Monday, April 02, 2007

The TRUTH About the Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments (See Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5):
1. Have no gods other than Yahweh. 2. Do not have images of the divine. 3. Do not misuse Yahweh's name. 4. Keep the Sabbath day holy (don't work on the Sabbath because “God made the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th”). 5. Honor parents. 6. Do not commit murder. 7. Do not commit adultery. 8. Don't steal. 9. Don't lie in court. 10. Don't begrudge your neighbor her or his good fortune.

I know very few Christians (I can't think of one off-hand) who call God "Yahweh." Most Christians seem to call the mystery of life "God" and not some specific name (e.g., Yahweh, Allah, etc.). More conservative Christians might suggest that Jesus is in some way the God of the bible. But the 10 commandments do not say that one should have no god other than "Jesus." They don't even say to have no god other than "God." The commandment says that "the LORD" is to be the only god worshipped, and "the LORD" (in all caps) is how translators indicate "YHWH" (Yahweh) is the divine name being used. If we don't think of "YHWH" as our god, or if we don't call our god Yahweh, then we are not keeping the first commandment.

Many Christians love the image of the cross to represent Jesus, and for many of these same Christians, Jesus is the image of the divine. Still others insist on calling God "He" or "Father" - showing they clearly have a male image of the divine. But commandment number 2 frowns on such images.

The third commandment doesn't condemn swearing, it condemns using the name of Yahweh carelessly. Most people don't use the name of Yahweh at all!

A day of rest is physically and psychologically important, but I wonder if it is one of the 10 most important ethical rules of human behavior!

Of course, the rationale given in the Ten Commandments for a day of rest is that God took a breather after creating the Earth in just a week. Educated people who believe the world materialized out of the blue in just a week are probably few. The argument given in the 4th commandment for the 4th commandment is weak and, by contemporary standards, even bizarre.

Honor parents. This is a commandment to adult children of elderly parents. Caring for the elderly is very important. Commandment #5 is the first in the list that seems to have any relevance to contemporary society!

The second half of the ten commandments makes a bit more sense. Murder is savage (as are, some would argue, capital punishment and unnecessary wars). Adultery, the betrayal of trust, can cause a lot of pain. Stealing, under normal circumstances, is bad (obviously enough). Lying in court could lead to someone's loss of liberty. Good people will want to avoid these unscrupulous activities, though they needn't be "commanded" to do so by a divine authority. It is in our own best interest to live in a civil manner. To have the society we want and deserve, most rational people will want to live ethical lives.

The 10th commandment is psychologically sound: We shouldn't be jealous of the success of others; such wasted energy only gets in the way of our own accomplishment.The first four commandments are either irrelevant in today's world, or they are almost universally ignored (without, apparently, any negative consequence). The remaining six commandments are basically common sense that most intelligent people would probably work out even without being "commanded."

What is my point? That rather than having the Ten Commandments placed on school or court house walls, or insisting our politicians "believe in" them, we should promote rational thinking and responsible choices. Murder isn't wrong because it made an ancient list; it's simply wrong. Rather than following any commands blindly (or, pretending to follow commands that we don't know or don't understand or don't agree with on close inspection), we might be better served by being encouraged to think critically and to act rationally.The philosophical argument is ancient but remains true: A thing isn't right because the gods command it; the gods command a thing because it is right. It's time for all of us, religious and secular, to take our place as thinking individuals, responsible for our choices and in charge of our collective destiny.

If we need a scripture to guide our behavior (until we trust our own rational thinking), why choose such a long and cumbersome list as the Ten Commandments. I prefer Micah 6.8, "...This is what is required of you - only to act justly and mercifully and live humbly..." Or, as a Christian, I even might actually refer to Jesus who said that the whole of scripture boiled down to just this: Treat others the way you would like to be treated (The Golden Rule). Those are "rules" that are easy to remember and that make sense in every age.

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