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 biblos.com 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

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

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