A Graven Image Dedicated to Intransigence

I was driving through Gastonia, NC, listening to some Creedence, had my sunglasses on, tapping on the steering wheel… you get the picture. I looked over to my left and saw a monument on the lawn of City Hall. A monument isn’t all that unusual, governments and their power-mongers do like their marble statuary.

But I had to do a double-take when I deciphered what was inscribed on this particular slab of stone on the public lawn. Yes, lying there like the proverbial dead horse, cold and stiff, cumbersome in it’s off-center placement facing the intersection (I assume to garner the maximum exposure to passersby) was that old gelding, The Ten Commandments.

At first I was a little surprised to see the poor dead thing stuffed between hardware store landscaping plants, seemingly propped up with too much and too well-tended mulch. It was, as we say around here, sitting catty-corner to the street. It’s 45 degree offset was the first and most obvious thing I noticed that was not really in keeping with the rest of the lot. The City Hall building and grounds are typical government monolith, all stone and concrete set at 90 degree angles, with large glass windows that you suspect can never be opened to let in the outside air, and manicured lawn with defined boundaries. There is also a nice bronze statue of children playing, although I’m not quite sure why it’s placed on the lawn there. Maybe the theme is “Which of these things don’t fit on the lawn of the place where you apply for a building permit?”

Nevertheless, the Ten Commandments sat there, mute and dumb, like a block of carved stone would be expected to do. It was a novelty, like Judge Roy Moore himself had come to North Carolina and squatted on the City Hall lawn and delivered a thousand pound rectangular idol to intransigence. 

I was mostly amused, to be honest. I can only imagine the stern and grave conversation had during the City Council meeting where it was decided they would spend taxpayer money on a graven image that endorses, at minimum, one religion. I’m guessing they rationalized it away by quoting the First Amendment to the Constitution quite literally and fundamentally: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…but it doesn’t say anything at all about the city of Gastonia making such laws or doing whatever they wish.” 

It was, of course, the boilerplate abridged version of the Big 10. I guess if you put too many words on a slab of stone then it drives up the cost of this taxpayer funded endorsement of religion. We wouldn’t want to go over budget while violating the First Amendment to the US Constitution. So the full text of Exodeuteroniticu- whatever, was summed up in a few terse statements a la Judge Roy Moore’s Alabama behemoth. Simple instructions for simple folk, I reckon. You don’t want to muddy the waters with the actual full text, that might seem to be over the top.

So, without further ado, here’s the unabridged Ten Commandments, with introduction, and annotated for ease of use.

“And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”

*(This is the introduction, where Moses – who was not one of the Founding Fathers – reminds the reader of the apocryphal story of the Exodus. He led the Israelites “out of bondage…” and into a land where it was required of them to slay or enslave the indigenous people. Hmm, maybe it does have relevance to the history of the United States. I guess I’ll have to concede that point. But it does still go on about “God” and “the Lord thy God” and this passage was specifically directed toward one specific tribe of goat and sheep herders well before the United States was established so… chisel it off.)

1. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” 

*(See Amendment One of the US Constitution for the reason this needs to be chiseled off.)

2. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”

*(I should note that this monument sits yards away from a bronze statue of playing children. I’m also pretty sure that the punishment of generations of people for the “sins” of their fathers is unConstitutional, as is the establishment of what is essentially royalty by the “shewing of mercy for thousands of generations…” Chisel this one off.)

3. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.”

*(See Amendment One of the US Constitution. He’s not everyone’s god. Chisel it off, goddamnit.)

4. “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”

*(It was a Sunday when I drove by this monument, so I guess I’m in the clear. However, there seems to be some disagreement as to when the Sabbath is, with some people thinking it falls on Saturday. I would suggest that all government workers, including police, fire, EMT, etc. should all be forbidden from working on both Saturday and Sunday, just to be safe. I wouldn’t want to place those public servants in the unfortunate position of having to choose between the Big 10 and upholding their oath to defend the US Constitution, save lives, address emergencies and other things that the Lord our God sees fit to allow to happen on the day he demands that we rest. Maybe a city-wide curfew for those 48 hours is the best option. Then again, the “keep it holy” thing might flirt a little too closely with violating the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Either way, it interferes with the free flow of commerce by restricting work to less than a full week. Chisel it off.)

