What does a 10 Commandments monument symbolize?
I finally got around to starting Don't Think of an Elephant today. Lakoff's books are like crack to people like me, who have big interests both in language and in politics, so it's been fun. Anyway, Lakoff dives right into ground he's covered before, how he thinks that conservatives and liberals have different moral frames that we look at the world in, both referencing the metaphor of the nation as a family. He calls the frames strict father/nurturant parent frames. Lakoff is more interested in describing the different metaphors that spin out from these initial frames than looking at these frames as a dichotomy, probably because he knows what immediately popped into my head, knowing what I know about linguistics. (Which isn't much, but I do know some from studying literature.) Which is that one dichotomy tends to suggest others to people, and as much as Lakoff claims that a strict father is oppositional to a nuturant parent, we all know that father is oppositional to mother. Still, I understand the urge, because if he invokes the father/mother dichotomy, the male/female dichotomy is invoked and for metaphorical purposes, you pretty never want to be associated with female, since it tends to come out the worst of the vast majority of other dichotomies that are suggested--strong/weak, smart/dumb, rational/emotional, you name it.
Anyway, I thought about the other dichotomies that are invoked from the strict/nuturant dichotomy. It's a fun game to play if you are a nerd and have nothing better to do. And one popped right away into my head, and if I'm right about the following theory, it popped into yours--Old Testament/New Testament. Now, I'm not vouching for the actual text of either book, but the popular understanding of the two is that the former is all Strict Father--rules, punishment, making divisions between the worthy and the unworthy. The second book is about forgiveness, extending love to all instead of just the worthy, and being saved. In fact, calling Jesus a shepard and people his flock is pretty much the nuturant parent model in a nutshell--protection, not punishment.
Defenders of monuments of the 10 Commandments at courthouses and Capitol buildings argue that it is a testament to the nation's Christian heritage. This confounds liberals. Or, actually, anyone who thinks about the statement rationally--if we want to reflect a Christian path, why not a monument to the bona fide Christians we are referencing, like the Puritans? Why not a monument to Christ or text from the New Testament? Like a lot of others have said, the Beatitudes is probably a better proclamation of American values of equality and democracy than the Commandments. (I think neither is applicable, but that's a different story.)
Well, first of all, the supporters of the monuments are so full of shit their Aryan eyes have gone brown. This has nothing to do with the gentle figure of Jesus Christ or his arguments to his followers not to worry overmuch about government because of the End Times and all that. Nor does it have anything to do with our actual laws. In fact, if people took to heart the commandment not to covet, we would shortly be facing economic collapse.
But you know what? I believe them that it's about "heritage", or at least taking possession of what Americans believe that our heritage is. Going back to the relational way that people think of dichotomies, it's easy to see. Conservative/liberal is to strict father/nuturant parent is to Old Testament/New Testament. A monument to the 10 Commandments is a symbol of the Old Testament and therefore evokes the multitude of things that we relate to that half of the Bible dichotomy--maleness, discipline, rules, favoritism, everything that is dear to conservatives. The heritage that is being asserted may not be religious at all so much as political. The Commandments symbolize a belief that American history adheres to conservative values and to make people think that liberalism is an uppity newcomer. It's a symbol--that's why the text of the Commandments is pretty much irrelevant to monument supporters.
It's no mistake that this issue is cropping up at this critical time in American history, when the struggle of who were are as a nation, what are values are, seems like it's being decided. The Declaration of Independence and Constitution, being documents born from the Enlightment, are worthless as symbols to retroactively assert that conservative values have always been America's values. Instead, we have growing support for viewing the Old Testament, at least the popular understanding of it as a document of a very Male, very vengeful god, as the text from where our ideals spring from.