Friday, February 27, 2009

Commandments Si, Aphorisms No

I've never had much patience with these controversies over "religious displays" on public property. It strikes me -- and this is, I think, basically a libertarian view of the situation -- that the elected officials of a given town, city, county, or whatever, have the right to erect, or not erect, or allow, or not allow, any sort of monument, marker, sign, display, scene, pageant, etc. that they please. If the citizens don't like it they can protest... but why is it a matter for the courts? It certainly has nothing to do with the all-hallowed "wall of separation of church and state". An "established" church is an entirely different matter from what I would call differential _recognition_ of a church or denomination; the latter, while it might annoy members of minority congregations -- or members of nothing at all -- is nothing like "establishment". It is more about reflecting the values of the community, and since this is a democracy, after all (right?), it's the majority's values that are likely to be reflected more often and in more places -- provided, of course, that the courts don't step in with their busybody totalitarian pronouncements.

That's the way things ought to be. Now, as to the way things actually are, we have to hang on every word from every courthouse in the land, and particularly to the decisions from on high -- from the holy of holies -- the Supreme Court. It has decided that, whereas a display of the Ten Commandments in a Utah city park is "a form of government speech", a similar display of what are called the Seven Aphorisms is not. Now, what constitutes "government speech" is anybody's guess, and the notion that government is a person with free speech rights is a bit bizarre. The government has those rights, but the group promoting the Seven Aphorisms does not, apparently -- at least not to the extend of their freedom of speech being expressed in the form of a monument on public land. And yet, what if the Aphorism people increased in number? What if they were voted into office and took over the government of Pleasant Grove City, the municipality in question? Would the Aphorisms then be upgraded to "government speech", and the Ten Commandments, perhaps, downgraded to "non-government speech"? Is this just thinly-disguised tyranny of the majority? It's impossible to tell from the Court's convoluted language. In any case, the decision was unanimous -- a rare event indeed, given that most Supreme Court decisions are "5-4", hinging on that one "moderate" who typically sleeps through most of the proceedings.

So while the government -- at any level -- cannot establish a church, it can, by using something called "government speech", disseminate the beliefs of a given church, as determined -- or so it seems -- by the preponderance of members of that church in the place in question. And this is, in fact, not a whole lot different from what I described above as a libertarian view of the matter -- but if I'm wrong in this, I hope someone will straighten me out. But, in any case, let's at least be honest about one thing -- a government cannot "speak". Justice Alito wrote, for the court, that permanent monuments in city parks are erected "for the purpose of presenting the image of the city that it wishes to project to all who frequent the park." But just as a government cannot speak, a city cannot "wish to project" anything. It is only actual human beings who are in charge at the time who can do this -- and that situation can change very rapidly, as we know. He added that "if government entities must maintain viewpoint neutrality in their selected of donated monuments, they must either brace themselves for an influx of clutter or face the pressure to remove longstanding and cherished monuments." The latter situation would, of course, conform perfectly to the liberal agenda. Value-free parks! That's what we need. No words anywhere -- especially ones that some wacko minority might regard as "hate speech" -- and believe me, the Ten Commandments certainly qualify as "hate speech" to all sorts of people these days. (And as to "clutter" when it comes to ideas -- just check out the nearest New Age bookstore -- or Episcopal parish library.)

So to sum up, it strikes me that the decision was correct and reasonable -- but that it goes too far in attributing personhood to non-human "entities". Let's just admit that majority rule means that the majority gets to have its "viewpoint" promulgated by the government, and that minorities have to look out for themselves. If we say that a given viewpoint is always the correct one, then we're edging a bit closer to what the anti-establishment types worry about.

And what are these Seven Aphorisms anyway? Well, they're a very important part of the belief system of an outfit called Summum, which identifies itself as a gnostic society with links to Freemasonry. If this doesn't set off alarm bells, you haven't read enough about either gnosticism or Freemasonry. But you can get their point of view on their web site; I just checked it out and it's very... "interesting". You'll see what I mean if you look at it. But this, as you might already have observed, is highly ironic given the Founding Fathers' devotion, almost to a man, to Freemasonry, and the importance of that organization to not only the American Revolution but to much of our national history and iconography right up to the present day. The United States was established, quite explicitly, as a Freemasons' New Jerusalem, and our current zeal to democratize the world -- and all of the catastrophic results of that zeal -- are directly attributed to Masonic influence. So it's funny that this small, strange, New Age-type group in Utah, of all places, has lost its bid to post their aphorisms on public land. I should add that, according to the article, the Seven Aphorisms "were originally on the stone tablets dictated from God to Moses along with the Ten Commandments... but not widely distributed and eventually destroyed." "Not widely distributed" is right -- but that's the essence of gnosticism -- find all the stuff that has been kept secret for millennia, and reveal it to a privileged few through a long and painful process of initiation. And as to "destroyed" -- anyone seen Joseph Smith's golden plates around anywhere? You'd think the state of Utah would have been a bit more sympathetic.

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