Thursday, November 03, 2011

The American Justice System Is Based on the Ten Commandments

 
Bill O'Reilly is the highly paid host of a prime time TV show on one of the most popular networks in the United States. I was recently watching this video and one of O'Reilly's statements caught my attention.



About two minutes into the segment, O'Reilly says ...
He (Dawkins) basically says that United States isn't founded on Judeo-Christian philosophy. That's just absurd, I mean our justice system is based on the ten commandments. In fact, what hangs in the Supreme Court? The Ten Commandments.
I assume that Bill O'Reilly must be correct because no respectable TV network would allow one of its star performers to tell lies about America.

But there are some problems with the first four commandments. I'm not an American and I'm not a lawyer so I'm hoping that some American lawyer will leave a comment explaining these problems.

First Commandment
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me.
This seems pretty straightforward. The American justice system ought to be based on the idea that you have to worship the Judeo-Christian God and no other. You certainly aren't allowed to be an atheist.

There's a minor problem. When I look at the first amendment to the American Constitution I see ....
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
This is widely interpreted by the US Supreme Court to mean that Americans enjoy the right to worship whatever god they want or even (gasp!) no god at all. On the surface this seems to be in direct conflict with the First Commandment. Where am I going wrong?

Second Commandment
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love me and keep my Commandments.
This commandment also seems pretty clear. The American justice system should prohibit bowing down before any statues (e.g. Jesus on the cross, the Virgin Mary, Hindu gods, statues of Buddha). The punishments ought to be severe.

Are these Federal Laws that the Supreme Court upholds? Or are they state laws? What's the punishment for disobeying the second commandment?

Third Commandment
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
I'm not aware of the blasphemy laws that make the American justice system compatible with the third commandment. Can someone give me a reference? Is it okay to take the name of the other gods in vain?

Fourth Commandment
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
I get this one. Whatever your sabbath day, you can't allow your servants to work, or your cattle. I've always obeyed that part, even though I live in Canada.1

But I'm a little confused about the prohibition on you working on the sabbath. Does the American justice system really insist that people don't work on the sabbath? What about all those employees in the Walmart store on Sunday? Are they all going to jail? For how long?


1. I made my wife work on the sabbath. That seems to be okay since it's not covered by the fourth commandment.

16 comments :

  1. When it comes down to it, there are really three of the ten commandments that actually involve "good": don't kill, don't steal, don't lie/commit perjury. I'm pretty sure those are in our laws, but I'm pretty sure they're expressed in other documents than the ten commandments, too. Somehow, I'd expect a more than 30% match before I'd say our laws are "based on" something.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Commandments 6, 8, and 9 (murder, theft, and perjury) are against the law in all societies, Judeo-Christian or not, and have been since before the ten commandments were written. Of the other seven, apart from a dwindling number of state and local blue laws and sodomy statutes, none of the other seven commandments are illegal anywhere in the US.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This explains applications of various commandments but not sure how accurate it is:

    http://www.firstchurchoftheinternet.org/studies/db400yrs.htm

    ReplyDelete
  4. Here's the thing I never get: why does everyone always focus on the "first" set of Ten Commandments? Moses destroyed them (Exodus 34:19) and God gave Moses a new set of tablets with the following (Exodus 34):

    "11 Obey what I command you today. I will drive out before you the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 12 Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you. 13 Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles.[a] 14 Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

    15 “Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. 16 And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.

    17 “Do not make any idols.

    18 “Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread. For seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Aviv, for in that month you came out of Egypt.

    19 “The first offspring of every womb belongs to me, including all the firstborn males of your livestock, whether from herd or flock. 20 Redeem the firstborn donkey with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem all your firstborn sons.

    “No one is to appear before me empty-handed.

    21 “Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.

    22 “Celebrate the Festival of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Festival of Ingathering at the turn of the year.[b] 23 Three times a year all your men are to appear before the Sovereign LORD, the God of Israel. 24 I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your territory, and no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the LORD your God.

    25 “Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast, and do not let any of the sacrifice from the Passover Festival remain until morning.

    26 “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God.

    “Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.”

    27 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” 28 Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments. "

    Shouldn't we be posting these in our courtrooms instead of the old set? I know the issue of whose milk to boil a young goat in is as relevant now as it ever was.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I assume that Bill O'Reilly must be correct because no respectable TV network would allow one of its star performers to tell lies about America.

    That's quite true ... a respectable TV network wouldn't.

