Happiness is boring a hole in your Hebrew slave’s ear with an awl, or so might well say Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice and Baptist zealot Roy Moore.
Before I get to Moore and his grotesque, faith-lathered absurdities, though, a quick digression. Not a week goes by without our egregiously pious politicians outraging rationalist champions of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Mike Huckabee, Republican presidential candidate and onetime Southern Baptist preacher, indicated he would, as head of state, obey the Supreme Being, not the Supreme Court, at least as regards same-sex marriage.
His rival and fellow evolution-naysayer Ben Carson urged his Christian co-religionists to stand up to “progressive bullying,” even though Christians account for seven out of ten Americans, and hardly amount to some beleaguered minority nonbelievers could push around, even if they wanted to.
And the Republican National Committee continues its affiliation with the Christian fundamentalist activist group, American Renewal Project, whose director, David Lane, is now calling for the establishment of Christianity as “the official religion of America.” Lane may have taken cues from that morose stalwart of antipathetic reaction, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Don’t forget, a year ago Thomas, a Roman Catholic, aired the malodorous opinion that the First Amendment (which starts with “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”) “probably” – italics mine, yes, sic, only “probably” – “prohibits Congress from establishing a national religion,” but should not hinder individual states from doing so.
With justices like Thomas, and if a Republican wins in 2016, the Supreme Court may well end up serving as the Doric-columned ossuary of the remains of our once gloriously godless Republic.
Now we come to Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore. Speaking last week at the Family Research Council, a hyper-conservative Christian lobbying group in Washington, D.C., Moore defined the pursuit of happiness as a by-product of observing the often malicious edicts and baleful pronouncements pervading cock-and-bull fables originating with pastoral, semi-nomadic primitive tribes two or three millennia ago in a land far, far away; that is, the Bible. Moore declared, in obtusely baroque verbiage, that “It’s laws of God, for He is so intimately connected, so inseparably interwoven the laws of eternal justice with the happiness of each individual that the latter cannot be obtained but by observing the former, and if the formerly be punctually abated it cannot help but induce the latter. You can’t help but be happy if you follow God’s law and if you follow God’s law, you can’t help but be happy. We need to learn our law.”
Translation: doing what the Bible says makes you happy.
Some readers might recall Moore from 2003, when he fought a federal injunction ordering him to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments he had arranged to be erected within the Alabama Judicial Building in Montgomery. Denouncing federal judges who held that the “obedience of a court order [is] superior to all other concerns, even the suppression of belief in the sovereignty of God,” Moore refused to comply, and was sacked from the court. Thousands of his supporters descended on the site. More than a year passed before the authorities managed to truck away the offending chunk of granite, a monstrosity so heavy it threatened to crash through the building’s floor.
A decade later, already a folk hero to the brute masses of his state afflicted with the malady of faith, Moore, as unrepentant as ever, found himself reelected to Alabama’s highest tribunal. Once again, he could not sit still. When the Supreme Court in Washington legalized same-sex marriage in Alabama last January, Roy forbade state employees and probate judges from carrying out such unions. In a contentious interview with CNN, Moore then proclaimed that “Our rights contained in the Bill of Rights do not come from the Constitution, they come from God.” He denied he was defying the Supreme Court; rather, he was protecting marriage, “an institution ordained of God.” His allegiance, as should now be clear, is not to the Constitution he has sworn to uphold, but to gobbledygook myths and a bogus Tyrant in the Sky. In other words, to the Bible and God.
One might be tempted to dismiss Moore as yet another faith-mongering, red-state ignoramus, but his status as chief justice should give us pause. Moreover, for decades now, those of the religious right have been laboring to force their superstitions, by hook or by crook, on the rest of us. In far too many states, for example, they’ve succeeded in legislatively thwarting Roe v. Wade to restrict women’s reproductive rights. Just last year, they won a Supreme Court case legalizing prayer in town meetings. And if non-belief is steadily gaining ground, those who remain Christian are increasingly evangelical — which is to say, politically active and well-funded. We thus find our cherished secularism under credible, and growing, threat.
In view of this, it behooves us to take Moore’s advice and look at what the Bible actually says. But which part are we to review, the ferociously censorious Testament 1.0, or its supposedly more clement 2.0 update?
Both. The Bible, often obscure and contradictory, could not be clearer about this. In Matthew 5:18-19 Christ decrees: “till heaven and earth pass away . . . whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments [in the Bible] and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” In Luke 16:17, He reminds us that, "It is easier for Heaven and Earth to pass away than for the smallest part of the letter of the [Bible’s] law to become invalid." His cohort Peter informs us (in Peter 2: 20-21) that “there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation.” Disregard, then, those who would have you think that the Old Testament has, in effect, expired, as well as mealy-mouthed apologists who say it’s all a matter of how you read the text. And remember, 28 percent of Americans take the Good Book as literal truth, talking snakes and jabbering donkeys and all. It’s not much of a jump to go from literal truth to literal application.
