The left’s fiery obsession with removing Ten Commandments monuments from public property throughout the United States may seem odd and irrational but actually reflects the deepest values of contemporary liberalism.
In the last five years alone, the tireless fanatics at the ACLU have invested tens of millions of dollars and countless hours of legal time in lawsuits to yank the Commandments from long-standing displays in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Montana, Georgia, Iowa, Washington State, Nebraska, Texas, Pennsylvania and Florida. In one of the most recent battles, they delayed their litigation in Dixie County, Florida, because they couldn’t find a single local resident to lend a name as plaintiff in a drive to dislocate the tablets from the local court house.
Even for militant separationists like the ACLU, this ferocious hostility to innocuous and generally uncontroversial monuments looks excessive, even self-destructive. The overwhelming majority of Americans instinctively accept the Commandments as a timeless, cherished summary of universal moral precepts. A closer look at the specifics of the Decalogue, however, suggests that it makes good sense for leftists to hate The Big Ten: each one of the commandments contradicts a different pillar of trendy liberal thinking.
For the purposes of this discussion of these conflicts, I’ll cite translations from the original Hebrew in the excellent Stone Edition of the Biblical text (Exodus 20; 2-14), and I’ll use the traditional numbering favored by Jews and Protestants. (Catholics group Commandments 1 and 2 together, and make two separate Commandments--9 and 10-- out of the prohibition on “coveting” that Protestants and Jews identify solely as number 10.)
First Commandment: I am the Lord Your God, Who has taken you out of the Land of Egypt, from the house of slavery…..
This one makes liberals obviously and instantly uncomfortable. According to political correctness, it’s rude and insensitive to proclaim God’s existence in public—and especially not in public schools! Faith is supposed to remain a private matter, an individual habit or quiet commitment, leaving plenty of room for doubt and uncertainty. Secularists therefore resent the notion of an open, out-of-the-closet Deity who shows off in such a noisy, flashy way, staging the Exodus from Egypt with all its plagues and sea-splitting, then announcing himself in a voice from the mountaintop heard by hundreds of thousands of people. For those who worry about too much religion in the “public square,” it doesn’t get much more public or communal or unequivocal than this opening proclamation.
Second Commandment: You shall not recognize the gods of others in My presence. You shall not make yourself a carved image nor any likeness of that which is in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the water beneath the earth. You shall not prostrate yourself to them nor worship them…..
Talk about intolerance and judgmentalism! This commandment denies the very essence of multiculturalism and diversity: by what right do we dismiss and disrespect the gods of others? Didn’t that wild-eyed, bearded guy who went up the mountain realize that it’s a demonstration of wrong-headed cultural imperialism to express such cruel, callous contempt for deities like the Aztec Quetzcotal or the Canaanite Moloch? Moreover, when it comes to worshipping idols, twentieth century leftists continued the noble traditions of the ancient cults of Baal or Astarte: in the old Soviet Union, every town boasted monumental statues of Lenin or Stalin (usually both) and to this day, the image of the divine Fidel graces every pathetic hovel in Cuba. Refusal to “prostrate yourself” and to “worship them” can lead to big trouble in such enlightened societies.
Third Commandment: You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not absolve anyone who takes His Name in vain.
For liberals, this rule highlights the right wing’s eternal, anal-retentive obsession with proper language and dirty words. Isn’t old Moses here sounding a little bit like the benighted FCC with its seven words you’re never allowed to say on the air? Cutting edge artists and entertainers love using holy names in shocking and disrespectful ways. Liberals supported the National Endowment for the Arts almost unanimously in its funding for the controversial Andres Serrano collage “Piss Christ,” and activists on the left are always more eager to defend any divine designations (like “God Almighty!” or “Jesus Christ!”) if they’re pronounced as curse words (protected speech) rather than with reverence (violating separation of church-and-state).
Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it. Six days shall you work and accomplish all your work but the seventh day is Sabbath to the Lord your God….
Most liberals are okay with the Sabbath stuff, but they squirm over that part of this directive that says, “Six days shall you work….”?!! What kind of exploitative boss would dare to demand a six day work week from today’s unionized laborers? In enlightened nations like France, they’re working to get it down to a three day week--which ought to be enough to keep every citizen well-stocked in snails and frog legs. This commandment fairly reeks of the old-fashioned, restrictive Anglo-Saxon work ethic. In the Twenty First Century isn’t it time we moved beyond that outmoded notion that people should prefer labor to leisure?
Fifth Commandment: Honor your father and your mother….
