Religious gestures, outcry send mixed messages

I’ve never cared whether a monument of the Ten Commandments is featured on a courthouse lawn. It makes some people happy and some people mad. Both reactions are ridiculous.

None of us agrees with everything anyone says, unless we’re just plain stupid. If you agree with the Ten Commandments that it’s good to take a day of rest, to honor your parents, and to refrain from murdering, lying, stealing and desiring another person’s spouse and possessions, then you ought to feel good about sharing foundational values with fellow citizens.

You might be bothered by the first commandment — not to put other gods before “the Lord thy God.” And maybe the third one irritates you — not to defame God’s name by using it frivolously, violently or scandalously.

Maybe you think the one about keeping the Lord’s day holy means going to church and you’re not a fan of institutional church. No biggie; many millions of believers feel the same way. However, none of these commandments will harm anything in any way. They hold rock-solid values.

But I strolled by a monument of the Ten Commandments outside a Hoosier courthouse the other day and didn’t stop to read even one sentence on it. I looked at the beautiful granite and the way it was engraved and walked on.

I probably wouldn’t mind helping install a monument with just two commandments on it. I might stop to read them, but I don’t need to see them on state property. It’s like the phrase President Eisenhower turned into a national motto back in the 1950s: In God we trust.

Are we laughing yet? Many Christians and traditional Americans believe it’s very important to see the phrase on our coins. They think it’s a sign of spiritual strength. They think God is pleased. They don’t care that most Americans have not chosen to live by it.

Fighting for the motto is insane, but the motto doesn’t impact anything one way or another. Most people who care deeply about it trust in money about as much as they trust in God. The first commandment is a real challenge for them — as it is for me.

So are the other nine. That’s why Jesus boiled all ten — and all other commandments encoded by religious authorities or local tradition — down to what he called the two greatest commandments. Two! You’d think that people might be able to keep ten minus eight, but the two are no easier than the ten.

He said the first was to love God with everything you’ve got. That was his concept of “In God we trust.” He said the second was to love your neighbor as you love yourself. That was his concept of proving you take the first one seriously.

So if you don’t like the first greatest commandment on the courthouse lawn or a coin, perhaps you wouldn’t mind the second one on either location, since it doesn’t refer to God. You can’t find any harm in people living in healthy relationships.

In return for a concession to leave the two commandments somewhere in public view — not that I want them there, but at least it gets rid of eight of them, which is meeting you more than halfway — I’d be fine with (1) changing the money motto to, “Just kidding” and (2) a federal mandate to love one another from the bottom of our hearts.

It’s not for God’s sake that we fuss over these things.

Max T. Russell writes for the international business intelligence community. You can contact him via his