Archive for the ‘ten commandments’ tag
The killing of innocent children: Psalm 137:9. This sign is slightly misleading. The passage does say “your,” but this Psalm addresses Babylon. In any case, that doesn’t exactly make it any better. Any action, it seems, is permissible so long as the nation of Israel does the killing under Yahweh‘s direction. Is that about right? Just like the commandment against murder in the Ten Commandments only applies among fellow Israelites. Jews in the Bible, of course, can plunder, murder, rape and maim with impunity.
The man-made, extensively debated, committee assembled, legislatively enacted Bill of Rights contains more useful morality in its first adopted amendment than we find in all 10 commandments combined. — Steve Shives
Ten Commitments: Guiding Principles for Teaching Values in America’s Public Schools
Altruism is the unselfish concern for the welfare of others without expectation of reward, recognition, or return. Opportunities for acts of altruism are everywhere in the family, the classroom, the school, and the wider community. Think of examples of altruistic acts in your experience. What person-to-person and group projects, classroom and school-wide activities, and community service projects might you and your students undertake?
Caring for the World Around Us
Everyone can and ought to play a role in caring for the Earth and its inhabitants. We can directly experience the living things in our homes and neighborhoods like trees, flowers, birds, insects, and pets. Gradually we expand our neighborhood. We learn about deserts and oceans, rivers and forests, the wild life around us and the wild life elsewhere. We learn that we are dependent on each other, on the natural world, and all that lives in it for food and shelter, space and beauty.
We gain reliable knowledge because we are able to observe, report, experiment, and analyze what goes on around us. We also learn to raise questions that are clear and precise, to gather information, and to reason about the information we receive in a way that tests it for truthfulness, accuracy, and utility. From our earliest years we learn how to think and to share and challenge our ideas and the ideas of others, and consider their consequences. Practice asking “what next?” and “why?” and “how do I/you/we know that?”
We human beings are capable of empathy, the ability to understand and enter imaginatively into another living being’s feelings, the sad ones and the happy ones as well. Many of the personal relationships we have (in the family, among friends, between diverse individuals, and amid other living things) are made positive through empathy. With discussion and role-playing, we can learn how other people feel when they are sad or hurt or ignored, as well as when they experience great joys. We can use stories, anecdotes, and classroom events to help us nurture sensitivity to how our actions impact others.
Questions of fairness, cooperation, and sharing are among the first moral issues we encounter in our ethical development as human beings. Ethical education is ongoing implicitly and explicitly in what is called the “hidden curriculum” that we experience through the media, the family, and the community. Ethics can be taught through discussion, role-playing, story telling, and other activities that improve analysis and decision-making regarding what’s good and bad, right and wrong.
We live in a world that is rich in cultural, social, and individual diversity, a world where interdependence is increasing rapidly so that events anywhere are more likely to have consequences everywhere. Much can be done to prepare the next generation for accepting the responsibility of global citizenship. Understanding can be gained regarding the many communities in which we live through history, anthropology, and biology. A linguistic, ethnic, and cultural diversity are present in the classroom and provide lessons of diversity and commonality. We help others reach understanding about the interconnectedness of the welfare of all humanity.
Human rights is the idea that people should have rights just because they are human beings. These rights are universal. That is, they are for everyone no matter what their race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, age, sex, political beliefs, intelligence, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. School projects can be undertaken to learn about human rights, such as interviewing people who have once or are now participating in various rights movements. Student courts can introduce the idea and practice of due process, a key component of human rights.
Peace and Social Justice
A curriculum that values and fosters peace education would promote understanding, tolerance, and friendship among nations as well as among cultural and religious or philosophical groups. Education should include opportunities to learn about the United Nations’ role in preventing conflict as well as efforts to achieve social justice here in the United States. Students should learn about problems of injustice including what can be done to prevent and respond to them with meaningful actions that promote peace and social justice both at home and abroad.
