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Other Gods Before Me
April 2, 2017
by William P. Meyers

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Ten Commandments, False Gods and Secular Law

The separation of Church and State is as American as apple pie. Nevertheless, "separation" does not have to mean the two must fight all the time.

Aside from the nasty fight by religious zealots to ban abortion, the most famous fight of late has been over whether religious symbols and text can be posted in public places.

The Ten Commandments from the Bible is the text most commonly fought over. Christians (and presumably Jews) think court houses are appropriate places to display the Ten.

Many of the Ten Commandments are indistinguishable from secular laws. Religions and ethical secular people mostly agree that killing people, stealing or desiring things that belong to others, cheating on your spouse, and lying to a court of law about things are all bad.

It is the "I am the Lord thy God ... Thou shalt have no other gods before me," [Exodus 20:2-3] part that is dangerous to a society that values religious and philosophical freedom.

According to the Bible story, Moses got the Ten Commandments (and an avalanche of more particular rules and regulations) [Note to self: write anti-Trump blog titled: If God Does not like Rules and Regulations, Why did he write to many?] from God, who brought the Jews out of Egypt.

But how is a person to know who the True God is? After all, the Bible admits there are a bunch of false gods around (there were a lot more back then than now). And is a false god going to walk up and say to you, "Hey, my name is Osiris, and I'm a false god, but worship me anyway?" No, false gods are going to pretend to be the True God. And, more than likely, Moses got conned by one of those false gods. Sorry, I was just testing you. Of course the God of Moses is the true God, and Jupiter and Zeus and Gunputty and crew are the false gods.

The problem is, the various Christian sects don't worship the Jewish god. If they did, they would still be Jews. And they certainly don't worship the same god in their different denominations. If they worshipped the same God, they would get the same instructions, and would not be sorted out into Catholics and Calvinists, Baptists and Methodists, evangelicals and fundamentalists and the rest of the lot.

And how would the government be at choosing who is the True God, and who is just a con artists other god? Do we want Congress to decide the question, or perhaps the Supreme Court would be more appropriate?

Most people can't tell which people running for office are lying and which are honest. They can't tell when their spouses are cheating. They have trouble sorting a good investment from a bad one. We can't even all agree on one brand of car or computer or beer. What are the chances they are going to pick the True God from among all the lying scoundrel gods competing in the god marketplace?

So my reasonable compromise is: start with number 5, Honor thy father and mother. At least until your 18. Number 6, Thou Shalt not kill - they should put that up over the electric chair. Thou shalt not commit adultery. And so on down to number 10, thou shalt not covet stuff.

These are all good secular suggestions. The particulars, as to whether specific examples of these are crimes or merely sub-optimal behavior, and what appropriate punishments are if you can't afford a good lawyer, can be worked out through our Democratic process.

I want to particularly thank the sect known as Baptists for their work, during and after the American Revolution, to separate Church and State. They insisted on it, because while we were part of the British Empire, everyone had to pay taxes to support the Church of England (now known as the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A.). They hated that.

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