Many people tell me that America’s laws are based on God’s laws in the bible. It happens often enough that I’ve developed a little game that I play with them.

When they tell me America’s government is based on the bible, I take two pieces of paper and write on them, then fold them up and ask them to hold them. Then I ask which part of the bible they think our laws are based on. They usually reply, ‘The Ten Commandments.’ I say, ‘Name me a commandment that is enshrined in the law of the land.’ They say, ‘Do not kill.’ I say, ‘Very good, give me another.’ They say, ‘Do not steal.’

I say, ‘Look at the pieces of paper in your hands.’ They lift them out and look at them. Written upon one is the words “DO NOT KILL,” and upon the other, “DO NOT STEAL.” Then I say, ‘I don’t have any other pieces of paper. Name me any of the other eight commandments which are laws of the land here in America.’

They can’t. It isn’t illegal to dishonor your father and mother. It’s not illegal to put other gods before Yahweh. It’s not illegal to make idols or to take Jehovah’s name in vain or to work on a Saturday or to cheat on your spouse or to covet your neighbor’s wife’s ass.* ‘In these cases,’ I tell them, ‘we’ve decided that the Bill of Rights is more important.’

At this point, a stammering or stuttering sound can be heard emanating from the subject. I generally ignore this noise and continue by asking them if they would vote in favor of making those things illegal.

‘It’s not too late to build America in the image of the Commandments,’ I say. ‘Would you support the formation of a federal anti-coveting task force? Anyone who can be proved to have coveted something that someone else has, perhaps using evidence from their Facebook page whereupon they have regularly expressed the desire for the latest iPhone or summer dress, could then be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, like the Good Book demands!’†

Finally, before the color returns to their face, I ask them to name for me a culture or society where it is not illegal to kill or to steal. When they can’t, I explain that this is testimony to the fact that the moral codes of all humankind, of all religions and cultures, whether Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, polytheist, atheist, or anything else – including those codes against theft and murder – predate the bible, which was informed by them, not the other way around.

If this process doesn’t change their mind about America’s status as the first truly secular nation – based upon rights and liberty rather than religion, with Jefferson’s “wall of separation” between the two – I generally take a bright, shiny object, throw it as far as possible, and watch them run after it gleefully.



* It is possible to suggest that the injunction against bearing false witness is analogous to the U.S. Justice System’s laws against perjury, though it is debatable whether bearing “false witness” is actually criminalized when it doesn’t occur in a court, so I leave it out.

† Moreover, the punishments demanded in the Old Testament are spectacularly ignored even by sadist conservatives who agree with torture. When was the last time you heard anyone who claims our laws are based upon the bible urge the immediate death by stoning of women discovered not to have been virgins on their wedding night?