There’s a reason they say people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones; and the recent bombardment over the seven-foot statue of Baphomet that the satanists want to put up in the Oklahoma state capitol is one of them. The statue is largely a retaliatory move, a response by satanists to the Ten Commandment statue placed at the capitol in 2012. And the satanists aren’t the only ones who want to keep up with the Joneses. The American Atheists, Inc., reportedly want their own monument: so does a Hindu leader in Nevada, an animal rights group, and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. They all want in on the monument action and space to pay tribute to their “deity” or, in the absence of one, their belief system. The clamor for fair play was so loud that a moratorium was placed on any other monuments on Capitol grounds until a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union on the constitutionality of the Ten Commandments statue has been resolved.
Ryan Kiesel, ACLU of Oklahoma’s executive director, says of the case, “We aim to ensure the freedom of future generations of Oklahomans to make their own decisions about faith remains intact and free from political interference. Whether you choose to believe in a god, a creed, a code, or simply to believe in yourself, your choice should be your own, not coerced or influenced by what the government wants you to believe.”1
Aimee Breeze, a member of American Atheists, Inc., is part of another lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Ten Commandments monument. In the complaint she claims that she views the monument as hurtful and says she tries to avoid the area where it’s located while she’s at the capitol. I thought she was being melodramatic until I pictured myself walking past the hulking monstrosity the satanists are proposing. I remember my first visit to Washington, D.C., and my tour of the monuments there as dusk fell. I was awed and felt a swell of patriotism. If I had come across the menacing Baphomet looming near the sidewalk, I would have felt an emotion much stronger than hurt, and I began to see where Breeze was coming from. If I had to see Baphomet on a regular basis, I’d avoid the spot myself.
The Ten Commandments have deep personal and spiritual meaning to me. I endorse them wholeheartedly. But Satan? I have no desire to see a statue honoring him erected anywhere in my town, my state, or my country. And it’s pretty clear that this statue proposal is only the tip of the iceberg. In a game of governmental one-upmanship, no one is going to win, because fair is fair and even a child of six can tell you that favoritism is not fair.
Some Christians who cry “Foul!” when the government allows a creepy statue of Satan, a Fesitvus pole made of beer cans, or the Pastafarian’s image of the Flying Spaghetti Monster in a government space will defend to the death their right to have a Nativity scene. I agree with them wholeheartedly, really I do. But I also know that government-mandated religion is precisely why several hundred years ago a bunch of persecuted Christians sailed off into the sunset looking for a new world. They believed in a place where everyone could worship God in their own way, as they were convicted in their own heart. This means that, like it or not, government shouldn’t get involved where religion is concerned. It can’t play favorites with one while shutting out another. If it gives square footage for a statue to please one, it must also give square footage for a statue to please another. It can’t incorporate tenets of one religion or another in its laws, or it risks the appearance of persecution to other faiths, or in the absence of faith, points of view.
Often Christians have a knee-jerk reaction whenever an issue like this arises. America, they argue, is a country built on Christian values and principles: In God we trust! We should proudly display the Ten Commandments, a Nativity scene, or any other religious symbol we choose. While there is intense debate over whether or not our Founders meant our country to be a “Christian” nation, there can be no doubt that they provided a firewall to keep the government’s nose out of religion. And with good reason.
Thomas Jefferson, one of those Founders, in a letter to the Danbury Baptists, wrote, “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”2 Christians believe that God endowed all with free will. Why would He then approve of state-mandated religion that forced people to blindly worship and obey a religion even if it was against their conscience? And if God wouldn’t, why would we? If we attempt to force the government to promote religion, in any form, how is that consistent with the practice of free will?
While some would contend that “it reflects incredible arrogance to reconfigure the Bill of Rights into prohibiting religious displays on public grounds. Hanging the Ten Commandments on the wall of a county courthouse no more mandates religion than judges displaying the banner of their favorite sports team somehow equates to Congress establishing that team as preeminent,”3 I find it difficult to imagine those same people cheerfully giving equal wall space to an image of Baphomet, as Oklahomans are being asked to do. When we want to promote our own agenda, it can be easy to turn a blind eye to any others. The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and animal activists aside, Satan is at least in the Bible. He has been part of our religious story from the beginning. Granted, he is the villain of the piece, but you could rightly argue that a statue of Satan is actually a religious symbol. If one religious symbol is allowed (the Ten Commandments monument), why not another? Yet I can’t imagine Christians supporting it. But if someone in the courthouse was an atheist or a satanist, might they not be justified in requesting equal treatment in a land where “all men are created equal”?
