Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Retire the Ten Commandments

The Supreme Court heard arguments today regarding the constitutionality of displaying the Ten Commandments in, on or around government buildings.

Seriously, I don't much care which way the court decides. What concerns me more is that people actually believe in the wisdom and relevance of the commandments today.

Throughout my entire life -- whether it was in the confines of Catholic school or, more recently, because of the frenzy surrounding Alabama nutcase Judge Roy Moore and his fanatical insistence on rolling in a 5,300 pound replica into the state's judicial building -- I've had to hear people proclaim the intelligence and judiciousness of the Ten Commandments.

Nonsense. Let's go through them quickly. Wait. Actually that's not that easy. As Joseph Lewis points out in his book The Ten Commandments, courtesy of

Were acknowledged leaders of the various religions based upon the Bible asked where the Decalogue could be found, there would be much confusion and contradiction on their part. Some would say that the Ten Commandments are recorded in the 20th Chapter of the second book of the Five Books of Moses, called Exodus. Others would state that they are to be found in the 5th Chapter of the fifth book of the Five Books of Moses, called Deuteronomy; while others would maintain that Chapters 22 and 23 of the Book of Exodus contain the revealed words. And yet "covenants" as binding as the so-called Decalogue are found in Chapters 31, 32, 33 and 34 of the Book of Exodus.

Regardless where one finds these commandments, Lewis observes:

It is not for me to determine why one version of the Ten Commandments should be found in the Book of Exodus and another in the Book of Deuteronomy. If, as is contended, Moses was the author of both books, then these precepts, if they were divinely spoken, should be as infallibly identical as two perfect reflections of the same thing.

They are not, you can perform the exercise yourself by turning your Bibles to the 20th Chapter of Exodus or the 5th chapter of Deuteronomy.

Anyway, here's the version I remember well growing up via Exodus:

1. "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."
2. "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image,"
3. "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain;"
4. "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy."
5. "Honour thy father and thy mother:"
6. "Thou shalt not kill."
7. "Thou shalt not commit adultery"
8. "Thou shalt not steal."
9. "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour."
10. "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house,.....nor anything that is thy neighbour's.

Do any of these commandments strike you as divine in creation? If they do, then God help you indeed. Let's be frank. These were commonsensical codes of conduct infused with enough fear of divine retribution to get a simple and ignorant people across a desert with minimal hassle. Anyway, look at the first three commandments. God sure is easy to offend, and jealous and egotistical as well. The fourth is innocuous enough and out of the last six only murder and stealing really hold up as solid prohibitions. Possibly the commandment against coveting your neighbors's house or things ranks as the most out of place, especially since there'd be a host of Republicans out of work in advertising and marketing since their job is to make you covet your neighbor's property. Whatever one can say about God, he's no capitalist and I think I can say with authority that Jesus left this beyond doubt. But the real problem with these are that they're communicated as absolute laws governing morality. You don't have to be a pulp fiction writer to come up with situations that pit one commandment against another. And are the commandments ranked by weight of importance?

Besides, the only reason there's ten seems to be a mystical predilection. Shorter's better, right?

If you agree, then George Carlin boiled these ten down to two and I think they're better and far more economical. They are:

Thou shalt always be honest and faithful
to the provider of thy nookie.


Thou shalt try real hard not to kill anyone, unless of course
they pray to a different invisible man than you.

(For Carlin's whole hilarious spiel, click here.)

So let's retire the Ten Commandments. They're antiquadated, absolute, and not at all convincing of divine inspiration. Besides, humanity's come a long way since then and I'm sure we could do better.

And as George Carlin quipped, the theocratic activists that want to have the Ten Commandments posted should be allowed to do, so as long as they provide this addendum:

Thou shalt keep thy religion to thyself.

-- M. Wood