The Religious Right’s Moses fixation continues to grow.
As you might recall, the Texas State Board of Education recently demanded social studies textbooks that highlight the role Moses supposedly played in the founding of the United States. If that wasn’t bad enough, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) recently decided to give a farewell address of the floor of the House of Representatives that focused largely on – you guessed it – the Old Testament patriarch.
Bachmann, noting that the interior of the Capitol contains images of historic lawgivers, opined, “And yet only one lawgiver has the distinction of not having a silhouette, but having the full face be revealed by the artist. That lawgiver is Moses. Moses is directly above the double doors that lead into the centermost part of this chamber, and in the face of Moses, his eyes look straight upon not only our nation’s motto, ‘In God We Trust,’ but Moses’ face looks full on into the face of the Speaker of the House. Daily, the Speaker of the House, as he stands up in his authority and in his podium, recognizes that he is a man under authority, just as Moses was a man under authority.”
She added, “Because you see, Mr. Speaker, Moses is given as the full honor of the greatest lawgiver in this chamber, because he was chosen by the God that we trust to be entrusted with the basis of all law. The ‘basis of all law’ as was written by Blackstone, the famous English jurist, was the Ten Commandments, that were given by none other than the God we trust on Mount Sinai.
“We know those laws, those laws are the fundamental laws of mankind, and here in the United States, the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses is the very foundation of the law that has given happiness and the rise of the greatest prosperity that any nation has known before Mr. Speaker, it could be no coincidence that this nation, knowing and enjoying the heights of such great happiness and such great prosperity, that it could be built upon that foundation of the Ten Commandments and of the law given by the God in whom we trust.”
Where to start? Well, we could point out that Bachmann’s underlying premise, that U.S. law is based on the Ten Commandments, is wrong. This was made clear by a number of law professors and legal historians in 2003. In a court brief, they noted, “While the Ten Commandments have influenced some of our notions of right and wrong, a wide variety of other documents have played a more dominant and central role in the development of American law. No respected scholar of legal or constitutional history would assert that the Ten Commandments have played a dominant or major role, or even a significant role, in the development of American law as a whole. To insist on a closer relationship or to claim the Ten Commandments has a special place in the development of American law lacks historical support.”
More to the point, would you really want to live in a society based on the Ten Commandments? Think of it. The Old Testament speaks of autocratic monarchs and harsh theocracies, not representative democracy and pluralism.
Would you want to live in a nation that punished people for worshiping “false” gods, making graven images and failing to honor the Sabbath?
Do we want live in a country where religious police act as enforcers of some theocrat’s version of morality? Where the cops toss people in jail for committing adultery, swearing, failing to honor their parents or being jealous of the cool stuff their neighbor has?
Sure, we want laws that forbid murder, stealing and lying under oath – but those are commonsense rules that have existed as long as people have strived to live together in organized communities. They were around before Moses and God had their little mountaintop confab.
A few hundred years ago, some people tried to build a society based on the Ten Commandments. This was the theocratic Massachusetts Bay Colony, and it didn’t work out too well. Today, there are extremists attempting to run nations based on interpretations of ancient laws deemed holy. It’s called the Islamic State, and again, it’s not working out.
The only good thing about Bachmann’s comments is that they came during her farewell address. She is leaving Congress. (Bachmann is under investigation for possible ethics violations that occurred during her short-lived 2012 presidential campaign. Maybe she violated a few commandments there.) Of course, that body will still contain plenty of religious zealots, but Bachmann’s combination of ignorance and extremism was unique. It won’t be missed.