17 August 2003

I see, according to various news reports, that there have been extensive rallies in support of Justice Moore. That there were extensive rallies in support of Sherriff Clark with other disturbing similarities seems to have escaped the notice of the press at large.

   What this sad episode really does is point out the differences among faith, religion, and Religion. Everyone has faith. The most militant agnostic has faith in the power of reason. I have faith in the rule of law (most of the time, anyway). Small-r religion results from a set of common beliefs among a subset of all members of a community that concern one or more superhuman beings and usually a creation myth. Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, etc., in their general senses, are religions.

   Big-R religion is something different. Historically, organized religion has been about politics, not about faith or small-r religion. This is most apparent to most Americans in the West, because most Americans are startlingly ignorant of anything else. One need look only at the context of and rumblings behind the Crusades, or the founding of the Church of England, or the First Thirty Years' War (1618–48), or…

   Justice Moore's position is based upon big-R Religion. The expression of high political office—don't kid yourself; the judiciary is political, however much we try to deny it, in the sense that it is responsible for resolving disputes short of violence—in one particular dogma has little to do with faith or small-r religion. Instead, it is a naked expression of power. Justice Moore's display of the Ten Commandments includes a far from universally accepted text. The King James Bible is a political creation. It has certainly had immense impact upon English-speaking culture; but very, very few scholars who seriously study the source texts accept many of its detailed strictures. There is a big difference between "thou shalt not kill" and "do not murder."

   If this nonsense was outside of any historical context, perhaps one could accept the particular display as being what Justice Moore publicly claims it to be: a tribute to a source of law. Considering how seldom matters "governed" by the Ten Commandments are actually considered by a state Supreme Court, however—"coveting thy neighbor's wife" seeming now to be beyond the scope of law—and that nothing is outside of a historical context, it is not.