An Analysis of the Ten Commandments
The Ten Commandments
I've mentioned them previously but in this week's post we're going to be dealing more in depth with the legendary Ten Commandments. I've heard, on numerous occasions, that these ten precepts are actually the basis for American law and government and I dealt with that topic in America is NOT a Christian Nation (which can be found here: http://godlessblogger.blogspot.com/2010/07/america-is-not-christian-nation.html). Today, however, I want to focus on the fundamentalist viewpoints that these commandments are good and should still apply today. We shall deal with whether they apply today first.
Do the Commandments Apply?
Do the Commandments Apply Today AND to All Mankind?
The first time these commandments are listed in the Bible is in Exodus Chapter Twenty. If you read the chapter you'll notice that the second verse actually pokes holes in the idea that these Commandments are valid for Christians living in modern times. Verse 2 says:
"I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery."
So God has given these commandments to Moses so that he may pass them to the Hebrews, not to the entire world and certainly not to Christians. If, as the fundamentalists say, every word of the Bible is God's word than why would they not take God at his word... clearly God is laying these Commandments out for the Israelites.
The text of Exodus 20 proves that God is addressing the Hebrews exclusively.
Are the Commandments Good?
More specifically are they both morally sound and consistent with the morality of a divine and loving being?
Now we get to the fun part, the analysis of each commandment. As you read over each verse I want you to not only think of what it says but also what could have gone in its place. Remember that according to Christians these are some of God's best moral laws and this moral code is meant to be a basis for our own Modern laws here in the USA. Think about that idea as you read.
3 Do not have any other gods before me. 4 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. 5 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 parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
This is, for the most part, accepted as the first commandment although it takes several verses to convey the very simple idea that God hates religious freedom. He is so jealous, in fact, that he is willing to punish children who may not be guilty of anything for the sins of their Father all the way to a fourth generation. So Christianities supposed bastion of morality actually depicts God as jealous and unjust. It also shows God to be in direct conflict with one of the founding principles of Western Civilization - Freedom of Religion.
7 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.
The Blasphemy Commandment. Most fundamentalist Christians wrongfully believe that saying "Oh My God" or "For God's Sake" constitute blasphemy. I always found this idea humorous even when I myself was a Christian. God's name is not God and it would seem many Christians forget the word God is merely a title, a description, another word for deity. The God of the Bible goes by many names, Yahweh, Adonai, Elohim and Jehovah among others but when was the last time you heard those being used in "blasphemy?". Why is God so concerned with his name being misused and abused? Is God so petty a being as to be worried about how people are talking about him behind his back. Is he so concerned with getting his due respect that he refuses to forgive any who misuse his good name? Well, yes actually. Any who slander God, according to the Bible itself, the Lord will not acquit (other translations say God will not hold anyone guiltless, others say God will not leave them unpunished). So rather than use this slot to, say, prevent children from starving by mandating child care or to outlaw rape God decides that protecting his name from being used wrongly in conversation is more important.
8 Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. 9 For six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.
Again we see the God of the Bible wasting Commandments on utter self-absorbed nonsense. God spent six days making the world and so he demands that the Israelite also shouldn’t work on the Sabbath. Many Christians mistakenly assume the Sabbath is on Sunday but such is not the case, in fact in many languages the word for Saturday actually stems from the word Sabbath. Saturday was the Sabbath, not Sunday, so all those businesses in many areas that close for the “Lord’s” day on Sunday are actually closed on the wrong day. The true issue here is that God is demanding people not work on the Sabbath even if they need to. Other verses suggest a pretty strict punishment for working on the Sabbath and Jesus almost gets in trouble for it in the New Testament. Another thing to notice is that slaves are to be given the day off as well. So God could have taken the time to tell the Israelites that slavery is wrong, instead he decides he’d rather tell them to take a day off now and then. What utter nonsense. Once again the Deuteronomy Version is essentially the same, the only distinction is that verse 15 throws in God bragging, once more, about having brought them out of Egypt.
12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
Believe it or not I have very few qualms with this one. Respecting parents makes sense and while it may not be quite as important as other things God could have put here in the fourth slot it actually isn’t all that bad of an idea. Of course it becomes a problem if you have parents who are abusive but given that the Old Testament says that sparing the rod spoils the child I’m assuming abuse is the norm. In which case honoring your Father and Mother might save you from getting beat.
You shall not murder.
One of the few Commandments that God got right. The issue I have with it is that the God of the Bible later sends out the Israelites on numerous genocidal campaigns often involving killing innocent civilians. The death of soldiers is one thing but to go out and wipe out civilian populations should still count as murder, even if it happens during war. So this Commandment works but Yahweh refuses to stick with it and even violates it himself from time to time. One has to wonder how a God can be righteous if he can’t even follow the simple morals he gives to a group of primitives.
You shall not commit adultery
While certainly cheating on your spouse is a low down dirty thing to do should it really be part of the Ten Commandments. Remember that fundamentalists claim these are fundamental moral precepts from God. Why is God so concerned with our sex lives? And if he is concerned about sex this would be the perfect place to put restrictions on rape or pedophilia. Nope, God’s more concerned that you stay true to whoever you’re with. Sorry rape victims, you’re on your own.
You shall not steal
Again this is one I don’t have many qualms about. Seems like a pretty sound proposition. Don’t take what doesn’t belong to you. If these are legal directions I have no issue. But if these are meant as moral directions as some Christians suggest than what does God think of the plight of an orphan or someone who must steal to eat? Surely that is not morally wrong? Would God punish them in their desperation for stealing just to survive?
You Shall not bear false witness against your neighbor
In many Christian denominations this is actually Commandment number nine. Please note that I am following the Catholic and Lutheran 10 Commandments. In actuality Exodus Chapter itself does not introduce them as 10 complete commandments or offer any guidance on where each commandment ends and the next one begins. The Commandment is generally assumed to be You Shall Not Lie, although the language it uses sounds more like that used in a courtroom. Lying is something that is fundamental to human survival which can often be a morally correct action to take. For instance the famous example of lying to the Nazis about hiding Jews. While certainly lying under oath, or offering false witness, are both bad things surely an All Knowing God could have come up with something better.
Commandment 9 and 10:
17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
These Commandments put restrictions on your ability to desire something someone else owns. This is essentially the creation of thought crime similar to Jesus’ statements that lust for a woman is automatic adultery. In fact Jesus is so serious about it that he tells people to tear out their eyes if they “cause them to sin” during the famed Sermon on the Mount as told in Matthew Chapter 5. Not only do these final two commandments create a thought crime if you covet your neighbors stuff by they also mention slaves, again. God had opportunities to abolish slavery, he even mentioned slavery twice, yet he decided to make coveting your neighbors goods forbidden.
I conclude that both assumptions made by Fundamentalist Christians are wrong. The Ten Commandments are neither good nor are they valid today. They are directed specifically at the Israelites and reflect not divine wisdom or divine morals but a moral code that is very much man made. If, indeed, these Ten had come from an Almighty and righteous being surely they would be the most solid moral framework ever conceived. It is clear that the Ten Commandments are not divine in origin.
Another thing to consider is the fact that Moses, in a fit of rage, actually broke the tablets that the original ten were written on. Later God has him transcribe new things down on a new set of tablets in Exodus 34. Amongst those... a commandment to never boil a goat in its Mother’s milk.
Well that is all for this week. Find more of my opinions on religion on my blog. Godlessblogger.blogspot.com.