Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore is famously perturbed that the Ten Commandments have been banned from public display at his state’s judicial complex. He and his cohorts, who saw the tablets moved a week ago today, warn that the refusal to “acknowledge God” will eventually have dire consequences, such as the destruction of America. Brother Roy is trying to save us and he gets nothing but trouble in return.
It is true that the judge — who is on the government payroll — should have considered himself obliged to do the state’s bidding, which in this case meant going along with the court order to move the display. If his conscience bothers him he should resign and go into protesting full time. Lord knows, vast opportunity awaits him.
But at the risk of uttering blasphemy, a little empathy might be in order for Roy and his allies. These people suddenly find themselves strangers in a very strange land.
Many of them, after all, grew up at a time when the school day started with prayer. Invocations at public events were routine, whether local government functions or football games, and God embellished state mottos and public buildings across the country. The popular culture reflected religious restraint, especially regarding sexuality, language, and violence, which tended to be bloodless. The suspicion that “Louie, Louie” contained the F-word resulted in an official investigation.
Times have changed, to put it mildly. The other day in Tacoma, Washington, an estimated 754 guitarists went to a baseball stadium and ripped through a ten-minute or so rendition of “Louie, Louie” in hope of setting a Guinness World Record. In California, a fellow known as the Terminator — who makes very bloody movies — is running for governor. So, too, is the world’s most famous pornographer. Television is increasingly one big nookie show, and television is everywhere (my beach cottage this year contained five of them).
That’s not all. The full acceptance of sexual practices historically denounced as abominations has become the litmus test of sophistication. Indeed, scowling at such practices is instantly diagnosed as a phobic mental disorder. The Boy Scouts has become an outlaw organization. The Episcopal Church has approved an openly homosexual bishop. Meanwhile, Christianity’s seismic role in the development of Western and American traditions, including the law, is increasingly downplayed or ignored. Textbooks have been sanitized, and activists also want God taken out of the Pledge of Allegiance, off the currency, and are no doubt trying to figure out how to get the three portrayals of Moses and/or the Ten Commandments removed from the Supreme Court building.
All of which, in Judge Roy’s estimation, can lead in but one direction: Divine Intervention of an unpleasant kind. This is the old-time religion: God creates man, man turns back on God, God unleashes fierce enemies to knock the fallen back into line. No surprise, then, when some believers suggested post 9/11 that the Islamist air force had been dispatched to punish America for its increasing moral laxity.
That was no doubt a bold and reckless conjecture. It also ignores the fact that we need not wait upon Divine Retaliation. We are already nose-deep in Crapola Grande. Parents are perhaps most sensitive to these changes. We remember when kids were required to memorize poetry, speeches, and — yikes! — Bible passages. These days our kids couldn’t recite a psalm or the Gettysburg Address if the Terminator put a bazooka to their head. Instead of contemplating the transcendent mysteries, etc., their brains echo with inane pop lyrics and advertising jingles. The little dears seem almost supernaturally superficial.
At the same time, Brother Roy should have a little faith. Despite the efforts of evangelizing secularists, many of whom seem to suffer a severe form of Jehovahphobia, humans continue to sense a divine spark within and continue to seek its source. This will continue to lead many to church, and often churches that take the historic creeds quite seriously.
A little levity is in order as well. This is, after all, the Divine Comedy, and every day brings forth another chuckle. Last week a news report told us that a group of Egyptian expatriates is “preparing a suit to be filed against ‘all the Jews’ for property taken from the Egyptians at the time of the Biblical Exodus from Pharaonic Egypt.” Talk about chutzpah. And there are always the Episcopalians, who hope the reversal of historic policies against homosexuality will bring new sheep into the fold, which may in turn add some much-needed heft to those collection baskets. If I were advising the church, I’d suggest going one better and reversing the traditional strictures against hitting the hay with your neighbor’s wife. That’s where the real money is.
— Dave Shiflett is a member of the White House Writers Group.