The Bible deluges us with a hailstorm of injunctions, far in excess of the Ten Commandments (first presented in Exodus 20:22-28, but also, with inexplicable alterations and sundry additions, in Exodus 34 and Deuteronomy 5). Aside from don’t kill, murder, or covet wives and asses, and so on, just what does the Bible ordain?
For starters, slavery. Much of Exodus 21 is basically a slaveholder’s manual and contains my opening line about boring through your Hebrew slave’s ear with an awl, which is what it says he deserves if he should fail to decamp on schedule. (Servitude is to last six years.) After departure, the slave’s wife and children belong, of course, to you, his master. If you need cash, feel free to sell your daughter as a sex slave. Beat and have sex with your slaves, but whatever you do, don’t “smite” their eyes or their teeth, or you’re obliged to free them. Remember, though, that Christ orders your slaves to obey you with “fear, trembling, and sincerity, as when [they] obey the Messiah” (Ephesians 6:5), so don’t spare the rod unnecessarily. Exodus (21:29) also warns you to keep your livestock in check. Don’t let your ox gore anyone, or you and the beast must be stoned to death. Do redeem the firstling of an ass with a lamb (whatever that means), but if you don’t, break the former’s neck. Otherwise, don’t “oppress” any “sojourners,” “vex” any strangers, or “afflict” any widows or “fatherless children.” Etcetera.
If believers require orders from some “holy” book to keep from doing these things, as those who claim our morality comes from God suppose, they should be kept off the streets, and certainly away from children.
When it comes to His earthly visiting quarters, the Lord legislates with lavish abandon, proffering binding instructions for ark-building, tabernacle-adornment, and altar-construction, on which His subjects are to scant nothing -- not gold, not silver, not bronze. U.S. lawmakers chose to lighten the expense burden by providing churches with tax exemptions. Ancient Israelites found recompense in celestially sanctioned regional hegemony over the “Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite” (Exodus 34). Israelites were divinely enjoined to “destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their idol poles . . . . For I will cast out the nations before thee, and enlarge thy borders.” This criminal pronouncement from long ago inspires radical Jewish settlers today and helps maintain the insolubility of the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.
God then hits red-staters where it hurts, ordaining that “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks” — tattoos — “upon you: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:27). Brothers, no mullets: "Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard” (Leviticus 19:27). Nevertheless, dress nattily: “Do not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together” (Deuteronomy 22:11). Sisters, betake yourselves to a nunnery -- for clothes, if nothing else. “Women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire” (l Timothy 2:9).
Before setting out to follow Jesus, remember to violate Commandment 5 and abhor your parents. "If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters -- yes, even their own life -- such a person cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). Do, however, abhor discreetly, for if you curse Mom and Dad aloud, they have the right to cut you down on the spot (Leviticus 20:9). Don’t talk with any wizards (ibid, 20:6) or get it on with your sister-in-law, or eat fat (ibid 3:17), or attend church for thirty-three days after birthing a boy (you’ll be unclean), or sixty-six days if it’s a girl, you’ll be doubly unclean (Ibid 12:4-5).
I could go on and on, but you get the point. Thomas Jefferson described “the Christian god [as] a being of terrific character — cruel, vindictive, capricious, and unjust.” In modern parlance, the Lord is psychotic, and stands in need of urgent psychiatric treatment for an out-of-control Type A personality, pathological solipsism and wanton sadism. It should surprise no one that damnable nonsense is His rule book’s warp and woof, with even the supposedly more humane New Testament deserving disdain as a farrago of “forgeries and lies” (to quote Thomas Paine). The Bible, in the end, merits mercilessly swift dispatch into the dustbin of history, or preservation as an anthropological curiosity, nothing more. Anyone considering it our wellspring of joy is not to be trusted.
So how is it that Chief Justice Moore suffers no opprobrium for saying that you “can’t help but be happy if you follow God’s law?”
Because we commit a sort of secular sin of omission and let him, either out of mistaken notions of politesse or the erroneous belief that criticizing religion as ideology equates with insulting someone personally. This has to stop. Every time we encounter faith-deranged individuals spouting supernatural nonsensicalities, we should request explanations and evidence. We might also cite the above-noted biblical passages and ask how they possibly square with modern life in a developed country. If they say those parts don’t apply nowadays, ask them which verses in the Bible permit them to so pick and choose. By steady, patient questioning, you will expose faith for what it is: finely crafted garbage.
We should not suffer evangelical fools gladly or allow them to determine the boundaries of discourse. We should take to heart the key maxim of British philosopher and mathematician William K. Clifford: “It is wrong, always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” We should point out that we have no problem with privately held religious beliefs, but we will protest and object to any attempt to impose such beliefs or restrictions deriving thereof on us or others.
Resist. You have a world of hard-won rights and secular sanity to preserve, and everything to lose.