COLUMN: Vandalism and values: What side are you on?

Editor's 2 cents

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Last week, the Ten Commandments Park north of Columbia Falls was vandalized for the second time in a month.

No surprise there, I suppose. It is no secret that Christianity — like its namesake Jesus Christ — is widely despised and persecuted, so putting up a monument to the word of God (including a replica of the three crosses of Calvary Hill) would of course provoke a backlash.

This time the vandal struck with both paint and a knife — defacing some of the biblical banners and slicing others, including one that depicted a premature baby cradled delicately in a pair of hands under the oh-so-provocative words, “Choose Life.”

The vandal, of course, operated under the cloak of night, but perhaps he need not have done so. Based on the reaction on Facebook to this story, he might almost be expected to be awarded a medal for his civic-mindedness in attempting to blot out what one earlier letter writer called “a blight” on the Flathead Valley.

The comments on Facebook included several that were supportive of the Ten Commandments Park, but many that were disdainful and arrogant. One self-proclaimed Christian said he was “tired of seeing the Ten Commandments signs everywhere in this valley.” Another said, “If you need signs everywhere reminding you to be a decent human being, then maybe you need to re-evaluate your own life,” as if visible reminders of God’s presence in the world were somehow harmful to us mortals.

One droll commenter posted a picture from “Family Guy,” with the caption, “Oh my God who the hell cares,” presumably in reference to the vandalism.

For me, that was the last straw. I stared at the words in shock. How could someone be so public in his indifference to religious freedom — and so brazenly supportive of vandalism.

Although I’m a Christian now, I’ve gone through a lot of phases in my life — a Buddhist phase, an agnostic phase, an atheist phase, even a Hindu phase — but I never went through the “I don’t care about my fellow human beings” phase. I never went through the Taliban phase where I would dynamite religious shrines that offended me. I never went through the ISIS phase where I could just treat people of other religions as if they were animals to be slaughtered.

Common decency was something I was taught back in the bad-old-days when most Americans went to church and weren’t ashamed of the Ten Commandments. So was tolerance of other people’s beliefs. In fact, I was taught that tolerance was a bedrock of American society.

Maybe that’s why I had such a visceral reaction to that commenter’s nonchalant dismissal of a criminal attack on not just a man’s property, but on his beliefs, and on the traditions that had founded our civilization and our country. I couldn’t believe the question had been asked, but there it was: “Who the hell cares?”

I thought it needed to be answered, so I posted the following:

“And who cares if someone paints a swastika on a synagogue? Who cares if someone writes faggot on a gay boy’s locker at school? Who cares if someone burns a cross in front of a black church? Why should we care about anyone but ourselves? I hope the answer to these questions is obvious. We should all care.”

Have we really gotten to this point as a nation, as a society, and as a people? Are we really so selfish that we just laugh at other people’s misfortunes, and perhaps pile on, because those people have different beliefs than we do? Maybe we need a history lesson in who the original Vandals were, and how those barbarians destroyed Rome. Do we really want to go there again?

I don’t think so, but it is time for many of us to re-examine our own beliefs, and ask what our own part is in the coarsening of our culture. Are the Ten Commandments really so out of step with our society today that we need to destroy them?

The owner of the park, Philip Klevmoen, has also been personally vilified and threatened for his commitment to biblical principles. Some people say he has created an eyesore by putting up billboards that feature the Ten Commandments and the words of our Founding Fathers, which is funny really when you consider that he built the park on a dirt lot that previously was a junkyard.

God’s word or junked cars? What would you rather look at? I suppose the answer tells us all we need to know about Klevmoen’s critics and about ourselves.

Whether you are a Christian or not, if you are a fair-minded person I suggest you pull off the highway at the Ten Commandments Park and study the words on those billboards. If you are a believer, pray. If you are not a believer, meditate. Ask yourself what people fear from these simple billboards and the words upon them, and consider this verse from Deuteronomy when you think of Philip Klevmoen and his mission to spread the word of God:

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart... You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

No mention of billboards, but you get the idea.

 Frank Miele is managing editor of the Daily Inter Lake. If you don’t like his opinion, stop by the office and he will gladly refund your two cents.  E-mail responses may be sent to

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