And ignore the scintillating and liberating ideas of the younger generation? Are you kidding? The expectation of honoring your elders burdens youthful free spirits with the dead, oppressive influence of tradition and the past. Progressive thinkers understand that in defining proper standards of dress, grooming, music, entertainment and sexual mores , it’s kids (and particularly adolescents), not parents, who really know best.
Sixth Commandment: You shall not kill
On the surface, this sounds reasonable enough to liberals, but they can’t stand the context: just one chapter later in the same book of the Bible (Exodus, 21:12),God and Moses give orders to break their own rule: “One who strikes a man, so that he dies, shall surely be put to death.” The next verses stipulate capital punishment for a wide variety of causes (like “cursing your father and mother”) so the no-kill commandment really begins to sound like no-murder. In other words, the Bible makes a clear distinction that liberals emphatically deny. The left loves slogans that declare that that execution is murder, war is murder, meat is murder, and so forth, but the God of Exodus who emphatically bans murder also specifically authorizes execution, war and meat.
Seventh Commandment: You shall not commit adultery
To which the post-modern left would quickly add: unless you really, really love her. It’s not just Clinton apologists who have a problem with this inconvenient taboo on extra-marital involvement: when people take their vows by pledging to remain committed “as long as our love shall last,” the Seventh Commandment begins to look incurably outmoded.
Eighth Commandment: You shall not steal
For lefties, this prohibition smacks of the right’s selfish emphasis on private property. Back in the glory days of the 1960’s, the beloved hippie hero Abbie Hoffman penned a liberationist manifesto called “Steal This Book.” Radicals and revolutionaries have always devised comfortable euphemisms to describe the act of theft: “liberating” or “boosting” or “collectivizing” or “nationalizing” private property, or simply “taxing the rich.” If you believe it’s virtuous for government to seize by force the majority of an individual’s earnings (remember the pre-Reagan, top income tax rate of 70%?), you ought to feel somewhat uncomfortable with an absolute ban on stealing.
Ninth Commandment: You shall not bear false witness…
Some liberals may endorse this commandment, but only when it’s applied to Scooter Libby. Otherwise, there’s a problem with the ancient Jewish understanding of the deeper meaning of this verse. Our sages suggest that a secret to understanding each one of the Big Ten involves the parallel structure of the two tablets. In other words, the first commandment corresponds to the sixth, the second to the seventh, the third to the eighth, and the fourth to the ninth. That means that this “no false witness” order connects to the imperative of keeping the Sabbath. The association relates to the basis for Sabbath observance stipulated in the text: “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and the sea and all this is in them, and He rested on the seventh day.” In other words, the Sabbath bears witness to God’s role in creation, and the Rabbis say that the denial of divine creation represents the ultimate in bearing false witness. On this basis, today’s libs insist on false witness, the whole false witness, and nothing but false witness. The very idea of questioning a random, materialistic origin of the universe makes them crazy with rage and contempt: they strenuously condemn the mere notion of suggesting in schools that it was an Intelligent Designer who must have “made the heavens and the earth”
Tenth Commandment: You shall not covet your fellow’s house. You shall not covet your fellow’s wife, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, nor anything that belongs to your fellow.
Among many other problems, this commandment outrages PETA with its unacceptable suggestions like animal companions like oxen and donkeys can ever “belong” to their human friends. Meanwhile, the ban on coveting involves a restriction on a feeling, a desire, and it’s politically incorrect to suppress or deny or stifle authentic emotions, Blaming yourself for coveting can only undermine self-esteem, and the emergence and liberation of your precious inner child. Moreover, the entire leftist project is largely based on covetousness: resenting the “filthy rich” for what they’ve earned, rather than feeling grateful for your own achievements. The implacable liberal focus on the “gap between rich and poor” – as if impoverishing the wealthy worked in any meaningful way to actually enrich the poor – represents covetous attitudes at their irrational worst. The sacred leftist goal of “redistribution of wealth,” mandating heavy taxes on “haves” for the purported benefits of “have-nots”, depends on coveting for its energy and rationale. On the other hand, the Bible’s unmistakable emphasis on the sanctity of private property (“You shall not covet your fellow’s house”) clearly contradicts the left’s emphasis on a communitarian and collectivist outlook, in which the state becomes the ultimate owner of everything.
Reviewing the Ten Commandments one by one exposes their irreconcilable conflict with the demented and dysfunctional philosophy of today’s left.
In other words, in contrast to most aspects of Twenty First century liberalism, the implacable hostility to the Biblical Big Ten actually ends up making perfect sense.