The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Religion not a simple path to morality

The perceived role of religion in Americans’ lives is starting to run amuck.

As part of the hype surrounding last week’s umpteenth Supreme Court debate about whether or not to allow religious symbols in public places, a Daily News article featured a slew of illogical and fallacious comments by religious proponents.

These individuals suggested that if the Ten Commandments are removed from public view, “the pillars of American law — and decency — will disappear from sight.” An Associated Press poll of 1,000 adults also revealed that 76 percent of citizens believe displaying the Ten Commandments should be allowed on government property.

But there is more to this argument than the much beaten to death debate about church and state separation.

While there is perhaps some logic behind the argument that certain religious symbols, such as the cross on the Los Angeles County seal, reflect historical roots, to suggest that the mere presence of religious symbols in our courthouses, schools, or throughout society in general, influences us to behave as “decent” people, is absolutely ludicrous.

While religious teachings and values may indeed impact someone on a personal, individual basis, this seems to be entirely dependent upon the person in question, and to suggest that simply viewing a cross or Ten Commandments symbol convinces citizens to make morally and ethically sound choices represents mere wishful thinking.

In the same article, the Rev. Beverly Gaard of Chirothesia A Way of Life Church in North Hollywood, is quoted as saying, “(The Ten Commandments) show us how to live. If we forget, we’ll be subjected to all kinds of tyranny, dictatorship, everything.”

As if our society doesn’t already face these problems, as well as countless others, including crime, violence and bigotry, even with the presence of public religious symbols. Even if the Ten Commandments are no longer posted in our courthouses, religious Americans can still become aware of their meaning and influence on our legal system through their own religious training.

And though our justice system may indeed have been founded largely on the basis of the values set forth in the Ten Commandments, these Commandments have little purpose today other than to give us a false sense of righteousness and morality that does not exist in our crime-laden society.

There seems to be little benefit in having someone on trial for murder see a posting on the wall that says, “Thou shall not kill.” I would wager that the majority of convicted murderers and other types of criminals have indeed heard at some point of time in their lives, “Thou shall not kill,” and so on.

In other words, it’s not a matter of citizens being unfamiliar with such teachings. It’s a matter of these individuals having no respect for human life, regardless of their religious training or lack thereof. A posting on the wall is not going to change this.

The Rev. Zedar Broadous, pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church of Pacoima, is also quoted as saying, “There is no question our public schools would be better off with these Ten Commandments on their walls. When you get rid of moral absolutes, there’s absolute chaos in our society.”

Broadous obviously does not have much firsthand experience with students, especially high school students or teenagers. While I am by no stretch of the imagination an expert, even through my limited tutoring experience, I can say beyond a doubt that simply posting a Ten Commandments listing in a classroom would have little effect on the “moral” behavior of children.

Since children develop their values through a combination of their parents’ teachings and those they pick up from their peers, and are also by nature self-absorbed, I fail to see how a sign on a classroom wall would have a direct, life-altering impact.

Along these lines, the supposed link between being religious and being a “good person” is similarly fallacious in its logic. A 1998 national survey reported in the Los Angeles Times noted that 60 percent of Americans felt that “nonbelievers” (atheists) have a negative effect on the nation’s culture.

But to suggest that because someone is not religious, or is an agnostic or atheist, he or she is devoid of morals and deserves to be openly stigmatized, is quite frightening. It should go without saying that simply claiming to be religious does not automatically make someone a morally upstanding individual, and that so-called “religious” people are equally capable of hate, cruelty and criminal activity as are atheists. But it does not go without saying, given the negative and inaccurate views still cast upon nonbelievers.

Just as can be seen in the Ten Commandments debate, instead of using common sense and logic to realize that there are more ways to build character than simply through religious adherence and symbolism, proponents often uphold the ignorant view that religion is the only path to being a decent person.

Just ask yourself — when you drive down the freeway and see a cross poised atop a church, does it suddenly inspire you to be a better person, even if you already are a good person to begin with?

Probably not. But for those who believe it does, I wish you all happy illusions.

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