grasping at space

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  • Thursday, July 07, 2005

    "I wonder if Kirk dwells in some strange, unrevealed paradise or something."

    I suppose I should thank Frank Tassone. First, he’s deemed my writing worthy of attention and critical analysis, even if he can’t restrain himself from some gratuitous ad hominem attacks. Second, he’s given me a good quotation that I can use in a new Blog Explosion banner ad, if I feel inclined to make a new one.

    He has a hang-up with the Ten Commandments. Seems like he sees government deifying itself just because some public buildings display them. Yeah. I'm sure that's it. Wonder if he has the same concern when that Judicial Branch of Government defines the reality of freedom for the nation? I'll bet a pint of guiness [sic] I'll here [sic] crickets if I ask him.

    If you’re hearing the sound of crickets, it’s because I didn’t understand the question. He seems to be asking a very vague question in the hope of receiving a very specific response that he can pounce on in order to score some cheap rhetorical points. Frankly, I’m concerned about all branches of government defining the reality of freedom, but I’m enough of an optimist to believe that no branch of government will have the final say about it. I’m sure that’s not the response Tassone is looking for, so somebody give the man his Guinness. Heck with it, buy him a six-pack.

    Consider all of the fantastic epics of history from every civilization of the ancient world. Where is [sic] lying, cheating, stealing and murder condemned in and of themselves? [emphasis his] In nearly ever [sic] epic, from Gilgamesh to The Odyssey, the hero engages in some type of behavior prohibited by the commandments. Instead of condemnation, his acts contribute to his heroic status.

    The ancients understood as well as any modern Hollywood scriptwriter that a compelling story needs compelling characters, and that compelling characters need flaws. And it’s not necessary to look outside the Bible to find heroic characters with flaws. Moses, God’s mouthpiece himself, is the first to come to mind. Didn’t he (among other sins) kill an Egyptian for mistreating a Hebrew slave? Wasn’t the prophet Jonah upset with God for not unleashing His wrath upon the people of Nineveh after they repented, and didn’t he camp outside the city waiting for God to change His mind? What about Absalom, son of David, who became a renegade after killing his brother Amnon, who raped their sister Tamar? Speaking of King David, didn’t he arrange the death of Uriah the Hittite in order to take Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba? What about Abraham, who deceived Abimelech, King of Gerar, by telling the king that Sarah was his sister, not his wife? Didn’t Jacob acquire his brother Esau’s birthright in exchange for a mess of pottage?

    The Odyssey, of course, is a great yarn about a guy who defies the gods for twenty years in order to be reunited with his wife and child. How this epic could be improved by changing it into a morality play is beyond me. “And so, Odysseus decided to submit to the will of the gods, and never saw Penelope again. The End.” Nope, let’s try again. “And Odysseus’ men, ignoring their instincts to survive, did not kill any of the flock, and starved to death. The End.” No wait, this is even better. “And so, feeling guilty for stealing from the Cyclops’ flock, Odysseus’ men allowed the Cyclops to wreak his revenge upon them. The End.” That kind of story wouldn’t have survived a generation, much less a few millennia. One doesn’t look to literature to find things condemned in and of themselves. One finds that in the law. If the heroes of ancient epics sin, that proves only that moral relativism is as old as morality.

    Besides, all Kirk has to do is pick up a newspaper or even check the headline news on his homepage. Look at how many choose to behave when they have figured out, with divine intervention, what evil acts are. Imagine how much worse they could act if it were completely up to them to figure it out on their own. Kirk clearly denies the reality of sin and it's [sic] consequence on our ability to reason, concupescience [sic], a disordered desire to sin and to avoid virtue.

    That’s unnecessarily insulting. I live in a town of roughly a quarter million people, if you add in all the outlying communities. When I pick up the local paper and see a murder reported on the front page, I know that, leaving aside whether or not divine intervention was necessary, a quarter million people in fact have figured out that murder is evil, because a few of those people chose to publish the news, while the rest of them read the news and talked about how terrible that murder was. The evil (murder and otherwise) we read about in the paper is perpetrated by a very small number of people in proportion to the general population. The evil is in the paper because it is newsworthy. The evil is newsworthy because evil behavior is the exception, not the rule. Understanding this, I choose to be reassured rather than dismayed. That’s the nature of the “strange, unrevealed paradise” that I live in – along with Frank Tassone and everyone else in the world.

