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Ten Commandments
06.10.05
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DAVID BRANCACCIO: NOW on PBS...

They believe in the literal truth of the Bible and aim to put God in charge of government.

CHRIS HEDGES: What it's calling on is for its followers to essentially take control of secular society and create a Christian, what they define as, a Christian nation.

BRANCACCIO: And a different perspective — this judge says putting monuments to the Ten Commandments in government buildings is right and only the beginning.

ROY MOORE: If you're uncomfortable with the recognition of the Judeo-Christian God, then you're uncomfortable with America. Because without a recognition of that God, America would not exist.

BRANCACCIO: Welcome.

St. Paul's Chapel here near the World Trade Center site in New York has a storied history. It predates the signing of the US Constitution by more than a decade. George Washington worshipped here on his inauguration day in 1789, and attended services during the couple of years that New York City was the country's capital.

Not a bad spot to reflect on our founding fathers' intentions for the role of religion in our system of government… and ask what place religion should hold in the public square today?

The two people we're about to talk to have radically different answers to that question.

First, Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who spent more than 15 years as a war correspondent for THE NEW YORK TIMES — but now he's turned to a different kind of battle, the battle over faith in America. He wrote about this in a recent edition of HARPER's magazine. After attending a big meeting of religious radio and TV people.

BRANCACCIO: Chris, thanks for coming in.

CHRISTOPHER HEDGES: Thank you.

BRANCACCIO: Chris, you've covered conditions around the world. War, human rights. What brought you to want to go to the Christian broadcasters' convention?

CHRISTOPHER HEDGES: Well, I saw, you know, especially after 9/11, this kind of fusion of religion and nationalism that I had seen in the Middle East and in the Balkans. And that I had watched essentially destroy and disintegrate societies. And so coming back to the United States and having lived in disintegrating societies, societies where whatever openness was destroyed. I think I was very attuned to what it is they were preaching and very frightened by it. And that's what propelled me to go and to begin to write on what we call the Christian right.

BRANCACCIO: When you got there some of your concerns were born out by what you saw.

CHRISTOPHER HEDGES: Very much so. You know, this is a movement that is not tolerant of other ways of being. Even other modes of being a Christian. I mean these people, people such as myself for instance would be dismissed as nominal Christians. That's a pejorative for them.

BRANCACCIO: You who went to Harvard divinity school.

CHRISTOPHER HEDGES: Well, I grew up in the church. You know. My father was a Presbyterian minister. My mother was a seminary graduate. It defined my life. It defined the way I look at the world. And then of course, I went to seminary as well. And although I was not ordained, I graduated.

BRANCACCIO: One of the interesting features of you spending time with the Christian broadcasters is you're able to immerse yourself into this other communications universe that seems to live in its own orbit.

CHRISTOPHER HEDGES: Yeah.

CHRISTOPHER HEDGES: The far Christian right has been very astute in building communications networks that enwrap millions of people essentially within their embrace.

So they've created a kind of parallel information network that has essentially closed minds. And has become a form of indoctrination. Coupled with far right Christian schools and everything else.

I mean the-- you know, the teaching of creationism for those of us who read the book of Genesis is ridiculous. I mean the writers of the book of Genesis thought the world was flat. You know, God according to Genesis created light on the first day and sun on the fourth.

The writers of Genesis, like the rest of the Bible, were not trying to teach us about the process of evolution or creation. They were trying to teach us about the purpose. That is the power and wisdom of the Bible, that it's about values. Facts are left up to science. They've tried to turn the Bible into a kind of scientific textbook. And it doesn't work of course unless you ignore whole sections of it. And you don't allow outside thought, outside opinion, honest intellectual inquiry to intrude upon you.

BRANCACCIO: And as you looked around, as you talked to people you saw things that added up to quite a big word. I mean the headline to your piece in Harper's had the word hate--

CHRISTOPHER HEDGES: Yeah.

BRANCACCIO: --in it.

CHRISTOPHER HEDGES: Because that's what the ideology is about.

The final aesthetic of this movement is violence. This obsession with the apocalyptic end of the world with the rapture, which of course is not in the Bible, with you know, the torment that will befall unbelievers. The nothion, cult of masculinity, the notion of Christ the avenger. All of this bares far more in common with despotic ideologies, even sort of fascist ideologies, than it does with I think with the message of love, which I think is essentially certainly within the four Gospels the message that Jesus tries to bring.

