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This Week in God, 8.23.14

An Alabama official is so eager to get the government to endorse a Ten Commandments monument that he's arguing the Ten Commandments aren't religious.
A tablet of the Ten Commandments, which is located on the grounds of the Texas Capitol Building in Austin, Texas, is seen in a Tuesday Oct. 12, 2004 photo.
A tablet of the Ten Commandments, which is located on the grounds of the Texas Capitol Building in Austin, Texas, is seen in a Tuesday Oct. 12, 2004 photo.
First up from the God Machine this week is an amazing church-state story out of Alabama, where one public official is pushing a strange new argument about the Ten Commandments.

In an effort to educate the public on the divine origins of America's founding documents, Jackson County Commissioner Tim Guffey (R) has proposed erecting a Ten Commandments monument, as well as displays of the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, outside the county courthouse. "If you look at the documents that was written -- the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence -- they are all stemmed from the word of God, from the Ten Commandments," Guffey, who proposed the projects at a recent commission meeting, told WHNT on Thursday.

As the Huffington Post report explains, Guffey is working from the premise that the Ten Commandments, as the tenets appear in the Old Testament, is "not for any type of religion" and he may be pushing a religious display, but he's "not doing it to push religion at all."
To be sure, social conservatives seeking government backing for Ten Commandments displays isn't unusual, as evidenced by the Texas monument pictured above. But this Alabama controversy is rare -- ordinarily, proponents of the Decalogue don't pretend it's secular [edited for clarity].
Regardless, there are some fairly obvious problems with Guffey's pitch. For example, the U.S. Constitution does not "stem from" the Ten Commandments -- it's an entirely secular document that separates church from state. For that matter, to argue that a Biblical list of commandments that begins, "I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt have no other gods before me" is not religious seems a little silly.
But the larger point is that some conservatives are so eager to have government extend official support to their religious beliefs that they're willing to argue that their sacred texts have no religious value at all. It's ironic, in a way -- it's tempting to think opponents of religion would want to strip sacred texts of their spiritual significance. Here we have the opposite.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) has apparently mixed up different groups of Satanists this week: "Gov. Mary Fallin (R-OK) issued a statement Monday ahead of a Satanic 'black mass' scheduled to take place at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City in September.... However, the Satanists who are planning to celebrate the autumnal equinox on Sep. 21 by holding a so-called 'black mass' at the Oklahoma City Civic Center are not from the Satanic Temple. On Tuesday, the Satanic Temple demanded an apology from Fallin, who had confused them with a separate, Oklahoma City-based group" (thanks to my colleague Laura Conaway for the heads-up).
* Seattle's Mark Driscoll, head of an evangelical megachurch, appears to have lost influence over his congregation: "Mr. Driscoll's empire appears to be imploding. He has been accused of creating a culture of fear at the church, of plagiarizing, of inappropriately using church funds and of consolidating power to such a degree that it has become difficult for anyone to challenge or even question him. A flood of former Mars Hill staff members and congregants have come forward, primarily on the Internet but also at a protest in front of the church, to share stories of what they describe as bullying or 'spiritual abuse,' and 21 former pastors have filed a formal complaint in which they call for Mr. Driscoll's removal as the church's leader."
* And TV preacher Pat Robertson heard from a viewer this week who asked why her ailing husband's condition hasn't improved despite intense prayer: "Robertson responded that the woman's husband probably isn't a faithful Christian and may actually want to be sick: 'There are some people, you know, they enjoy their sickness. That is terrible to say but that is their excuse not to compete, 'well I'd love to compete but my lumbago's got me so I can't do it.'"