The Ten Commandments are a religious symbol; we should be proud of that. We should thank God if the values and tenets of the commandments are reflected in the law of the land. But forcing our government to display them will result either in a circus of laughable, objectionable “religious” symbols being exhibited right along with them, thereby cheapening them, or it will open the door for the government to legislate religion. Neither option offers the end result we want. The last thing Christians should desire is to make a mockery of any religious symbol.
Lucien Greaves (not, surprisingly, his real name), a spokesman for the satanic temple proposing the statue in Oklahoma, cites Representative Mike Ritze, who spearheaded the push for the Ten Commandments monument and whose family helped finance the construction, with opening the door for his group’s proposal. “‘He’s helping a satanic agenda grow more than any of us possibly could,’ Greaves said. ‘You don’t walk around and see too many satanic temples around, but when you open the door to public spaces for us, that’s when you’re going to see us.’ ”4
Nor is Oklahoma the only arena where this war of the religious viewpoints is being waged on government grounds. In Florida and Wisconsin competing displays cheapened the holidays as entities with differing opinions waged war on each other’s beliefs. At the rotunda of the Wisconsin capitol, the group Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics (AHA) put up a poster depicting the Flying Spaghetti Monster with the text “BEHOLD THE FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER. HE BOILED FOR YOUR SINS! BE TOUCHED BY HIS NOODLY APPENDAGE BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE! Think this is ridiculous? We agree. Religious ideas should not be promoted in the halls of government. Protect the separation of church and state; it protects us all.”5
The Freedom From Religion Foundation put up their own “Nativity” scene in retaliation aimed at a traditional one displayed by Wisconsin Family Action. Their “Winter Solstice Nativity” featured Charles Darwin, Mark Twain, and Albert Einstein as the three Wise Men, the Statue of Liberty and an astronaut as angels, and an African American girl doll to represent that “humankind was birthed in Africa.”6 In the Florida capitol, Chaz Stevens, who created the Festivus pole of beer cans—a symbol of the “holiday for the rest of us” based on an episode of the TV show Seinfeld—admitted his display was ridiculous. “‘What’s the point? There is no point. It’s ridiculous. This is the most ridiculous thing I could come up with,’ said Stevens, an atheist. ‘This is about the separation of church and state.’”7
This is only the beginning of the craziness. AHA president Sam Erickson said, “We would prefer to keep our capitol secular, but if the state decides to turn it into an open forum, they have opened the floodgates. We hope everyone takes advantage of this opportunity to advertise their own viewpoints, no matter how silly.”8 The stone throwing could literally never end.
May I propose an alternate plan? Whether or not America was founded as a Christian nation, it has the opportunity to be a “Christlike” nation if the Christians who call it home will use their God-given freedom to share the good news in a way that doesn’t provoke those who don’t hold our values and beliefs, but instead draws them to the God of a people whose modus operandi is love. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35, NIV).
We must remember that it’s possible to win the battle and lose the war. If we want to fight fire with love we can win, but we can’t do it on government grounds. We can put up our Nativity sets, our Ten Commandments, or even ads about the Bible . . . at our churches, on our lawns, or on a billboard, for pity’s sake. But we can’t strangle the government and demand it cater to our preference or soon we’ll find that in addition to making our faith a laughingstock, the government’s preference will become law, and I think we all know what happens then.
capitol-ten-commandments-monument. Accessed February 2, 2014.
2 http://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/9806/danpre.html. Accessed February 10, 2014.
3 http://www.forbes.com/sites/billflax/2011/07/09/the-true-meaning-of-separation-of-church-and-state/ Accessed February 2, 2014.
4 http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/12/08/21820518-satanists-want-statue-beside-ten-commandments-monument-at-oklahoma-legislature?lite. Accessed February 2, 2014.
5 http://wiscatheists.blogspot.com/2013/12/fsm-invades-wisconsin-state-capitol_16.html. Accessed February 5, 2014.
6 http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/christmas-tree-festivus-pole-share-spotlight-at-wisconsin-capitol-b99159302z1-234975101.html. Accessed February 5, 2014.
7 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/18/flying-spaghetti-monster-florida_n_4468543.html. Accessed February 5, 2014.
8 http://host.madison.com/lifestyles/faith-and-values/religion/in-the-spirit-uw-atheists-add-flying-spaghetti-monster-deity/article_13433521-70a3-59d9-bb67-84015a8080cd.html. Accessed February 5, 2014.
9 Bible texts credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.