Ten Commandments on the Courthouse Wall

There are public courthouses peppered throughout the country that display the Ten Commandments. I find it interesting that the pressure to display the Ten Commandments comes from Christian circles. I don’t understand why they choose the code of Jewish law instead of the law of Jesus. You know the one I mean: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Jesus added a second commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Perhaps they prefer laws that are specific. Children need specifics when we make lists of chores for them. For a 5-year-old, you might create a list with little boxes where you can put a smiley face that says: “1. make your bed; 2. pick up your dirty clothes off the floor and put them in the hamper; 3. put the blocks into the toy box.” For a 12 year old, you just write “clean your room.” The older they get, the less specific a parent needs to be. Maybe Jesus’ law of love isn’t specific enough for some Christians.

I am reminded in Luke’s recollection that told about the guy who wanted to know what Jesus meant by “neighbor”. That is when Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan. It says in the story that the man asked the question because he wanted to justify himself. I bet he was sorry he’d asked the question. I wonder what became of him after that encounter. Did he decide Jesus was a crazy man? Did he go on to love Samaritans while he continued to beat his slave? Or did he get the point and begin the journey of becoming a lover of all?

Maybe one of the reasons Christians who like seeing the Old Testament law in government buildings is that they prefer to see laws written in the form of lists. Most secular laws are written like that, i.e. the Constitution of the United States. Jesus’ laws were presented as only two. What can one do with just two laws? That barely takes up any space. For these Christians, I would suggest the beatitudes. In Matthew they are written quite nicely like a list, though some may be confused by the idea that the “command” theme isn’t very strong. Jesus presents his ideas as suggestions for those who want to be happy. What does happiness have to do with commandments? Commands are supposed to be difficult and painful to obey, surely not a source of happiness. I can understand the problem. If you live by the beatitudes instead of the Big 10, there doesn’t seem to be a need for punishment and how would that fit into a courthouse?

My point is that it seems odd to me that people who are so passionate about getting Christian principles into public places don’t choose Christian principles. And whether these people know it or not, the best of Christian principles happen to be shared by people of all the major religions. You only have to check out their scripture to know that. In fact, Christian principles are shared by people who don’t connect to any particular religious tradition. Our constitution reflects these shared principles. I don’t understand the compulsion to put any religious statement in public buildings. It only makes people mad or feel left out when only one religion is offered an opportunity to show off.

Now there is an idea! Why not take the best of the best of laws recorded in the writings of the major religions and from some of the classic non-religious sources and put these up in the courthouse? I am all for inclusion.

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