    Some of the Commandments are pretty universally recognized in legal systems, mainly because they are pretty basic rules for living in a functioning society. Bill might just as well have said that the late Soviet Union's and the Maoist Chinese legal systems were based on the Ten Commandments because they incorporated those same prohibitions ... but somehow I don't think Bill will be doing that anytime soon.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Given that the more evangelical and (publicly) devout Christians also seem to far more strictly enforce "traditional" gender roles, I would suspect that your wife would be covered by the fourth commandment under the "female servant" category.

    I would avoid any trips to the United States in the future, Dr. Moran, as you have now publicly vioated one of the foundational principles of the American justice system.

    Leslie
    http://opinionsquestions.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete
  7. FoxNews is not one of the "most popular" networks in the U.S.. It is the highest rated (usually) 24-hr cable news network in the country. O'Reilly's show is FoxNews's highest rated show. His ratings would get his show quickly cancelled on any actual broadcast network (ABC, NBC, CBS or FOX).

    The real problem is that all three of the 24 hour cable news channels are awful, and no one watches them unless something blows up or there is an election.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Also, as your post intimated Dr. Moran, Mr. O'Reilly appears to be more or less, uh, opposite of factual about the Supreme Court building and the ten commandments.

    http://www.snopes.com/politics/religion/capital.asp

    ReplyDelete
  9. Odd, my copy of the First Commandment reads, "Bill O'Reilly is the north end of a horse that traveleth south. Thou shalt not believe one damned thing Bill O'Reilly says, lest ye be turned into an IDiot."

    ReplyDelete
  10. I'm also getting really tired of this "Judeo-Christian" posturing, since most of the Christians taking this posture come from a heritage that had a policy of attitudes towards Jews that ranged from exclusion to execution.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Larry, I'm fascinated by the commandment that you not permit your cattle to work on the sabbath. How do you achieve that? Are you just more persuasive to cattle than the rest of us?

    ReplyDelete
  12. Theobromine said:
    "I'm also getting really tired of this "Judeo-Christian" posturing, since most of the Christians taking this posture come from a heritage that had a policy of attitudes towards Jews that ranged from exclusion to execution."
    The term "Judeo-Christian" is still based on exclusion, it is designed to exclude muslims (it goes without saying that atheists are not counted.)
    In fact the blasphemy commandments, the subject of this post, are much more similar to Islam than anything in Christianity.

    ReplyDelete
  13. He (Dawkins) basically says that United States isn't founded on Judeo-Christian philosophy. That's just absurd, I mean our justice system is based on the ten commandments. In fact, what hangs in the Supreme Court? The Ten Commandments.

    *facepalm*

    Not that it should surprise me that O'Reilly is either lying or grossly ignorant, but I will just venture to point out that the Ten Commandments do not hang in the Supreme Court. I presume O'Reilly is misleadingly referring to a frieze on the eastern pediment which in part depicts Moses receiving with tablets, but if he bothered to look he would see that those tablets are blank, and the rest of the frieze includes among its lawgivers Confucius and Solon. On the same basis, you might as well say that the U.S. Constitution was founded on The Analects.

    Not to mention the pure idiocy of asserting that the frieze on a building that didn't exist before 1935 is an unassailable proof of the religious intent of a document drafted 147 years earlier. But if he weren't an idiot, he wouldn't be Bill O'Reilly.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I'm also getting really tired of this "Judeo-Christian" posturing, since most of the Christians taking this posture come from a heritage that had a policy of attitudes towards Jews that ranged from exclusion to execution.

    It's an entirely political construction. Both the religious right and the neoconservative right now "love" Jews because Israel exists to be used as a staging ground for the projection of American force into the Middle East or to initiate Armageddon, depending on who you talk to.

    The fact that the neoconservative strategy requires that Israel be a politically isolated pariah state with only the U.S. to rely on, while the religious right's visions of the End Times require Israel to be turned into a blasted post-nuclear wasteland, are not regarded by the establishment media as the thoroughly anti-Jewish positions they really are. When it comes to government policy, the U.S. media is completely uncritical.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Another small difference is that the 10 commandments apply to ethnic Hebrews, whereas in the US the law applies to everyone, we don't have a seperate set of laws for each ethnicity, whereas the Hebrews of the bible had one standard for themselves, and another for all those 'other people' (and to be clear, that's not something that only the Hebrews did). Notice that the Hebrew creation story has Man being formed in a paradise, but then after being cast out, turns out there's whole cities of other men out there. The Creation Myth, and the Decalogue, were never intended to be Universal.
    Infact, if you really need to take a religious tack on this, then Americans, being mostly goyim, need to follow the laws given down to Noah, the Noahide Laws.

    Recall that O'Reilly used to be a social studies teacher, btw.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Indeed, most of our laws are based on or have elements of the Ten Commandment.

    ReplyDelete