Our behavior is morally responsible when we tell the truth, help someone in trouble, and live up to promises we’ve made. Our behavior is legally responsible when we obey a just law and meet the requirements of membership or citizenship. But we also have a larger responsibility to be a caring member of our family, our community, and our world. Stories and role-playing can help students understand responsibility and its absence or failure. We learn from answering such questions as: What happens when we live in accordance with fair and just rules? What happens when we don’t? What happens when the rules are unjust?
Service and Participation
Life’s fulfillment can emerge from an individual’s participation in the service of humane ideals. School-based service-learning combines community service objectives and learning objectives with the intent that the activities change both the recipient and the provider. It provides students with the ability to identify important issues in real-life situations. Through these efforts we learn that each of us can help meet the needs of others and of ourselves. Through our lifetime, we learn over and over again of our mutual dependence.
Continuing with this series, we now turn to Genesis 18-19, in which Abraham and Sarah in the first part of Chapter 18 learn from God that she, now at an old age, will bear a son. The passage begins with the Lord appearing to Abraham under some trees, as well as three “men,” presumably angels.
Abraham, by now used to interacting with God, runs to Sarah to get some food and drink for his guests. What use God and some angels have with mortal food is a mystery. In any case, they eat the meal, and God then tells Abraham that Sarah will have a son. Sarah, passed child-bearing years, laughs to herself, and God asks why Sarah laughed at the proposed miracle. God then said, to paraphrase, “Is anything impossible with me?” God and Sarah then have a brief feel-good moment in which Sarah denied scoffing at the suggestion that she would have a child. God then says, “No, but you did laugh!” Ahh … divine humor. What a jolly fellow, this Yahweh.
Verse 17 is where things get interesting and not so jolly, as God is about to do some heavy-handed smiting. In Verse 16, God asks himself:
Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing? (v. 17)
This is, perhaps, the most intriguing quote in the whole passage. First, the notion of God asking himself a question is really bizarre since, in his omniscience, he already knows what he is going to do, not just about Sodom and Gomorrah but about everything, and this logical problem comes up time and time again in the Bible. Apparently, it didn’t take long to decide. Two verses later, God spills the beans:
I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know. (v. 21)
Here again, God does not have to “go down” anywhere to find out whether Sodom is full of wicked people. He already knows. If he doesn’t already know, he’s not omniscient, and thus, not God at all. Further, what to make of this “outcry” (This is the term that’s used in the New King James Version) against Sodom. God seems to be getting a sixth sense from a source other than himself. Is that the Holy Spirit? No, that can’t be right since the Holy Spirit is just the “spiritual” manifestation of God. Are angels communicating to God all of Sodom’s misdeeds? Is Satan? In any case, this “outcry” seems independent of God, which is odd to say the least.
Abraham then pleads with God that if he can find some people in the city who are righteous, the city can be saved. God concedes — grudgingly? — that if at least 10 people are good in Sodom, the town won’t be torched. Perhaps to show how depraved the city really was, whoever wrote Genesis includes the next passage that has two angels (what happened to the other guy?) coming to Sodom. Lot takes them into his home and prepares a meal for them. Now, the men of Sodom, “old and young” come to Lot’s house and demand that Lot turn over the angel-men so that the townfolk can have sex with them.
In order to save the men from sex-starved and sex-obsessed city, Lot then says the men can have his two virgin daughters for their gang-raping pleasure. What a guy! Really seething and horny by now (You can just picture them with breathing heavy with fists clenching and licking their lips in wanderlust), the men outside attempt to break the door down, but just as the angels pulled Lot back into the house, the men struck the townfolk with blindness, and then order Lot to take his family out of the city. I guess the angels blinded them so that they couldn’t see what was about to happen? Who knows.
Lot and his family escape to a location called Zoar as fire and brimstone rain down on the city. His wife, however, wasn’t as fortunate. For some inexplicable reason, they are commanded not to look back on the town as it was being torched. Lot’s wife disobeys this commandment and is subsequently turned into a pillar of salt. Somehow, this doesn’t seem odd to anyone at all, and Lot never mentions a word about this wife. Indeed, Lot seems more interested in whoring out his daughters than protecting his bride.
