Thursday, August 20, 2009

Religion For Decorative Purposes

The Ten Commandments include the 3rd commandment that says not to use the name of deity "in vain." Orthodox Jews keep this commandment by writing G-d. And I think anyone who says, "God" or "Jesus Christ" as part of an oath or curse is violating this commandment. But after reflecting on the commandment, another sense of meaning occurred to me. (If you can find anything in the Bible that contradicts this, you should believe that and not what I'm about to say.)

The Bible says not to use the name in vain. I've also heard the commandment translated not to use the name "in a useless fashion" or an "empty way." And I don't think there's any question that this is what the commandment is getting at.

But consider another use of the word "vanity" and that's the furniture or bathroom figure one uses when applying makeup. We use a vanity to maintain our outward appearance. Beauty being only skin deep and all that.

Jesus complained early and often about the Pharisees whom he called play-actors or hypocrites. He condemned the shallowness of their religion. They were all about appearances without much concern about inward attitudes. He spoke of polishing the outside of the cup while leaving the inside dirty. Whited sepulchers and all that.

They used religion as a Decorative item. And that's what I think the 3rd Commandment is strongly condemning. Thou Shalt Not use the Name as Decoration.

This is a trap for anyone who goes to church more than twice a year. For one thing, it's easy to represent oneself as being somewhat pious while inside you're not entirely incorporating the character of Christ into your inner being. (Or if you're Jewish, internalizing the Torah.) Instead, you go to church and you act like you're not as desperately wicked as you know your heart to be.

I noticed when I was in Shipshewana, Indiana a couple weeks ago that there are many businesses run by Christians. They don't hide their Christianity. That's OK. But anyone familiar with families knows that the children can have a different relationship (or no relationship) with God than their parents. What if keeping up appearances is good for business? I worry that if the kids don't share their parents' Christianity, then after they inherit the business they'll feel a need to fake it: Keep up the facade of Christianity and use it as decoration. If that happens, and I hope it doesn't, it will be a violation of the Third Commandment.

Then there is Politics. One candidate for President last year ran in the Republican primaries on the premise, "Vote for me because I'm Baptist." I am Baptist and I like Baptists and I could probably enjoy an evening of non-alcoholic beverages and conversation with this man and have a great time. But I voted against him because I think having the same religion as me is a bad reason for me to vote for anybody. (Besides, he ran Arkansas as much like a socialist as Bill Clinton did before him.)

Politicians always like to be seen in church. Before Billy Graham got too old, every President make a point of getting a photo op with him. I think that any politician's religious display is suspect, and I look to see whether he's using God's name in the vain pursuit of political ends.

After Bill Climpton lost the governor's race he was in the choir every Sunday sitting where the TV cameras would pick him up. I don't think he did that because he wanted to sing more hymns.

Finally, take the recent behavior of the man currently holding the office of the President. Does his use of religion violate the 3rd Commandment? It depends upon how deep his rhetoric goes to his personal character. If he says one thing and does another once or twice, that's one thing. (A sinner should have the space to repent.) If it's a pattern of behavior, that's another thing.

Let's say that I tell you that we are all our brother's keeper. That's true. Though you can say that all men are brothers, I happen to have three siblings, two brothers and a sister. If I had millions and they were living on welfare or in a dirt-floor shack, I'd do something tangible for them. If Barak Obama believes "I am my brother's keeper," then why does his brother live in a shack in Kenya?

This whole moral argument for nationalized health care (yes, he is calling it something else) that the President has launched in the last few days reeks of hypocrisy and desperation. If it were anything more than cynical manipulation, he would have started with moral arguments, not trotted them out after he'd already lost the Blue Dog Democrats. The effort is so transparently hypocritical that only Democrats could possibly fall for it.

If you're running for office, don't use religion for Decorative Purposes. (This goes especially for Sarah Palin who has been endowed by her Creator with enough decoration already.) Internalize your faith and make it integral to your inner character. Then live that out. You might not win, but you'll do better than that, you'll do the right thing.

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