Remember Roy Moore, the Alabama Supreme Court Justice who ostentatiously displayed the ten commandments in his court room? My friend , Hans Hacker
published a letter in the Atlantic Monthly
, which compares Moore's religiosity to that of Abraham Lincoln.
Here you go:
The juxtaposition of Joshua Wolf Shenk's "Lincoln's Great Depression" and Joshua Green's "Roy and His Rock" (October Atlantic) is a powerful commentary on the history and condition of American politics. It seems we have not learned much from Lincoln's theology, or from his example.
George Bush, who has said he strives to follow the model of Lincoln, seems to have fundamentally misunderstood him. Lincoln's greatest strength was his humility—his belief that God's ways are inscrutable, and that it is prideful sin to claim with dogmatic certainty God's allegiance to one's own cause. How else can we explain the words of the Second Inaugural?
"It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes."
The notion of prideful sin is completely lost on Roy Moore and his version of the Republican Party. Inexplicably for someone claiming to be a follower of Jesus Christ, Moore prefers Moses' Ten Commandments to his own savior's Beatitudes. His certainty in his condemnation of those who envision a life devoid of the punitive justice of Mosaic law defines precisely the corrosive effect of religion on politics today.
The easy answer to Moore comes from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who wrote in The Path of the Law, "The worst reason for doing anything is that it was done in this way during the time of Henry IV." That comment might apply to the time of Moses as well. However, Moore's politics are corrosive mainly because they reward a lack of reflection and promote an unthinking citizenry. In Roy Moore's America citizens are not called upon to evaluate the effectiveness of their institutions in achieving justice, or the usefulness of those institutions in establishing social arrangements and distributing power, wealth, or status. Furthermore, citizens are not required to think carefully about themselves in relation to others. Moore's Mosaic legal order asks no one to be unselfish, to turn the other cheek, or to relinquish his rights in favor of forgiveness and community with others. These are all things for which Americans have striven (even when "knowing that [they] could never be perfectly attained," as Shenk notes of Lincoln). Moore's certainty is simply un-American.
In the end we all could do with a bit more of Lincoln's clarity, and with the knowledge that this clarity flows from uncertainty and humility.
With permission of the author.