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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Acts 17:23 - updated for the 21st century

For some reason, I feel the pull of rebellion. In the past, while I haven't shied away from expressing my personal beliefs in God, today I wade unhesitatingly into the wider ocean of ideas.

Recently, an Atheist Monument was erected in front of the Bradford County Courthouse in Starke, FL. A web article from the Pensacola News Journal recounted the event. The president of American Atheists, David Silverman, pointed out that the eminently practical monument is in the shape of a bench. The New Jersey-based group received permission to place it nearby to a 10 Commandments monument, also located in front of the Courthouse.

Ironically, Mr. Silverman had to stand on the 10 Commandments monument to be heard. Maybe it's just me; wouldn't he have achieved more elevation standing on the Atheist Monument bench?

Humor aside, the first thing I thought of was the book of Acts. Chapter 17, verse 23 to be specific. That verse says:

For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you...

Paul was speaking with a wide variety of people, Jews, Gentiles, Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, and others. He was explaining to them the truth about the only real God.

You might say, "X, if Paul was speaking out against monuments made by human hands, doesn't that cast all of the 10 Commandment monuments scattered around our country in sort of a bad light?"

That's a great question. Paul even noted that God does not dwell in Temples made by hand - which would have been a great affront to the Jews present since they believed that the Temple in Jerusalem was the house of God.

Any 10 Commandment monument serves one main purpose: to remind us of the instructions God gave to Moses and which, by the way, adorn our own Supreme Court.

Somewhere in Washington, DC

Another interesting thing that occurred to me:

Why go to Florida? If you're a group of sober-minded, monument-loving atheists, why not put one up in New Jersey? Maybe they couldn't count on the support of the community up there? Who knows.

The Treaty of Tripoli? Seriously?

One of the most prominent inscriptions on the AA Monument is an homage to the Treaty of Tripoli (1797). I believe the key excerpt is Article 11, which reads:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

I cringe at the olde English - or what I assume is olde English - because the alternative is too horrendous to consider. But let's bypass that and think about the context of what Article 11 is doing in this document.

Although the English translation of the Arabic original has been widely questioned, there is no question that Article 11 as it is stated above was the text that was ratified by the Senate. But more informally, the purpose of the Tripoli treaty - and others with neighboring Barbary States - was to reduce or eliminate a serious piracy problem for the new United States. Is it any wonder that the young US government would agree to any statement which they believed would prevent privateers from preying on American shipping in the Mediterranean?

You get what you pay for

It's human nature to go big. The 10 Commandments monument in Starke reportedly cost in the neighborhood of $22,000, and as you could see if Mr. Silverman wasn't standing on it, it's quite nice. On the other hand, the atheist bench comes in at a frugal $6,000. Taking a closer look at the picture above, the typesetting does leave a little to be desired - maybe they got a discount?

At the end of the day, if the American Atheists (led by a man of Jewish heritage) want to erect a monument to their non-belief, more power to them. It's no secret to me that there are atheists in this country and that they are a little tweaked by various courts not removing 10 Commandment monuments, which are apparently a threat to the separation clause in our Constitution.

I hope to be able to swing by the Bradford County Courthouse the next time in the Starke neighborhood. I just hope those radical Christians haven't vandalized the monument. We do live, after all, in a free country.

What do you think?


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