BRANCACCIO: It's such a conundrum though. You use strong words to describe your fears about where some of these movements are headed. Totalitarian, seditious.

CHRISTOPHER HEDGES: Yeah.

BRANCACCIO: Like people are committing sedition. When you use words in relation to people's religion or just deeply held convictions it does become difficult to have dialogue. I mean someone has to ratchet back the rhetoric. And the NATIONAL REVIEW didn't like your Harper's piece.

CHRISTOPHER HEDGES: Right.

BRANCACCIO: And Stanley Kurtz writing in it said that your comments made in the name of opposing hatred license hatred. He's accusing you of what you're accusing them of.

CHRISTOPHER HEDGES: Well, I've never said that somebody doesn't have a right to believe that the Bible is the literal word of God. I've never said that somebody does not have a right to believe that abortion is murder. I believe that in an open society people have a right to those beliefs. What I'm saying is that when I'm faced with a movement who says not only where I'm coming from and who I am and what I represent is not legitimate but a force of evil, then at that point where does the dialogue begin?

What it is-- what is it that we have to talk about?

BRANCACCIO: Help me understand something though. I mean who are you talking about? You're not talking about Christians, evangelical Christians. Who specifically are the people that are worrying you?

CHRISTOPHER HEDGES: Yeah. I mean David that's a really good point. I'm not talking about evangelical Christians. I'm talking about people we would classify as Dominionists.

BRANCACCIO: Dominionists.

CHRISTOPHER HEDGES: Yeah, it's a term that they perhaps would not embrace themselves. I think they would call themselves Bible-believing Christians as a way to separate themselves…

BRANCACCIO: God's dominion over our civic life, over our government?

CHRISTOPHER HEDGES: Yes, very much so. And this comes out of a sort of theological or ideological movement begun roughly 30 years ago by J. Rousas Rushdoony with the Institutes of Biblical Law. And I think what a lot of people don't understand is that we're-- when we talk about evangelicals in America we're no longer talking about the Billy Grahams or the Luis Palaus people who are concerned primarily with person salvation.

You know, Billy Graham didn't talk a lot about hell and apocalypse and violence. He talked about the joys of salvation. It's not a theology I embraced but it's a theology I could understand.

We've had Christian revivals throughout this nation since our inception. But all of these revivals have called on followers to remove themselves from the contaminants of secular society to live a more Godly life. This movement is different. What it's calling on is for its followers to essentially take control of secular society and create a Christian, what they define as a Christian nation.

BRANCACCIO: And how would that live alongside people who may have different religious views in our republic?

CHRISTOPHER HEDGES: Well, what they would like to do is impose their-- what they call as their moral agenda on the rest of us. You know, there's a real hostility to federal programs. Headstart, public education. I mean, you know, James Dobson, the head of Focus on the Family has called for Christian followers to remove their children from public schools. And put them in schools that teach creationism. Put them in schools that teach them that they have been anointed as Christians to have dominion — dominion over the United States and dominion over the rest of the world.

There are very specific plans. I mean there's a book they use in the Christian schools as well as the home schooling movement called AMERICA'S PROVIDENTIAL HISTORY, and there's a chapter on Christian economics. And when you read through the book it's clear that what they want-- the federal government essentially will be reduced to carrying out national defense and protecting property rights, and not much else.

BRANCACCIO: It is fair to say though that the religious broadcasters, maybe even people who are pushing Dominionism as you call it, are picking up on something that all sorts of Americans feel. Christians, non Christians. It's a sense that we're living in a culture where there are no rules--

CHRISTOPHER HEDGES: Right.

BRANCACCIO: --that seem to apply. That movies can be as violent as possible, that people can act in deeply anti-social ways without sanction. This is not a fear made up out of whole cloth. They're reacting to something that's out there. And so, okay, we need some rules some are saying, how about the Ten Commandments, for instance. There's a place to start. You've thought deeply about just this issue.

CHRISTOPHER HEDGES: Well, they're right. We live in a moral swamp. They're not wrong. The problem is not with their analysis. In some ways they're our most trenchant and important social critics. The problem is in what they offer.

