These must be the end times, for the lion and lamb were both represented on the grounds of Arkansas' state Capitol for the grand unveiling of Ten Commandments No. 2. In the opposite corner was the most diverse crowd of animals political and otherwise assembled since old Noah unloaded his ark.
A crowd of several dozen preachers and legislators was there to celebrate this command performance. While delegations from the Satanic Temple and the American Civil Liberties Union plus still other outfits had gathered on the state Capitol's rain-sodden grounds to protest the entire proceedings and to promise/threaten that litigation would follow celebration soon enough.
If this circus had a ringmaster, it had to be Jason Rapert, state senator from Conway. In addition to serving as president of the American History and Heritage Foundation that put up the money to buy the second of two such monuments after the first one allegedly was run over by Michael Reed of Van Buren, who was found mentally unfit and hustled off to the State Hospital where he now resides.
Brother Rapert not only has a rug on the floor and a title on the door but his own foundation and its own vast store of legalese at his command. For what would a prophet be these oh-so-modern days without a sales pitch? Here's a sample of Senator Rapert's: "The sole reason that we donated this monument to the state of Arkansas is because the Ten Commandments are an important component to the foundation of the laws and the legal system of the United States of America and of the state of Arkansas. Passive acknowledgments of the role played by the Ten Commandments in our nation's heritage are common throughout America, and the Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that such monuments are constitutional."
So all of us are supposed to believe that the reasons for this latest blend of church and state are purely secular? It's as if Moses had come down from Sinai proclaiming not a religious revelation but that he'd been given only a secular code of law, the better to withstand any legal changes. This is less revelation than rationalization. Which is what happens when, yielding to political and legal pressures, men make a confession less of faith than of faithlessness.
Uh-huh. Ain't nobody here but us idolators. The line forms to your immediate left. Leading the queue is Lucien Greaves, co-founder of the Satanic Temple of Salem, Mass.--yes, that Salem, site of the original witch hunt on this continent. Which set the sad precedent for many an inquisition to follow in this supposed land of the free and home of the brave. Mr. Greaves' group proposed a 10-foot-tall bronze image of Baphomet, complete with a goat's head and angel's wings. The nightmarish image is supposed to represent religious pluralism but comes closer to summing up irreligious nuttism.
Oh, First Amendment to the Constitution! What crimes not just political but aesthetic are carried out in thy name! Hey, it's a free if not anarchic country and everyone is free to dream up his own god to worship in his own way, however outlandish.
But fair is fair: If these zealots are willing to let us respectables practice our own religious faiths, we the vast majority should let others do their thing. America, today's Rome, might do well to note how the Roman empire treated the multitude of sects that sprang up during its long decline--with tolerance.
To quote English historian Edward Gibbon: "The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful." Rome's centuries of decline were longer than many another civilization's whole history. Why argue with success?
Judging just by longevity, toleration would seem to make a lot more sense than dancing to the tune of that old devil intolerance. If such a policy was good enough for the Caesars, why not for us? The proof is in the results, and their lesson is that tolerance pays. Clio, muse of history, has many a moral yet to leave with us before her story is concluded. Let us heed her while there is yet time. Just because her song contains no surprises is no reason to miss it. Now let us go and study.
Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer and columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Editorial on 05/02/2018
Print Headline: Another graven image