The devil went down to Oklahoma…

There’s an old proverb (often attributed to such tactical geniuses as Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, and Napoleon) that says, “never interrupt your opponent when he’s making a mistake,” and it’s a good rule of thumb. But when it comes to placing a monument to Satan in the public square, I think an exception to the rule is called for.

An advocacy group based in New York has proposed placing a statue of Satan (er, actually the 19th century literary fabrication “Baphomet”) on the grounds of the state capitol in Oklahoma City (where they don’t actually live), in partnership with some atheist activists (who, presumably, don’t believe in Satan, but whatever). Yeah, it reads like something you might see in The Onion. Except this is all too true.

The issue started back in November when Oklahoma state Rep. Mike Ritze donated $10,000 (and raised a matching $10,000 in private funds) to put up a 7-foot-tall monument of the Ten Commandments on the grounds. The American Civil Liberties Union sued to have the monument taken down. So now we’ve got a nice stew going in the Sooner State. Last I heard, a Hindu group is joining the party too. By the time it’s all said and done, I expect the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” people will be fighting for airtime as well.

My initial reaction to this is a somewhat sardonic amusement at the absurdity of it all. Only in America. It also spurs to memory my initial annoyance with state-sanctioned displays of religion, even those of the Judeo-Christian paradigm. Not to say I told you so, but arguing for Christian symbols in the public square on the basis of historical tradition merely opens us up to the furtherance of new traditions — many traditions we won’t like.

This latest development is an example of an opening to views of a subculture of American society that despises Christianity and wishes for it to have zero influence in the wider culture. The appeal to fairness, equal access, and freedom to practice religion is protection for all worldviews in a pluralistic society like ours — we need to understand that such liberty is a sword that swings both ways.

Brothers and sisters, though it is certainly historically and philosophically influenced by our ideology, ours is not a Christian nation.

Instead of going all “Westboro Church” or “church militant” in a self-righteous spirit of personal offense, we should take it as a warning that we’re not effectively communicating the intellectual superiority of Christianity over other worldviews as well as we might think. At the same time, we should not fall into the trap of agreeing with the Satanists’ premise that recognizing the Ten Commandments in front of a legislative building raises a process argument about creating an open playing field for all religions.

We are quite able of explaining calmly and rationally the Ten Commandments are a part of the long history of Western legal tradition, and it is helpful and proper to recognize them as such. There’s nothing particularly “Christian” in recognizing that, just common honor, respect, and furthering the stream of Western civilization that brought us to this point in our history.

By no stretch of the imagination did Satan (or “Baphomet” for that matter) play a similar role to the Ten Commandments in the progress of Western Civilization. The proper analogy is not between the 10 commandments and Satan. But rather between the 10 commandments and the (ahem, pagan) law code of Hammurabi.

So, what’s the endgame? Xenu sculptures on the National Mall? Public officials swearing on a copy of The Origin of the Species? Olympic gold medalists holding up a “hail Satan” hand gesture when the national anthem is played?

Look well upon the fruits borne in the spirit of our age. Gaze upon those who laugh in mockery, and let yourselves weep.

But don’t stop there.

Gird yourselves up and prepare — prepare to give a reason for the hope that abides within.

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