And I think the way that they're responding is to create a rigidity, an intolerance within our system, that will make things worse not better.

BRANCACCIO: There's some of this on both sides though. Here's a little vignette. I'm sitting on a plane and there's a fellow one seat over who makes it very clear that he would never even talk to a person seen reading the NEW YORK TIMES.

CHRISTOPHER HEDGES: Right.

BRANCACCIO: I've repeated this story. And some people pointed out that there are some people who wouldn't talk to somebody next to 'em on the plane who is seen reading a Bible. You see the problem.

CHRISTOPHER HEDGES: Right.

BRANCACCIO: It's hard to run a democracy when that's how people are divided.

CHRISTOPHER HEDGES: And you know what, intolerance is not the exclusive domain of the religious right. Let's be clear about that. And I think that, you know, there are elite institutions in this city that use the word Christian as a pejorative. That always worried me. It worried me because, you know, somehow religious people were dumb, I think.

No, let's get right to what they thought. And that's-- and you're right that that kind of intolerance is just as dangerous in the hands of the liberals or the left as it is in the far right.

BRANCACCIO: What's interesting is that there are some Christians who embrace the term intolerance. That intolerance is more than okay, it's what they stand for.

CHRISTOPHER HEDGES: Right. I think that, you know, at least, you know, as somebody who's spent most of his life reading the Gospels I don't see that within the Gospels. You know, Jesus never speaks about homosexuality for instance, ever. You can find in Leviticus, you know, Paul in Letter of the Romans sort of rails against it. But, you know, Paul also calls on slaves to obey their masters.

You know, if you read-- that kind of literalism that they pull is so selective and distorted that I think it perverts the message. Which is really one of inclusiveness.

You know, Montesquieu wrote that the principles of a despotic government were fear, but of a democracy was not freedom but virtue. And I think that-- I think there's a great wisdom in that.

The virtue of tolerance, the virtue of respect, of mutual respect, and that's essentially what we're destroying. It's something that many in the Christian right have understood in a way that I think perhaps liberals who sort of become permissive of everything have not. But the answer is recapturing the virtue, not grasping on to religious or any other kind of ideological intolerance because it will destroy us.

BRANCACCIO: Well, Chris' article on the National Religious Broadcasters is in the May edition of HARPER'S. And his latest book, LOSING MOSES ON THE FREEWAY, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS IN AMERICA, is just out. Thank you very much.

CHRISTOPHER HEDGES: Thank you.

BRANCACCIO: That new book by Chris Hedges is a very intimate look at how the 10 Commandments play out in our lives today.

For Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore the 10 Commandments are also a moral touchstone for government in America. Moore's unwavering campaign to install and keep a granite monument honoring the commandments in Alabama's state judicial building cost him his judgeship.

The display of the commandments on government property is an issue now before the highest court in the land. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on two Ten Commandments cases in the coming days.

BRANCACCIO: Well, Roy Moore, thanks for joining us.

ROY MOORE: Thank you.

BRANCACCIO: So, Judge Moore, I've seen this. Sometimes when you speak to big crowds, you are treated like a rock star. What accounts for that reaction?

ROY MOORE: I can't figure that out myself. But I-- you know, it's not something I like, actually. I really want to get on to the message that people need to know.

BRANCACCIO: And at the center of that message is the idea that judges need to answer to God. What do you mean by that?

ROY MOORE: The center of the message is judges need to answer to the Constitution. They need to answer to the law. And our law recognizes God. And today, we've divorced God from many things. So, it's not answering directly to God. It's answering to our Constitution, which recognizes the sovereignty of God.

That's the whole purpose of the First Amendment. And the first thing that our forefathers did when they wrote the First Amendment was to acknowledge God. It was all about God. So, when you say that God's not in the Constitution, it is because people don't understand what the Constitution is about.

BRANCACCIO: So, not only about God, but God of the Bible?

ROY MOORE: God of the Bible. That's right. Not God of the Muslim faith. Not God of, you see there was a particular God that gave freedom of conscience.

That's the freedom to believe what you want. I often say that without the first commandment, there would be no First Amendment. Without a recognition of the Judeo-Christian God, the God that gave freedom of conscience, there would be no need to keep the state out the affairs of the person, with regard to the duties you owe to God.

