Tuesday, September 02, 2003
Recently my good friend James wrote me his poignant thoughts on the Alabama "Ten Commandments Statue" issue, making me think a little deeper on the subject...so here's my second take on the topic.
Ultimately, I think the issue is more about what matters lie within the purview of goverment than of the Ten Commandments, where the statue of the tablets is displayed, or any particular sectarian leaning. Justice can no more flow from a stone statue of Moses' tablets, than it can from the image of a blindfolded woman with balances and a sword.
All accounts seem to point to the fact that former Chief Justice Moore is a man who sees the world as a moral monochrome. Since childhood he has stood up for what he believes in, as in a story told about his "mugging" as an 11-year old. Young Roy was apparently returning from a successful fishing trip, when he was accosted by some adult men who demanded he turn over his day's catch. He vehemently refused, and kept his fish.
As a soldier in Vietnam, he allegedly insisted on regulation haircuts and salutes from his fellow fighters at all times, nearly earning him a "fragging" from some disgruntled members of his company.
Unfortunately, our complex nation is more than a yin-yang of Good versus Evil; for better or worse, it's more like a Star Trek™ chessboard with varying levels and colors, with each of the "Ten Divine Laws" flanked by a phalanx of asterisks and codicils.
Anyone who observes living justice in action can see that human failings, courage and compassion all affect the outcome of a case as much as any ancient and lofty ideal: and like the Bible that Justice Roy Moore upheld as the wellspring of courtroom decisions, secular law can be just as open to interpretation as any passage of scripture, no matter how "written in stone" it may appear to be.
Whether divine law ever changes is a issue for theologians and philosophers - but in the spirit of American values that provide for the separation of church and state, I think earthly law is a matter for earthly lawmakers.
That said, many would agree that the separation of Church and State leads to both a better Church and a better State.
That in itself may be the crux of the matter...that a legal system that relies on one group's dogma - and that does not grow and develop with the needs of a changing world and society, nor takes into account the plurality of its constituency - will ultimately fail to serve the best interests of all its subjects.
So, besides a NRA-prez-Charlton-Heston-esque "from my cold, dead hands" stance, what message is Justice Moore trying to get across? That a trial held in his court will have a more fair or just outcome than a courtroom not displaying the statue? That lawbreakers will not only feel the wrath of the U.S. legal system, but that of God?
Or, is it intended to imply that non-Christians - or, those who do not hold with a literal interpretation of the Tablets - may not be recognized as valid participants in Judge Moore's courtroom?
What we need to remember is that it takes far more than a stone statue to make a good Christian - or a good Justice.