The Supreme Court rules this way and that way and no great harm is done.
The Kentucky legislature, as everyone knows, ordered the Ten Commandments to be posted in every classroom of the state. This week the Supreme Court said no, that is wrong, take them down.
Now the legislature, to be fair to it, ordered the Commandments posted merely because it cost nothing, meant nothing, and might win a few votes from some of the more remote yokels of the wilderness. The usual impetus, in other words, for any legislative action.
All the Supreme Court had to do was establish two things:
1. The Commandments in question are central tenets of Jewish and Christian faiths.
2. These central tenets were posted in state classrooms at the order of the state itself. And therefore this is a violation of the Constitution, which prohibits the vaunting of one religion over another.
There's some danger, the court chatted along (and I amplify and paraphrase the court's language for purpose of making sense) that some Kentucky kid might actually trot over to the wall and read the Commandments. And (here come the court's own words) might even "read, meditate upon, perhaps venerate and obey" them.
In the same way -- speaking of possibilities -- I suppose you could say the earth might evaporate into lime sherbet by tomorrow morning. But such contingencies are so remote as to be beyond the pale of rational argument.
The court also went on to say such veneration, etc., might be desirable, or "desirable," even if illegal.
The Ten Commandments have always been holy, but this court decision is bound to have the undesirable effect of raising a bad question: How desirable, in fact, are those Commandments?
Covetousness, adultery, murder, zub,zub,zub -- are these the real sins Americans fear? Do the Commandments truly reflect the behavior we fear most in ourselves? Hardly.
In ancient time they did very well, no doubt. Even before Moses, the ancient Egyptians had something of the sort.
When the Egyptians died, the coffin included an important paper, the great Negative Confession, which was supposed to be read by the judge of the dead, in case the corpse was still unable to speak.
"I have not done this," the Confession went, "and I have not done that and I have not done the other." A sort of "I am not a crook" litany, so that in reading these documents now, we know quite certainly the prevailing sins of the Egyptians.
But none of these -- stealing, covetousness, failing to honor one's father and mother -- is the sin Americans fear. No.
Failure is the sin Americans tremble at. The American confession to be carried into the next world must sure read:
"I have not been a failure. I have been an activist for everything. I have never once sat quiet. I have never knowingly missed a chance. I have sent my kids to Yale. I have always worn blue shirt." Etc.
The sin of sins with us is to lose our cool, to get antsy, to miss the tide, to fail to see the diaphanous buck which might with skill be brought to earth and made flesh. Reflection, thought, quietness are the sins of all sins with us, and they alone bring forth the supreme penalty. Which is, needless to say, a failure to get ahead. The Thirteen Commandments
(Newly revised and Englished into the plain language of the common people, as being generally necessary to salvation in this year of grace 1980).
Avoid yellow shirts. Learn the right shades of blue.
Stay busy. Surely you can learn to fake it? Your betters do.
When in doubt, take a minute to decide the result you'd like best. Then accumulate evidence, and reason your way home. "Reason" in this context includes negotiation, argument, screaming, threatening, insinuating, tangential blackmail, etc.
Learn language. You can forget the rest. Talk big and talk fast.
Get money. Get it without going to jail. Money is freedom and money is the sire of civil rights.
Avoid sarcasm. You may need the moron for a cushy job, and if you're in government, of course you will.
Do not feat a fight. Be sure the bastard is really dead before striking.
Support virtue always. Support public transportation loud enough and you can ride your limousine, leaving the buses to persons who haven't figured anything out.
Revere the Deity. Give the goddam church a window. It may help with taxes. Few who give memorial windows, altars, towers, gyms, or chancel rails are ever executed, remember that.
Make your face work. Don't let it contradict your words. Study your mirror and Do Something.
Thou shalt not wear white socks. Except when you wear dirty shirts and wish to convey that you are a friend of toil.
Never threaten. Never say you'd like to pitch him out the window.Get someone else to actually do it, unaware he's doing your work.
Tell everybody he's just great. Things are grand. Never better. Tell it to every big guy. Believe it if you can.