5. “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”

*(I agree, generally, with the sentiment of the first part, although I doubt the correlation between parental respect and long life in the second part will stand up to much scientific scrutiny… unless you follow the other imperatives in the early Jewish religious writings that command stoning to death insolent children. But some parents are horrible parents and probably deserve stoning themselves. It would be unfair to demand respect from children whose parents are child-abusing sacks of shit. This violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution. Chisel this one off.)  

6. “Thou shalt not kill.”

*(There is one major reason this one poses problems: it is ill-defined. 

First, if the command is to be taken literally, like the Creation Myth in Genesis, then does that mean “don’t kill anything?” If so, that’s Jainism, a religion, see Amendment One of the US Constitution. Chisel it off.

If it means “don’t kill humans,” then the same government that placed this statue here needs to be dismantled since it has police who engage in the killing of humans. There is no rider or clause listed which allows for justified killing committed only by agents of the state. This would violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment so… chisel it off.

If it means “don’t commit murder,” then, although it seems redundant since proscriptions against murder are already encoded in the law, this seems very reasonable. So leave this one.)

7. “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

*(I honestly don’t know if adultery is illegal in North Carolina, but if it is, well, maybe North Carolina needs to get out of the business of regulating consensual personal relationships. I’ll hold my breath while that happens. 

While the fallout from infidelity can traumatize individuals and families, it doesn’t quite rise to the level of a crime. Besides, if this were enforceable, we would likely have only a tiny handful of people inhabiting the halls of government. That might be a good thing, but…Chisel it off.)

8. “Thou shalt not steal.”

*(The right to private and personal property is generally considered fundamental around the world. Keep this one.)

9. “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.”

*(Basically, don’t commit perjury. Since lying in court can lead to injury and loss of life or liberty it makes sense to prohibit this behavior in court. After all, if the violent coercion of the state is to be used to enforce the findings of the courts and the laws then it would behoove us to expect honest testimony under those circumstances. Keep this one.

This commandment doesn’t, interestingly, prohibit lying outside of court. Interpret that how you wish.)

10. “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.”  *(I don’t live next door to Serena Williams so ass covetousness isn’t in my daily routine, but I digress…Basically, this commandment says don’t think certain thoughts. i.e. Thoughtcrime. Moses was apparently ahead of his time, proscribing what George Orwell wrote about thousands of years before that British “socialist” put pen to paper. Unfortunately, this unenforceable command also violates the Equal Protection Clause since it would be patently unfair to punish people for simply wanting something like what their neighbor has. Chisel it off. 

As an aside, this commandment would be helpful to keep lower income people from climbing the economic ladder if you simply made it illegal for them to desire more than the pittance they have and strive to have what their more affluent neighbor has. Mechanism of economic and social control, anyone?)

So, there you have it. The Ten Commandments on the Gastonia City Hall lawn, unabridged and annotated for ease of use. The city could have saved a lot of money by paring it down to just the ones that are relevant: Don’t murder*, don’t steal, and don’t commit perjury. It would have been a much smaller monument. Or maybe they could chisel on some other laws like “don’t own other humans” or “don’t rape.” 

It does leave you to wonder why slavery and rape were not considered important enough to be included in the Big 10? Oh well, the Lord works in mysterious ways.

Author: Tim Propst is a man with too many hobbies including chasing solitude and gathering morels. He avoids small talk and pop culture inanities and would prefer watching grass grow over any conversation about popular culture or other peoples personal lives. If he isn’t getting stung by honeybees, making videos with his creative friends, practicing bushcraft, making mead, or throwing heavy things in a kilt you might be able to find him writing about whatever strikes a nerve… if he hasn’t gone fishing.

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