Very clearly, the God of the Muslim faith, for example, does freedom of conscience come from that God? No. Because you go to Saudi Arabia or one of the Arabic countries, and you try to open the Bible, and talk to people. You'd be arrested. Because they mandate the way you worship God. This country does not do that because of the First Amendment. Our forefathers fought for that freedom. And it was guaranteed by the First Amendment.

BRANCACCIO: There is a treaty that it recent--

ROY MOORE: Treaty of Tripoli.

BRANCACCIO: Treaty of Tripoli. It's 1796, right?

ROY MOORE: Yeah.

BRANCACCIO: And let me explain just for people, who may not know about this. This is a treaty of peace and friendship--

ROY MOORE: Sure.

BRANCACCIO: --with people in North Africa.

ROY MOORE: Sure.

BRANCACCIO: And what's interesting to me is that the entire US Senate, unanimous vote approved it. And John Adams, the US President, founding father signed it.

ROY MOORE: Sure.

BRANCACCIO: So, I'm looking at it. And I look down to article 11 in this treaty, 1796--

ROY MOORE: We're in no way a-- Christian nation.

BRANCACCIO: Yeah. As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion, and it goes on to says--

ROY MOORE: Read the rest of the sentence.

BRANCACCIO: Yeah. As it--

ROY MOORE: As in no animosity towards the Muslim faith. Basically, what they were doing is casting away the fears of those people in North Africa that we were like the Crusaders. That we were going to force our religion upon them.

That is not what America was about. We were not a Christian nation in that sense. And that's what they were saying in that treaty. It's made-- a matter of fact, the second Treaty of Tripoli took that out. But in no way does that forbid us to be a Christian nation, or a Christian people.

BRANCACCIO: What pushed you to take the step of wanting to bring the Ten Commandments into-- really civil courtroom?

ROY MOORE: Well, because our civil justice system in Alabama, according to the Constitution, says that justice is established, and I quote, "Invoking the favor and guidance of all mighty God." It's the same principle about which we're talking about. That that freedom to believe what you want comes from God, and can't be interfered with by civil courts.

Civil courts judge you on your actions, You're not judged on what you think. Because that relationship belongs to God. You're judged on what you do, on your actions. And that's why it's a predicate to recognize God. It was not about the Ten Commandments. It never was about the Ten Commandments. The judge himself said that he wasn't saying the Ten Commandments couldn't be displayed. But when you acknowledge the Judeo-Christian God, you've crossed the line between the permissible and the impermissible.

BRANCACCIO: And you don't think you crossed the line?

ROY MOORE: Absolutely not. It was a recognition of God. And government has no, the federal government has no right to interfere with the people of the state of Alabama, from recognizing this God.

Every constitution of every state, to include Maine, where you're from, recognizes God in the constitution. Every one of them. How can a federal judge come into a state and say, "You cannot acknowledge God it's a particular God?" Of course it's a particular God. It's the God upon which this nation was founded--

BRANCACCIO: We have a long tradition, as you know, Judge, in this country of recognizing God. It says, "In God We Trust," on the money--

ROY MOORE: That's right.

BRANCACCIO: --and so forth. But perhaps I'm just being-- perhaps I'm just being thick here--

ROY MOORE: Sure.

BRANCACCIO: --I mean, it's the Judeo-Christian God.

BRANCACCIO: I can imagine a Sikh from India, whose lived in this country for generations, paying taxes in Alabama--

ROY MOORE: Sure.

BRANCACCIO: --and when he has to go to court being made to feel uncomfortable by this big, Judeo-Christian symbol confronting him when he walks in.

ROY MOORE: If you're uncomfortable with the recognition of the Judeo-Christian God, then you're uncomfortable with America. Because without a recognition of that God, America would not exist. America would have never been started.

BRANCACCIO: So you wouldn't have put a cross in the middle of your court rotunda?

ROY MOORE: Well, when you're talking about what I would do, of course, that's ... what I did. The recognition of God-- I don't think, still, if someone put a cross-- if someone put a statue of Buddha-- let's get to the point, here. If we have a-- Buddhist chief justice, and he puts a statue of Buddha in the Supreme Court--

BRANCACCIO: Inscriptions of the Koran.

