Incompatible with Morality?

A few weeks ago, on our return trip from Florida, I tuned the radio to a local talk radio station. We were driving through Birmingham at the time, so the debates of the moment centered on two topics: Judge Moore’s fight to save the Ten Commandments and Governor Bob Riley’s proposal to radically transform the state’s tax structure. In the days since, both issues have been put to bed. Moore’s monument was whisked away in a matter of minutes while his supporters were having a prayer meeting; Riley’s proposal was soundly defeated in a state-wide referendum. Prominent portions of the evangelical church are decrying the former and cheering the latter.

Which brings me back to that talk radio show. Though not explicitly Christian (from what I could tell, at least), the show did feature a pastor as one of its two hosts, and it clearly attracted listeners and callers of a fairly conservative bent. No problems there. Or surprises, really. I was disappointed, though, to hear caller after caller after caller fawn over Judge Moore and his call to “keep God in America,” while simultaneously denouncing Riley’s progressive tax plan, particularly because Riley seemed to be acting for all the right reasons. A friend put it something like this: “The Church is getting mobilized behind a symbol, but, once again, we’ve failed to act on an opportunity for real social justice.” And the people of Alabama are already suffering for it.

As far as religion-bashing, pro-war, ex-liberal pundits go, Christopher Hitchens is probably my favorite — a guy whose stubborn reason pisses me off as often as it forces me to stop and re-consider my opinions (which is quite often, actually). Here’s Hitchens on the Ten Commandments flap. (It will help the reading if you picture him standing awkwardly at a podium, slightly drunk and very bitter.)

It’s obviously too much to expect that a Bronze Age demagogue should have remembered to condemn drug abuse, drunken driving, or offenses against gender equality, or to demand prayer in the schools. Still, to have left rape and child abuse and genocide and slavery out of the account is to have been negligent to some degree, even by the lax standards of the time. I wonder what would happen if secularists were now to insist that the verses of the Bible that actually recommend enslavement, mutilation, stoning, and mass murder of civilians be incised on the walls of, say, public libraries? There are many more than 10 commandments in the Old Testament, and I live for the day when Americans are obliged to observe all of them, including the ox-goring and witch-burning ones. (Who is Judge Moore to pick and choose?) Too many editorialists have described the recent flap as a silly confrontation with exhibitionist fundamentalism, when the true problem is our failure to recognize that religion is not just incongruent with morality but in essential ways incompatible with it.

That last sentence is one of those that I’m talking about — absolutely maddening, but impossible to ignore. Hitchens, a man obviously capable of higher-order thinking, looks at the Church and denounces it as incompatible with morality. I disagree completely, of course, but, watching events as they unfolded in Alabama, I can’t say that I blame him.