Apr 2, 2005

Ian Wrisley's Voice of Reason

On Tuesday, March 29, 2005 during my drive home from work, I was listening to All Things Considered on NPR. I heard the most novel argument in favor of keeping the Ten Commandments off of government property, and I was surprised to find that the opinion being shared was that of Ian Wrisley, an Evangelical minister from Crested Butte, Colorado. It was surprising to me that in spite of his being an Evangelical minister, his opinion was expressed so clearly and logically that I got it. I usually have a hard time listening to people who are religious (or who claim to be religious), because more often than not their preaching seems to me to be very judgemental and hypocritical. I wanted to put the transcipt of his piece in my blog, but NPR only posted the sound byte of Ian Wrisley speaking his piece, so I transcribed it myself. One of the reasons I love NPR is that they consistently deliver surprising content, because their stories are interesting and they aren't afraid to tell stories from alternative perspectives.

My best attempt at transcribing Ian Wrisley's thought provoking editorial:

Dorothy Sayers called it a great mistake to present Christianity as something charming and popular. Maybe that’s my problem with this whole Ten Commandments controversy. People who want the Commandments on government property are forced to argue the commandments belong there precisely because they are not religious. They talk about the Commandments as a cultural, legal, and historical document. This line of thinking might keep God in the Pledge of Allegiance, but only as an impotent artifact of history, not the Lord of history. It’s a hollow victory.

When a government adopts religious symbolism it ought to scare the bejeezus out of religious people. Why? Because governments can’t be trusted with metaphysics, that’s why. When I was in 8th grade, our principal said the Lord’s Prayer over the loudspeaker everyday. In his mouth it was just another means to control unruly adolescents. Communion with God lost out. When governments co-opt religious symbols, they aren’t giving legitimacy to religion, they’re using religion to prop up their own legitimacy. What’s most confusing to me is that the people clamoring for religious symbols on government property are my fellow Evangelicals.

It was after all a group of Baptists who needed Thomas Jefferson’s reassurance that the government would keep out of religion. His response to them gives us that great phrase, “A wall of separation between Church and State.” The Baptists (and the rest of us) were protected from the encroaching hand of government. 200 years later, Evangelicals are asking the government to encroach.

Blasphemy is a word we Evangelicals don’t use much anymore. It means to make secular that which is sacred. Posting the Ten Commandments on government property is a case study in blasphemy. As a Christian, I find The Commandments too sacred to be possessed by any government. If anything, the faithful belong to The Commandments, but that’s another conversation.


digeratus said...

I'm so glad you heard it too, that it rang true with you too, and that you transcribed it! I heard it while driving home from work. I liked it so much that I brought it up as a dinner topic. I was going to follow up and find the text but you did all the work for me!

finijo said...

His words were rattling around inside my head for the last few days, so I figured I better blog it. I hate that NPR doesn't post the transcripts now, but I'm sure it was expensive to store them all. Glad you liked it.

Truth Is Stranger said...

His sentiments are fine if you want to create a sterile world where nothing ever came from any belief system and no judgements are made about anyone, anywhere, anytime. To say leaving it there is hollow is missing the point entirely.
Confusing the fact that this country was founded on religous principles (including the concept of religious freedom)with the government shoving a religion down someone's throat is, at best, ignorant. We might just as well put a non-gender/race/age specific head on paper money with the words 'in whatever you want we trust'.
Don't mistake me, I am standing right next to you if the government is trying to force you to pray at school or whatever.
I am not religious and find overly zealous preachers, be they psychotic muslim imam's convincing goat herders to go blow themselves up or Jim & Tammy Baker clowns bilking money from the seemingly ignorant masses disgusting and shameful.
However to deny the traditions and history that fostered the rise of this country by erasing every reference to something religious is as stupid as rewriting the King James bible to read his/her and womyn in place of women.

That being said, I do enjoy NPR on occasion as well - mostly the feature stuff.

Anonymous said...

Truth Is Stranger might be missing the point. The United States is a great nation precisely because it was founded on ideals derived, or distilled, from 1700 years of Christian thought. That being said, it is dangerous for governments to take on the symbols of religion as their own. Look at the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, and every European nation with a national church. Churches lose out when they're identified with nations.

Also, the guys clamoring for Ten Commandment displays in public are usually the kind of Christians who would be outlawed if any state or federal government endorsed a particular "religion." They're usually members of independent churches.

I make this argument not from a secular perspective, but from a religious perspective. When government endorses your religion, it denigrates mine. That's just the way it is. Thar is the opposite of anything goes. It is a rewquest for the kind of respect deserving of great ideas, like the Commandments. They aren't just symbolic, they're real.


Ian Wrisley

Truth Is Stranger said...

Hi Ian, please demonstrate for me how having that bible or whatever it is in that box (or...again, whatever it is) is nationalizing religion?