ROY MOORE: --I would disagree with it. I would feel it didn't represent our country. I would feel that he would be voted out of office. But I would also feel that it's not a violation of the First Amendment, because he has not established a religion. He's not Congress making a law.

Certainly the federal court in which I was tried has a bust of Themis outside the federal court. The Greek goddess of justice. And doesn't it seem a little bit-- hypocritical for a federal judge to say you can't keep the Ten Commandments because it acknowledges a particular God, but we can put a Greek goddess of justice out in front of our building, paid for by thousands of dollars of taxpayer money.

BRANCACCIO: If you are successful in persuading, for instance, maybe someday the U.S. Supreme Court that you're right in this matter, how does the country change? What follows from this idea?

ROY MOORE: Freedom, liberty, and that's exactly what it's been based upon for all these years. That's why we're-- we have so many religions and faiths, here, is because it comes from God. It's a recognition that things in the Constitution, for example, life, liberty and property under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment came from a definition that those were God-given rights. Now, they're man-determined.

BRANCACCIO: Might it do more than that? Could it solve some of our social problems?

ROY MOORE: Well, the basic thing, I think that the recognition of God does is restore morality. You know, George Washington in 1796, on 17 September of 1796, was giving a farewell address to the nation he said this that if we become so all-knowing, so, you know, educated to forget that there's a relationship between God and morality, which we should seek through reason and experience, then we will lose our national morality. Now, Washington understood this in 1796. If he understood it then, we oughta see it, now.

BRANCACCIO: Maybe we lost our relationship with morality. Maybe there's still room in this discussion for someone who may not be a Christian believer--

ROY MOORE: That's right.

BRANCACCIO: --to agree with you.

ROY MOORE: We've got to recognize what morality is. It's the definition of right and wrong. For example, there's a big debate, right now, in our country, about same-sex marriage. Where did the definition of marriage come from? Did it come from the Constitution? No. The Declaration? No. It comes from no official document.

It comes from the fact that our morality comes from God and from the Bible. That's why we have laws against bestiality, we had laws against sodomy until it was struck down by the United States Supreme Court. Laws against incest. Without a recognition of the God of the Bible, we lose our national morality, and that's happening, today, right under our noses. Nobody seems to understand it.

BRANCACCIO: You're saying we can't live in a society-- cause I'm just trying to understand this, judge, where there-- it's a moral free-for-all. That there--

ROY MOORE: That's right.

BRANCACCIO: --has to be some basic values that we agree on.

ROY MOORE: There's-- this country was established on the moral basis of God. When you depart from that, what is the moral basis? Whatever nine men and women on a court say it is. There is no end to it. There is no standard. They can say anything. They can say you can marry a cow, if you want. You say, "Well, that's ridiculous."

Fifteen years ago, it was ridiculous to think a man could marry a man, until one Massachusetts judge and her court decided to tell the legislature to redefine the word marriage and started this whole debate. Well, who makes the law in Massachusetts? When you start redefining the word, it looks like the court's making the law.

BRANCACCIO: Is that your greatest fear?

ROY MOORE: I have no fears. I know that God's still sovereign. I know God's still in control of our country. And this country was meant for very particular purpose. It was for freedom and liberty.

And that's represented by what we're established upon. The Declaration of Independence where God gives us rights. And government is to secure them, not to presume to give them to us. And that is the basis of freedom. It-- logically, when we don't acknowledge there's a God, then government must be the one that gives us our freedoms. And if they give it, why can't they take it away? But if God gives it, no man can take it away.

BRANCACCIO: Well, Roy Moore, former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. And author of the book SO HELP ME GOD: THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, JUDICIAL TYRANNY, AND THE BATTLE FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM. Thank you very much.

ROY MOORE: Thank you sir. I appreciate being here.

BRANCACCIO: To learn more about the politics of conservative Christianity, go to links on our Web site at pbs.org.

Next week, you'll hear from judges at the center of the culture war. Some are being targeted when their rulings cross the religious right.

ALVAREZ: We're being critical of Iran, that they're permitting their law to be interpreted to according to the Koran. I think that's what we're asking the judges in this country to do.

BRANCACCIO: And that's it for NOW. I'm David Brancaccio. We'll see you next week.

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