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Posting the Ten Commandments in Louisiana Schools Is Idolatry | Righting America

by Rodney Kennedy

Rodney Kennedy has his M.Div from New Orleans Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Louisiana State University. He pastored the First Baptist Church of Dayton (OH) – which is an American Baptist Church – for 13 years, after which he served as interim pastor of ABC USA churches in Illinois, Kansas, New York, and Pennsylvania. He is now a full-time writer, and lives in Louisiana. His seventh book, Good and Evil in the Garden of Democracy, has recently been published. And book #8, Dancing with Metaphors in the Pulpit, will appear soon. 

Poster of The Ten Commandments. image via https://bym-sas.blogspot.com.

Louisiana has an irrevocable commitment to the petro-chemical industry, a leading cause of global warming. Global warming is the most dangerous issue facing our planet. Yet, Louisiana has passed a law making abortion medication a dangerous drug. Our chemical plants spread cancer, and our legislature, in its infinite wisdom, makes abortion medication illegal. 

Louisiana has also voted to make castration of sexual offenders a legal sentence after conviction. 

Now, Louisiana has voted to require the posting of the Ten Commandments in every classroom in the state. There seems no end to what good Christians can legislate once they have the taste of power. 

A poster of the Ten Commandments gives the picture of putting a patch on the wall to ward off wickedness, evil, and manifold transgressions. While some patches have positive impacts (think NicoDerm for smokers), the Ten Commandments patch is a joke. . 

The Louisiana Legislature, members of the least credible profession in the nation, wants to put a patch on the wall containing the Ten Commandments. These are the same Ten commandments from the Hebrew Bible that many politicians routinely disobey. See Donald Trump (darling of the Christian Right), who blew through the 10 Commandments as if they were an obstacle course keeping him from lying, cheating, and bullying his way to the top. 

But it’s not just Trump. One loses count of the number of politicians “caught” in adultery, convicted of taking bribes, lying to the FBI, making stock purchases with insider information, and worshiping at the idol of power. Sticking to Louisiana, a New Orleans Times-Picayune headline shouted,  “71 Louisiana politicians who were sentenced to prison or probation.” And a New York Times headline: “Louisiana Has a Long Line of Jailed Officials.” From fudging their expense accounts to outright theft to extortion and racketeering, Louisiana politicians could fill an entire wing at Angola State Prison. 

The Ten Commandments belong in the home, synagogue, and church. For example, if you attend a local Episcopal Church, during the Season of Lent, each Sunday the congregation stands to recite in unison The Decalogue (The Ten Commandments). Democrat state Senator Royce Duplessis had the good sense to say, “As I said on the Senate floor, if you want your kids to learn the Ten Commandments, you can take them to church.” 

Yet undeterred by common sense, the First Amendment to the Constitution, or a basic understanding of our nation’s laws, the bill’s sponsor, GOP state representative Dodie Horton, argued that the Ten Commandments are the basis of all laws in Louisiana. She said, “I hope and pray that Louisiana is the first state to allow moral code to be place back in the classrooms.” She then added, with absolutely no self-awareness, “Since I was in kindergarten [at a private school], it was always on the wall. I learned there was a god, and I knew to honor him and his laws.” 

Ms. Horton has imbibed too much North Louisiana fundamentalism. She talks as if she has been indoctrinated by the fake historian and political hack, David Barton. Barton teaches people the First Amendment is the work of the devil. He came up with the demonstrably false conclusion that ACT scores fell in schools after the Supreme Court ruled on prayer in schools. He routinely makes up “sayings of the Fathers” and repeats his lies at rallies across the country. The Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, an avowed Barton disciple and Christian Nationalist, is from Mr. Barton’s “neck of the woods.” Baptist fundamentalism is in the water in North Louisiana. 

Ms. Horton mistakenly believes that posting the Ten Commandments on the walls will place “the moral code” back in classrooms. Doesn’t she know our laws are a statement of our values and morals? It is a silly argument to say you are putting back something that has never left the building. It’s like saying, “Make America Great Again.” 

Elections may be won with slogans, but posting the Ten Commandments on the wall will have zero impact on the power of evil in our culture. The act of posting the Ten Commandments violates the First Commandment. The act itself is idolatry because it reduces the Ten Commandments to a talisman. 

Instead of relying on Christian faith, Louisiana’s legislature has decided to practice apotropaic magic (from Greek αποτρέπειν “to ward off”) to turn away harm or evil influences, as in deflecting misfortune or averting the evil eye. Apotropaic observances may also be practiced out of superstition or out of tradition, as in good luck charms (perhaps some token on a charm bracelet), amulets, or in gestures such as crossed fingers or knocking on wood. Many different objects and charms have been used for protection throughout history.

In the movie Bull Durham, there’s a scene where Millie surveys team prospects sitting on the bench, one of the superstitious players Jose (Rick Marzan) was rubbing his bat with a string of chicken bones – a voodoo practice that he believed would improve his hitting: “Chicken bone cross. Takes the curse off the bat that brings me hits.” He called himself “a switch-hitting witch.” Desperate team-member Bobby (in a batting slump), wondered if it would improve his game too, and begged to spread the magic to his bat. 

Treating the Ten Commandments like Voodoo “chicken bones,” the Egyptian “Eye of Horus” and the ankh, the “Triple Goddess”, the “Horned God,” and “Hecate’s wheel”, or amulets of the Norse god Thor’s hammer, “Mjolnir,” is – simply stated – idolatry. 

These good people can’t get it through their minds the reality of God’s omnipresence. As Christians they supposedly believe God is always everywhere. They supposedly accept Paul’s expression “in God we move and have our being.” Yet they have the gumption to claim God has been kicked out of public schools. Exactly how does one go about kicking God out of schools or anywhere else? 

The Ten Commandments poster ploy is of the same cloth as previous battles over prayer, Bible classes, praying before graduation ceremonies and football games, and allowing nativity scenes in malls. It’s all there in a neat emotional package – fake issues eliciting fake outrage in an attempt to fool people. 

If our politicians are interested in the Ten Commandments, let them stop bearing false witness against one another. Let them agree not to commit adultery. Let them give up stealing through insider trading, and backroom deals, and taking bribes.  

Maybe we could get politicians to give up idolatry – the idolatry of wealth, power, and success. And while we are cleaning up our moral behavior, our legislators can make capital punishment illegal in honor of “Thou shalt not kill.”