    Only hardened atheists or their gullible dupes will find this "theocratic entity" business convincing. I don't know which of these Kirk is and I don't care in the context of this post.

    Well, that’s a relief, because I also neither know nor care which I am. I’m leaning a bit toward “gullible dupe,” because that phrase comes closer to describing the human condition than “hardened atheists.” But Tassone isn’t using these two phrases in reference to humanity in general. He’s talking specifically about those who believe in “Biblical scholarship,” which I’m choosing to equate, fairly or not, with the notion that the books of the Bible should be subjected to the same critical analysis to which one would subject any other text. I see nothing wrong with that, and perhaps neither does Tassone. But let’s get to the heart of the matter.

    He's certainly right that no government made by man--including the constitutional republic of the United States--deserves more respect and obedience than God. However, his conclusion that the public display of the commandments implicitly elevates government to God is absurd. Or perhaps I misread him here. Indeed!

    Indeed, indeed! I did not conclude that the display of the commandments deifies government. I concluded that government endorsement of the display of the commandments deifies government. Here is the sentence Tassone is referring to: “When a modern government endorses the public display of the Ten Commandments, it is implicitly demanding a degree of respect that no government ever can deserve.” It’s perfectly possible for the government to display the Ten Commandments (or another religious document or icon) without such a display appearing to be an endorsement of the content thereof. The test typically applied by the courts is outlined in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971). The rule in Lemon is that when the state sponsors the display of a religious symbol, the state action must (1) have a secular purpose, (2) not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion, and (3) not foster excessive entanglement with religion. The Supreme Court has also stated, in Lynch v. Donnelly, that the display of a religious symbol in “a typical museum setting … negates any message of endorsement of that content.” 465 U.S. 668, 692 (1984). [Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and the preceding should not be interpreted as legal advice.] And my purpose in pointing out that no court opinion, to my knowledge, has yet stated that the endorsement of the display of a religious symbol deifies government was to draw attention to the fact that, by making such a statement, the court would (finally) give a sufficient explanation as to why the government should not endorse such displays – particularly when the display in question is the Ten Commandments.

    Let me wrap up this long post. Many a critic has attempted to damn someone with faint praise. The title of Tassone’s post, “grasping at space grasps at straws,” is the first example I have yet seen of praising someone with faint damnation. Last time I checked, straws are more substantial than space. Maybe I should check again.


    Blogger carrie said...

    nice blog

    Thu Jul 07, 06:55:00 PM PDT  
    Blogger Kirk said...

    Thanks, Carrie.

    Thu Jul 07, 07:08:00 PM PDT  
    Blogger A Holy Fool said...

    You don't have to be so formal. Holy Fool, A Holy Fool, or even Fool will do. I agree with Carrie, by the way. Keep up the good work. Good blogs are hard to come by, even when they're written by those I disagree with.

    Thought you might be interested in this.


    Thu Jul 07, 09:40:00 PM PDT  
    Blogger Robert said...

    The only difference between religion and myth is that those who live within the culture of the religion believe the myth to be true.

    The people who support the official display of their religious (mythical) beliefs KNOW that the display is for the purpose of promoting their particular religion (myth). That's why they skirt the issue by wrapping themselves in words like "freedom".

    But, if these folks would allow, next to the Ten Commandments, a display of, say, the Precepts or the Eight-fold Path, quotes from the Koran, the Creed of Secular Humanism, or the Epic of Gilgamesh they would avoid the problem of official endorsement (i.e., everyone gets to display their beliefs). Think that is going to happen?

    Fri Jul 08, 06:55:00 AM PDT  
    Blogger drogidy said...

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    Thu Oct 06, 11:33:00 PM PDT  
    Blogger drogidy said...

    No, not until the glaciation of the netherworld. To allow other myths a breathing space would be to admit the fallability of one's one, amongst other things.

    Kirk, kudos on a good blog. I don't quite follow all the arguments in the recent corresspondence between yourself and Holy Fool, but it's interesting. And educational.

    Thu Oct 06, 11:40:00 PM PDT  
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