Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Ten Commandments? Again?

Over in Texas, yet another legislator wants to find a way to sneak the Ten Commandments into public buildings. This time, they're using the "foot in the door" theory of governance: this bill will "protect public school teachers who have chosen to have the Ten Commandments displayed in their classrooms" by claiming it's a "patriotic exercise," not a religious one. (Just proving he doesn't understand either history or religion.)

In Florida, the mayor of Cape Coral thought that posting the Ten Commandments in City Hall was a spiffy idea, but the City Council didn't agree.

This comes up at least a couple of times a year, as some thoughtless theocrat tries to commit religious bukkake and squirt his personal theology in the faces of everybody around them.

Let's start, of course, with the fact that this act is automatically exclusionary. Even past the objections of the irreligious (you know, the people who might not want their tax money spent on somebody else's silly damned belief system), what about the folks who actually believe in this stuff? Whose version of the Decalogue are you going to post up there?

The Ten Commandments are normally pulled from Exodus 20:2–17 (which is mirrored in Deuteronomy 5:6–21). And despite the customary image of the two stones, in neither book is there a neat, tidy set of ten bullet statements, so different religions split things up differently.

The best example, of course, is the first three Commandments, which are widely variable. Reading from Exodus, we take the following verses:
I am the LORD thy God... Thou shalt have no other gods before me... Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image... (nor) bow down thyself to them, nor serve them
(As always, we'll be sticking with King James version. Because, you know, "breathed out by God" and all... but mostly because I like the poetry of the language.)

Now, if you happen to be Jewish, "I am the Lord thy God," all by itself, is the First Commandment. Most Protestants, on the other hand, essentially treat that as a preface to the actual list, while the Orthodox sects fold it into the "no other gods" part; Catholics and Lutherans, meanwhile, slam the whole thing together into one big lumpy First Commandment.

This means, of course, that the Third Commandment is "Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain." Unless you're Catholic (or again, Lutheran), who believe that's the Second Commandment.

And this one-off numbering continues on down the list until you get to those pesky "covets," which most of the God-swallowers lump together.

Except, of course, the followers of the Pope or Martin Luther, who split off the first "covet" and have their own personal Ninth Commandment. Where everybody else just pretty much says "don't covet anything," the Catholics and Lutherans figure that not coveting another man's wife needs its own place in the list, separate from more mundane covetousness, such as the ass.

As for coveting the wife's ass, they don't like to talk about that. (Ba-dum ching! Thank you! I'll be here all week!)

So, in posting the Ten Commandments, which religion do you honor over the rest? The Jewish, Catholic, or Protestant? (We'll ignore the Lutherans this time; they're just following in their trouble-making founder's footsteps.)

But just for fun, let's consider the Ten Commandments (all three versions) themselves.

I am the LORD thy God... Thou shalt have none other gods before me... for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God...

Do you notice that God doesn’t say that there ARE no other gods? Just that you shouldn’t worship them, because He doesn’t appreciate the competition. I’ve always thought that was interesting.

But then we get to Deuteronomy 5:8-9: Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them...

Kind of puts art out of reach of the common man, doesn’t it? It’s only later translations of that verse that change "graven images" to "idols" – the original Hebrew doesn’t have any "sacred" subtext attached to the word for graven image (pecel). Since the two statements are seperable (“Make no graven images” and “bow down and worship them”), it makes one wonder what God thought of Michelangelo.

In fact, this same prohibition, sans the "bowing down" bit, is echoed earlier in the same book (Deu 4:23-25).

Further along, we come to this: Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee. Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou. (Deu 5:12-14)

A strict reading of that would indicate that taking Saturday off is in opposition to the Word of God. He's telling you to work for six days, not just five.

Which also brings us to the fact that the Sabbath is supposed to be on the last day of the week, not the first – but that goes back to the antisemitism of the Council of Laodicea: Christians must not judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honouring the Lord’s Day; and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ.

Makes you wonder about the people who claim that "the Ten Commandments are the source of the American legal system!" Yeah, not so much.

Basically, even if you include perjury (which doesn't always qualify), there are only three Commandments that count as laws (the other two being murder and theft). Three out of ten; 30% isn't a passing grade on any test I've ever taken.

Taking God's name in vain? Sorry, freedom of speech.

Adultery? Hardly a crime; practically a way of life in some places.

Honoring fathers and mothers? Well, we try, but they keep trying to tear down Social Security.

And you really can't ban coveting. Wanting something better is the driving force of capitalism, after all.

So how important are these ten little rules again?

Update (10/19/10): It has been pointed out that the choice of which day should be the Sabbath was covered in tbe New Testament.

Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days... (Col 2:16, ignoring that whole "jot and tittle" argument)

A statement that was, of course, ignored until the 4th Century, when the Council of Laodicea got all post-Jewry on their asses. But there it is.


Charlene said...

This whole 10 Commandment posting in schools and government buildings issue seems to proliferate in the American South more than any other part of the country. This is the part that identified as being the Bible belt. The Commandments these idiots always want to post are the accepted Protestant ones.

Because of their personal or group ignorance they think their version is the right version. They also think America is a Christian nation and not only that a Protestant one. It is my opinion these people need to get out more. They need to travel, talk to people who don't look like them. They need to get liberal arts educations or read more than the usual vampire books.

In my America I want the state separate from the church, any church including my own. If religion cannot survive without government support than it should die off.

Nameless Cynic said...

Hey, now. You aren't giving them enough credit. They don't just read "the usual vampire books," there's also the Left Behind series.

Rarely the Bible, though. Which seems odd...

Infidel753 said...

some thoughtless theocrat tries to commit religious bukkake and squirt his personal theology in the faces of everybody around them?

Possibly the most jarring metaphor in the history of the blogosphere. (I would have analogized this to diarrhea.)

The Ten Commandments are being used by these people as a badge of self-proclaimed righteousness. Like almost everything about religion, they collapse into incoherence the minute any attention is paid to their actual content.

Nance said...

Let's play with that coveting thingy some more, please. Maybe in another post, in that inimitable Nameless way of yours.

George W. Bush actively encouraged Americans to beef up their covetousness to save the American economy.

Ronald Reagan believed in Trickle-Down Covetousness.

If growth is the engine of the American economy and the key to recovery, covetousness is the fuel.

(These are pretty lame, but I'm just priming the pump...)

Over to you.

uzza said...

That Bukake line deserves immortality. Dutifully stolen.

You didn't mention that they throw out the verses in Exodus 34 that their Holy Bible itself calls the Ten Commandments, and substitute the ones in ex20.
Also, good catch on that about the six day work week.

Another funny thing is, it only forbids use of the lord's name, nothing in there about saying “fuck”.

Nameless Cynic said...

Hmm... my bukkake metaphor seems popular.

Uzza, feel free to pass things along.

Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding. For I give you good doctrine, forsake ye not my words. (Proverbs 4:1-2)

(I really wanted to say something about "a pearl necklace before swine," but it just came across as needlessly insulting...)

Nameless Cynic said...

I'm letting it percolate, Nance, but I'm not sure if anything will come of it.

Murr Brewster said...

Those displays always looked like graven images to me. And I always thought Lutherans were kinda cute, and they make a hell of a green bean casserole.