Commandments are time-tested and appropriate guidelines for living a full and moral life. The Ten Commandments provide a historical foundation for our laws and principles as a free and strong nation, under God, and should be displayed at the Texas Capitol.”
Gov. Rick Perry applauding a federal ruling allowing the display of
the Ten Commandments at the state capitol.
Fundamentals of Extremism: the Christian Right in
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The desire of some Americans, including politicians and government officials to post the Ten Commandments in public places is nothing new; though for many, it’s merely a misguided attempt to make our nation a kinder, safer place. This is evident by the fact that the Christian right often gains unexpected support in its attempts to place the Decalogue in public schools, following tragic shootings, and in courthouses, particularly since 9-11.
the first four of the Ten Commandments (among others) have nothing to
do with unlawful behavior, and instead prescribe religious behavior,
such as “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me,” most realize
that our government and public buildings are no place for this
Judeo-Christian edict. This
is not the case, however, for the Chief Justice, who’s fully aware
of the implications of the Decalogue.
put it into perspective, at a Christian rally in 2002,
would be hoped, the ruling by U.S District Judge Myron Thompson, that
the monument is a Constitutional violation of the Establishment
Clause, was upheld by the Circuit Court of Appeals on July 1st. But
His next options are to ask the full 11th Circuit Court to hear the case or to go straight to the top—ask to have it reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
troubles many is the question: to what extreme will the Chief Justice
go to preserve his monument? When
asked what he’ll do should the U.S. Supreme Court order its removal,
rather than stating he would abide by the law, Moore confessed,
"Once I've acknowledged God, then to take it out and say you
can't acknowledge him any more, that's a very serious consideration.
I'll have to make a decision when that time comes.”
of the National Clergy Council and the Christian Defense Coalition, it
has been reported, already have a plan of action: to kneel around the
monument and act as a barricade. This is similar to actions that
ensued in June, when four public high schools in
the U.S. Supreme Court has already rejected hearing several other
appeals, one as recent as April 2003, where the display of Ten
Commandments monuments in judicial buildings had been forbidden,
The unwillingness by those who support the erection of the Ten Commandments in public places to abide by the law should, in itself, reflect the necessity of keeping these religious monuments off public property, as even before they become legalized, those who support them have a tendency to deem themselves above U.S. law.
Blaker is editor and coauthor of The
Fundamentals of Extremism: the Christian Right in
Christian Right and the Ten Commandments in Public Schools
these links to read up on Christian efforts, and successes, in posting
the Ten Commandments in public schools:
1999, the House of Representatives approves such a measure.
is a House bill that would ultimately make it impossible to keep the
Ten Commandments out of public places.
“The Book of Exodus,” book 2 The Holy Bible, King James
Version, University of Michigan Humanities Text Initiative, 1996 [online]
[cited 29 May 2002]; available at http://www.hti.umich.edu/k/kjv. chapter
20, verse 12.
“The Book of Exodus,” verse 13.
“The Book of Exodus,” ch. 20 v. 14.
Ian Robertson, Sociology, 3rd ed. (New York, New York:
Worth Publishers, Inc. 1987), 225.
“The Book of Exodus,” ch. 20 v. 15.
[vi] “The Book of Exodus,” ch. 20 v. 16.
[vii] “The Book of Exodus,” ch. 20 v. 17.
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