Tuesday, October 25, 2011

T is for Ten Commandments

Here they are, the famous Ten Commandments:

I I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of their parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

II You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

III Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work. . .

IV Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

V You shall not murder.

VI Neither shall you commit adultery.

VII Neither shall you steal.

VIII Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor.

IX Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife.

X Neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Ten simple, time-honored, Judaeo-Christian rules for living the good life; straight from God Himself; delivered, in person to Moses on Mount Sinai many years ago.

Let’s examine each of them closely to see how the Divine mind behind them operates. The first three—obviously the most important ones to God—all concern His Status. He very much wants to be the One and the Only—irrationally jealous of other gods and fearful that His Chosen People might turn to them if not threatened up front not even to think of such a thing. Would a secure God squander three out of ten rules for living a righteous life on his own pathetic ego needs? And besides, these other gods don’t actually exist, do they? And if they don’t exist, how can they deliver? So why are you so uptight Jehovah? I suspect that Moses—oops, I mean God—must have had a seriously troubled childhood to be that insecure.

Then, right after Himself, God gives second priority to parents. Even before getting around to  forbidding us to murder, steal or lie, he wants to be sure that we honor mom and dad. What’s the big hurry? Where’s the need? If parents deserve to be honored, they’ll be honored. Honor is something parents can earn all by themselves—there’s no need for God or anyone else to go around commanding it. Or maybe it was Moses’s idea put parents second, trying to get on their good side. Maybe, like many parents, his kids were giving old Moses a hard time and this was his way of putting them in their place. Parents do not need honoring—they have the money and they have the power. Children are the ones who need honoring; they’re the weak and vulnerable ones.

You can’t argue with the Fifth Commandment. Forbidding murder makes a lot of sense. But it’s kind of obvious. A better-worded commandment would say: “You shall not cause harm to other human beings or yourself.” This would include suicide, assault, and other types of physical abuse along with murder all under one big umbrella. If you’re allowed only ten, you’ve got to cover a lot of ground with each one.

“You shalt not commit adultery.” That’s simple but limited. Since we’re on the subject of sex why not include incest, rape, child-molestation and other forms of sexual abuse while we’re at it? Yet another place where a more sweeping commandment is in order. You want a commandment about marriage? What about “Honor your spouse.” Covers adultery, disrespectful treatment, nasty arguments, nagging, sarcasm and lots of other marriage-wreckers. You want one about sex? Try this: “Only consensual sex and only with adults.”

“You shall not steal.” Good Work Moses! Short and to the point.

“You shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Again, it’s much too narrow. Sounds like it’s only for courtrooms. “You shall not lie” would be a lot better. But, “You shall not intentionally deceive” is better yet, because it covers not only overt lies but also sneaky silences and cleverly worded ambiguities designed to mislead. Things politicians do all the time.

That leaves commandments nine and ten. They forbid coveting and desiring. But coveting and desiring occur only in the mind. Both are completely harmless unless acted upon. Of course “desiring thy neighbor’s donkey” might lead to actually stealing it, but that’s already been forbidden by another commandment. Moses doesn’t seem to understand that actions harm people—not states of mind. You can covet my wife, or my tools, or my house, as much as you want—just don’t mess with them.

If you had any doubt, commandments nine and ten prove conclusively that the Ten Commandments are not the product of a Divine Mind. At best they come from a rather ordinary human one. No wonder old Moses always let Aaron do all the talking.

Listed below are my ten commandments. If you don’t like mine, make up ten of your own. Almost anyone can improve on the original batch.
                        1. Respect those who think and believe differently.
                        2. Respect the earth, the air, and the water.
                        3. Do not harm other human beings.
                        4. Honor and protect children everywhere.
                        5. Honor, respect and cherish your spouse.
                        6. Do not cause animals to suffer needlessly.
                        7. Only consensual sex and only with adults.
                        8. Do not steal.
                        9. Do not deceive or mislead others.
                      10. Help those in need.

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