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Thanks for the Wisdom

Robert M. Price


I always enjoyed Bob Hope and his rapid-fire joke delivery. His jokes were innocent yet truly funny. I suppose Jerry Seinfeld is his successor. I was sorry to see Bob Hope pass away recently, though I knew it had to happen soon. You see, Bob and I went back a long way. No, I never met him, and I am just less than half his age. But I saw some of his movies and loads of his TV specials when I was a kid. And I read Bob Hope Comics (Jerry Lewis, too, but don't tell anybody!). Still have 'em. But one thing that sticks with me more than anything else about old ski-nose is a black and white public service cartoon starring Bob that they used to run inside the front cover of DC comics.

ááááááááááá As our story opens, some kids are milling around in the same neighborhood where posters announce Bob Hope will be speaking for National Brotherhood Week. A few of the kids are leather-jacketed toughs, and they start pushing some ethnic-looking kid around, ridiculing the whole idea of brotherhood. Lo and behold, up steps Bob Hope to put a stop to it. They are in awe of him, and this gives him the chance to explain why they are in the wrong. Bob unrolls a scroll he had used in his lecture. It contains four versions of the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" as well as one from Rabbi Hillel, one from Confucius, and one from the Koran. It only makes sense, he says. And he is right.

ááááááááááá Well, I can't help thinking of this every time I hear the latest round of dispute over the public posting of the Ten Commandments, whether in public school class rooms, or in the Supreme Court of Alabama. Do we need a public endorsement of or monument to our highest ethical standards? Not a bad idea. But it is a mistake, from the standpoint of church-state separation, which I cherish, to have the government post the Ten Commandments. And this is for the simple reason that the Commandments are not the moral platitudes most people seem to think they are. Maybe they haven't read them recently. Sure, there are the usual prohibitions of adultery, murder, theft, coveting, but how about Jewish Sabbath observance? Worse yet, shall the U.S. government command its citizens to worship only Jehovah, the Hebrew God? Because that's what the commandment says. It doesn't say "Worship at the church of your choice" (though that, too, would be way out of the question). It directs its readers to renounce other gods. But the government has no business telling its Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Confucianist, Parsee, and Jainist citizens (of whom there are a great and increasing number, to say nothing of atheists) that they must instead direct their prayers to Jehovah. If the government does not mean to vouch for the content of the Commandments, why post them? Is there a fine-print disclaimer saying "This scriptural text does not necessarily represent the policies of the U.S. government?" If that was the idea, why the heck post the things in the first place?! Surely it is an endorsement. And then you can't pretend the government has not begun to promote one religion (or religions, as long as they are centered on Jehovah). Do words mean anything?

ááááááááááá Now what does this have to do with Bob Hope? He had the right idea all those years ago. If you want to promote multi-culturalism and brotherhood by posting sentiments to that effect, its not the highly partisan and overtly religious Ten Commandments you want, but rather the text that was written on Bob's scroll: the Golden Rule as enunciated by Hillel, Jesus, Muhammad, and Confucius. Inter-religious, neither tied to a single faith nor excluding any, and ethical in nature, not theological! Perfect! Let's post that in the classrooms and the courthouses! What do you think? And, Bob? Thanks for the wisdom.  


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