Ten Commandments Redux

Louisiana’s making the news right now for some political grandstanding, the sort of thing that makes a certain segment of the evangelical-political crowd—namely, the ones who believe an orange buffoon is god incarnate—stand up and cheer. Never mind the fact that, according to the same Bible these so-called Christian folks all clutch to their chests, this list of rules was provided as a moral code for people practicing the Jewish faith under Moses, a few thousand years before the birth of Christ. Never mind that Jesus himself, later in that same Bible, tells people that being nice to one another transcends the entire list. Nope, this segment of society is determined that, by cramming this list of rules down the throats of every public school student of every possible background, religion, nationality, creed, etc, that they will somehow rise above their awful educational ranking near the bottom of the 50 US states.

Or maybe those students, by virtue of exposure to this daily propaganda campaign, will all find the same kind of willingness as their so-called leaders, namely, to drive away anyone who doesn’t hold the same, very un-Christ-like beliefs they do.

But those commandments! A moral code for everyone, right? What could anyone argue about?

Let’s run through the list, shall we?

First off, there’s “You shall have no other Gods before me.” Right out of the gate, I’m in trouble. I’m a polytheist, meaning I believe in a number of different deities and I work with all of them in unique ways. I don’t spend much time thinking about the one from the Old Testament—while I grew up with him, he’s not high on my list these days. If he works for you, great. If he doesn’t, great. How does this commandment make for a better society? It doesn’t. It’s just a means of control, a means of saying, “this is the only religion to pay attention to.” It’s un-American. And it’s not for me.

“You shall not make for yourselves an idol” comes in at number two. I guess that means that all the cathedrals ever built—you know, those symbols of looking heavenward, right down to the big steeple pointing in the right direction—have to come down. Even if you don’t accept that argument, that statue of Christ up on the altar is a much harder sell. Or, if you’re Catholic, all the statues of the saints. Even the holy ark itself at the synagogue could be construed as an idol. I can get more personal about it, too. Are you wearing a cross around your neck? Does that symbolize your faith? Isn’t a symbol exactly what an idol means? For my various altar pieces around the house and yard, I’m 0 for 2. 

“You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God.” Anybody who’s ever said anything remotely along the lines of “God wants you to do this thing” or “God hates it when you sin” or even “God bless you” could be accused of misuse. Who are you, mere mortal, to talk about what God does or doesn’t like, or offer his blessings because you caught a whiff of something irritating up your nose, or insist that he curse your hammer for all eternity because it slipped and hit your thumb? I’m not even trying on this one.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” First off, pick a day! For many Jewish people I know, the Sabbath starts at sundown on Friday. For most Christians, it’s Sunday. Given that the commandments were originally given to Jewish people, that implies Saturday as being correct, right? Now, let’s take those two groups of people out of the equation. What day of the week should Muslims set aside as the Sabbath? How about Buddhists? Should Wiccans be allowed work holidays on their eight annual sabbaths? Also, assuming that you’re going to “keep it holy” and you think the Sabbath is Sunday, that pretty much precludes sporting events, right? What’s holy about those? If anything, they encourage a lot of misusing the name of the lord.

“Honor your father and your mother.” Okay, this one’s all well and good if your folks are worthy of your honor. Not every parent qualifies as a decent one. I was lucky in that regard, but most people I know had some serious issues with one or the other parent. Do they have to go through life pretending they weren’t abused in some form or fashion, sweep it under the rug? Bad parents get a carte blanche for all time because that’s what got written on a stone tablet a few thousand years ago? Being forced to honor your abuser is a sure path to some serious psychological issues.

Okay, we’re halfway, and I don’t have much to go on here for this being a great moral code. The next few might be more in line with that idea, but even there, things feel a bit vague.

“You shall not murder.” Finally! This is one I can get behind. Murder is bad, and I think most members of a civilized society can agree on that. Or can they? Is it murder if you “stand your ground” and shoot the guy breaking into your trailer? What if it turns out you were drunk and it wasn’t your trailer in the first place? What if a woman dies because her doctor is not allowed by the state to provide her with proper medical care? Is that murder? What if you’re wearing a uniform and are ordered to go shoot at some other folks wearing different-colored uniforms? Even this—a rule that should be black and white—is gray.

“You shall not commit adultery.” I notice there’s no mention here of deceit. I know people who are in a variety of different relationships. Some involve marriage, some do not. Some are polyamorous, and everyone in the group is on board. Who am I, or the state, to make a claim as to what is and is not a proper relationship? How does that affect anyone except the people in that relationship? Is God going to come down and tell people that what they choose to do within their own lives is invalid? Adultery without any sort of prior agreement is breaking a marriage vow, and while I don’t agree with this list of commandments, I do take oaths seriously. There’s not even an indication that the oath is what this is about. 

“You shall not steal.” Sure, I can get behind this one. This is my stuff, and that’s your stuff, and I’m not going to add any of your stuff to my pile without asking first. Likewise, I’m not going to be happy about you taking any of my stuff without permission. Then again, I also believe that when a big corporation—or some billionaire—or a government agency—takes somebody’s land, or makes them leave their home, or pollutes a common body of water so much that nobody around it can use it for drinking any more, that’s stealing, too. Can we perhaps send a few corporations to hell for this? All that oil at Exxon would keep those fires burning bright for eons.

“You shall not give false testimony.” Okay, sounds good. Lying is bad, and anybody who’s ever told a lie knows it’s a harder path to walk than just telling the truth in the first place. So all those politicians who voted for this travesty in Louisiana will certify that they have never lied to anyone about anything? I’ll be right here, waiting for an answer on that. While I’m waiting, I wonder how many of them have never stolen anything. Or committed adultery. Or…yeah, you get the idea.

“You shall not covet.” Oh, come on. It’s a sin to just want something? I’m not spending all day staring at my neighbor’s ass, but hey, I might want to pick up a few steaks for grilling this weekend. Are you telling me I can’t even go to the butcher shop and eye those bad boys without committing a sin? Who is that hurting?

So, of these wonderful, all-encompassing Ten Commandments, I try to live my life according to less than half. I suspect I’ve got a long stint in Hel coming up when I die. And yes, I did say Hel and not Hell. Because my after-life plans include hanging out with old friends and family, eating and drinking and reading and writing and doing a lot of what I’m doing right now amongst the living. The kind of thing that I believe goes on in Hel’s realm.

While I’m not Christian today, I was raised as one, and I certainly remember that one rule supersedes all the rest. Matthew 7:12, for those of you flipping back and forth trying to get me dropped in a lake of fire for this blasphemy sooner rather than later, is the one that quotes Christ himself as saying, “…in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you…”

Or, like I said earlier, be nice to one another. Why is that so hard?

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