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Hate Speech
Written October 13, 2014

 

“Jesus loves me,” someone says, “and I love Him.  He gives my life meaning.  But other people deny that my God even exists.  They want to tear my blessed Savior away from me.  Why do these evil people hate God so?”

An atheist might reply, “I don’t hate God.  Nor do I have any animosity toward any of the other fictional characters, like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.  You can keep your fantasies about your imaginary friends.  I don’t care about that.  However, I do have a problem with bigots who think their God requires them to shun anyone who disagrees with them.  You shouldn’t hate your neighbor.  Love your neighbor!  Every neighbor!  Even the Samaritan who has different beliefs and customs.”

“But,” someone continues, “atheists do hate.  They hate God’s holy Word.”  In a recent letter to the Post-Gazette, Kurt Kondrich of suburban Pittsburgh notes, “There seem to be an endless supply of stories in the news about efforts across our nation to remove the Ten Commandments from public places.”

Actually, the Commandments can be openly displayed — on private property or church property.  But if they’re posted at a government building, that means the government is not being impartial.  Officials and bureaucrats who happen to be Jewish or Christian are taking sides, using their power to promote their own particular religion over any others.  Locally there’s been a flap about exhibiting the Commandments near the entrance to a public high school — not a parochial school where they would be appropriate, but a government-funded school.

Konrich continues, “Why do people in our culture have so much hate directed at a list of rules that stop hatred?  What is so offensive about rules for civilized human conduct that tell us not to murder, steal, lie, desire something wrongfully, commit adultery and direct us to respect our parents?  ...As a former police officer, I can honestly say that if people followed the Ten Commandments we would see an unprecedented drop in the crime rate and a safer, brighter community for everyone.”

Can we get an Amen to that?   No one objects to the common-sense rules he cites.  But there’s nothing unique about them.  Most of these guidelines are also part of other ancient law codes, from Hammurabi to Solon to Caesar to (dare we mention it?) Sharia.  They’re also included in our present-day secular laws.

However, these rules comprise only the last seven of the Ten Commandments.  One might expect the most important Commandments to be the first three.  But Konrich steers clear of those.  Why?  Perhaps because they outlaw some accepted parts of our culture, like statues and Sunday football.

The first three Commandments tell us to rest on the Sabbath, not to make graven images, and above all to worship “the LORD” exclusively.  (In our Bibles, “the LORD” stands for the Hebrew word “Yahweh,” the proper name of the Israelite god.) 

In Exodus 15:11, Moses and the Israelites celebrate their escape from Egypt by singing, “Who among the gods is like you, Yahweh?”

Who among the gods?  Are there other gods besides Yahweh?

Yes.  Many nations, including Egypt, invented entire pantheons.  As the Bible explains in 2 Kings 17:29-31,

Every nation made gods of their own.
Succoth-benoth was worshipped by the men of Babylon,
Nevgal by the men of Cuth,
Ashima by the men of Hamath,
Nibhaz and Tartak by the Avvites;
and the Sepharvites burnt their children as offerings
to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim.  

It was not until about 540 B.C. that Israelite priests began insisting that their own particular local deity, Yahweh, was the only true god in all the world.  Why then?

In 587 there had been a national disaster:  the Babylonians captured Jerusalem, destroyed Yahweh’s temple, and carried off many of the people to Babylon.  Did this happen because Babylon’s gods were more powerful than Israel's god?  No, Yahweh’s priests could never accept that Yahweh was inferior.

Eventually they worked out an explanation, according to Thomas Römer in The Invention of God:  No other gods had sent Israel into exile.  In fact, there were no other gods, Babylonian or otherwise.  Yahweh had engineered this disaster himself, in order to punish his people for straying.  “I am Yahweh, and there is no other.  I make the light, I create the darkness; I make the good and the evil.”  Isaiah 45:5,7

In Exodus 20:2, Yahweh has to begin his First Commandment by reminding his people, “I am Yahweh — your god.  I am the one who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”  Me!  I did it!  I’m the one who deserves your loyalty.  He goes on:

Yahweh’s name is the Jealous God, and I tolerate no rivals.  Exodus 34:14  Do not make any gods to be alongside me.  Do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold. Exodus 20:23  Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you. Deuteronomy 6:14  You shall have no foreign god among you.  You shall not worship any god other than me.  Psalm 81:9

In Deuteronomy 6:4, Moses proclaims, “Listen, Israel!  The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.”  Moses is speaking to his own people.  He doesn’t insist all the foreign nations have to worship his god.  Unlike later priests, Moses isn’t trying to establish monotheism (only one god exists in the whole world), but merely to establish a monopoly (around here, you aren’t allowed to worship anyone else).  He wants to eliminate any priestly competition within “the LORD’s” chosen nation.

But we Americans don’t live in a theocracy.  We’re free!  Like it or not, the people of our diverse land believe in many different gods.  America includes Christians and Jews who worship “the LORD,” but also others who do not, including Muslims, Hindus, atheists, Sikhs, Buddhists, Wiccans, Shintoists, native Americans, and more.

If I’m one of these others and, at my school or at the courthouse, I encounter a written decree ordering me to give up my sacred beliefs, what am I to think?  Am I being compelled to switch my allegiance to “the LORD” and serve him only?  Is there no end to government meddling into the most personal aspects of our lives?

 

TBT

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