Undated post, migrated from old site.
How many times have we heard someone say something like, “Well the Bible might not be literally true, but the ten commandments are a pretty good guide to getting on with people”? Christian values are held up as being somehow a good thing, even for those who don’t actually believe, but how many people could actually name all ten of those supposedly good rules for living? Let’s take a look at them, shall we…
ONE: You shall have no other gods before Me.
TWO: You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
THREE: You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
All of the above do nothing but pander to the supposed vanity of Yahweh. Number two is interesting though, for a couple of reasons. Firstly the wording hints of an acceptance of the existence of other gods, while forbidding the Chosen to worship them. And that makes sense, when you stop and think that Yahweh was the god of the Israelites and only of the Israelites. Those other tribes could worship who they liked. We’re not being shown a monotheistic culture here, in the modern sense of there only being one god. Secondly, “punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” seems a very churlish, not to mention damned unfair, act. Not much compassion in that, is there? In fact all three rules speak to a very human, even childish, vanity: ‘Pay attention to me or toys will fly. There will be screams and tantrums.’ Far from us being made in God’s image, God would seem to be made more in ours!
FOUR: Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Stripped of all the religious mumbo-jumbo, this actually makes good sense. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, after all. A day of self-enforced rest isn’t all that bad an idea. Spend a day a week away from worries about work and so on. Tinker with the car, go hiking, catch up on non-work related reading, whatever. And if you can arrange matters so that the whole family gets such a day together, even better. (Although don’t expect any teenagers in the house to think so.) But to punish others for not doing so, or for not doing it on the day you decide to do so? Ludicrous. Not to mention self-centred to an alarming degree.
FIVE: Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
Why? What if your father is a violent drunk whose idea of parenting was to beat you black and blue whenever he needed a scapegoat, and your Mother viewed you as nothing but an accidental impediment to her life? What if they’re fundies!? Honour implies respect, which has to be earned.
SIX: You shall not murder.
Well, if you needed a proclamation from God to tell you this, you need professional help.
SEVEN: You shall not commit adultery.
I quote wikipedia; definitions may vary:
Adultery…originally referred more specifically to sex between a woman who was married and a person other than her spouse.
Please note the gender-specificity; very telling! But even in its modern sense, this one needs some looking at. From the point of view of breech of promise, then yes, adultery can be seen as a bad thing, but worthy of a place between ‘You shall not murder’ and ‘You shall not steal’? I’d think not. But what if both partners are happy with the other ‘sleeping around?’ Though maybe not the majority, there seem to be plenty of ‘swingers’ out there; enough that it’s hardly an unthinkable attitude. Not to mention that the number of people, atheist and religious, male and female alike, who do so illicitly, or secretly fantasise about it, would seem to point to such behaviour being a far more normal act than we’d like to admit. Maybe we’d be better off as a race if we could all grow up to the point of realising that love, respect and companionship matter more in a relationship than an enforced and obviously unnatural monogamy. And yes, I do include myself in that; I’m not being holier (pardon the pun) than thou. It seems we have a long way to go in this regard, and it’s quite possible that a lot of psychological damage is done in the meantime, by the stigma and guilt attached to a perfectly natural act. The women’s rights movement has come a long way, at least in the major democracies, in removing the idea that women are their husbands’ property. Maybe the next step is to realise that neither partner is property, sexually or otherwise. Can be summed up best, I think, as ‘if no-one’s hurt, where’s the crime?’
EIGHT: You shall not steal.
See number six.
NINE: You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.
Often mis-quoted as ‘Thou shalt not lie,’ this is actually a very narrow and specific instruction. Indeed, I suspect we couldn’t get through life without lying a little. If you disbelieve me, try telling your neighbour what you really think of their noisy, intrusive kids (not like your little angels, of course!), or your aunt Ethel that her favourite broad-brimmed hat makes her look like a six-inch nail with feet…
TEN: You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.
When did they change ‘ass’ to ‘donkey?’ So many jokes, dead as a tribble gorged on poisoned wheat…Seriously though, wanting the good things that others have is hardly a problem, as long as you don’t get obsessive about it (or, of course, aim to obtain them by stealing them from your neighbour). In fact, the strive for a better life, and for an even better one for our children, is probably one of the defining aspects of the human species. The only thing served by instructions like this is to keep the poor poor and the rich rich. ‘Know your place and do not aspire to more,’ would seem a more honest way of putting it.
So to sum up:
Three tell us nothing about how to deal with other people.
Two are personal choices and depend very much on the circumstances and the views of the other people involved.
Two are bleedin’ obvious.
One seems to be a deliberate ploy to keep the peasants in their place.
One is pretty good advice, but hardly earth-shattering
And one is an admirable, though narrowly defined, rule against perjuring oneself.
And as for the oft-stated view that they’re the bedrock of our laws; two are, and have been in most cultures, whether nominally Christian or not, and one is grounds for divorce, where it’s treated as breech of promise, but not (and rightly so) a matter of criminal law.
So that’s 21⁄2 out of 10, tops.
I don’t know about you, but I’ll stick with ‘Do unto others…’