I’ll conclude with more lively sexcapades in the brief passage that follows. In 19:30-38, we learn about how Lot’s incestual lineage found its genesis in those two daughters, who were apparently, by this time, quite sex-starved themselves. Maybe they wanted to be thrown out to the raging men in Sodom:
Now living in Zoar, in a cave no less, with his two daughters, Lot found himself drunk with wine and easy pickings for his two horny daughters:
Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth. Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father. (v. 32)
The first thing to notice here is that ”come in unto us” is a particularly graphic way to say they want want to have sex so they can have children. Second, the passage indicates that because Lot was drunk, he did not realize his daughters were copulating with him. Yes, that’s right. Lot was drunk; he wasn’t blind. How do you not know when a person begins having sex with you, and when he or she dismounts (v 35)? Further, even plastered, one would be lucid enough to realize a) a girl is on top of me and b) that girl is actually my daughter. The final problem with this is that if Lot was so shit-hammered that he couldn’t stand up (or see, apparently), he probably wouldn’t have had the vitality, as it were, to pull off one sexual firecracker, much less two. This entire passage is a !facepalm.
Moving on. Third, this is one of a handful of instances in which the biblical patriarchs engage in incestual activity. Sarai was, after all, Abraham’s half sister. Here’s more information from Wikipedia:
Incest amongst the patriarchs includes Abraham’s marriage to his half-sister Sarai;[Gen.20:11,12] the marriage of Abraham’s brother, Nahor, to their niece Milcah;[Gen.11:27–29] Isaac’s marriage to Rebekah, his first cousin once removed;[Gen.27:42–43;29:10] Jacob’s marriages with two sisters who are his first cousins;[Gen.29:10,Ch.29] and, in the instance of Moses’s parents, a marriage between nephew and aunt (father’s sister).[Exod.6:20]
Passages such as these often get a pass from Christians or other religious types because they claim that for the Old Testament law about incest to be established in the first place, there had to have been some cases in which incest, in fact, had occurred. Otherwise, there would be no basis for the necessity of the law. The biblical characters could be excused from such behavior because that was part of a development in their moral character.
This explanation, forced as it is, misses one point: God didn’t have to wait until all the way in Leviticus to start handing down his law. Indeed, I have no idea why he did. Hell, he put a carrot on a stick in front of Adam and Eve, allowed Satan into Garden and then exiled the couple for doing something he knew they were going to do in the first place. God, very early on in the Bible, seems concerned with man following his rules, yet waits until Leviticus to establish the law? Since the aforementioned episodes of incest took place before the Ten Commandments were passed down, broken by Moses in anger — that surely was a sin — and then handed down again, one would have thought that might be a good time to say something about incest or rape or slavery or child abuse or sex trafficking. But nah, those weren’t important social ills that needed to be eradicated any time soon.
Finally, isn’t the justice of God immutable and everlasting? In other words, if incest or eating ham or homosexuality were wrong by the time Leviticus rolls around, wouldn’t they have been wrong in Genesis as well? That’s the definition of immutable. He’s the same yesterday, today and forever, right? This is more evidence that the biblical writers simply made stuff up as they went along and attempted (but failed) to make it as consistent as possible, given that they were semi-literate Bronze-aged scribes steeped in myth and lore.
And this masterwork of stupidity is supposed to be our source code for morality. Remember that divine humor I was talking about?
In the waning minutes of another year, I highlight the top 20 posts on this site from 2011:
- Jan. 5: Movie review: ‘Agora’ - “Given how beautiful and reasonably-minded Hypatia is thought to have been, I felt intense anger at the end of this film that such a smart and lovely creature had to endure such a hideous death by people who thought they had God on their side. And more than that, the feeling was tinged with the thought that she probably died in real life by a much worse means than suffocation and also that countless women were burned and hung or stoned as witches because of religion and ignorance. That’s not fiction.”
- Jan. 12: Harris on the Ten Commandments - “The need to dismiss religion in polite society still and unrelentingly presses upon us as a species, and this will continue as long as man fails to, in turn, dismiss his fear of death and the dark. “
- Feb. 12: Camus: ‘The point is to live’ - “So, like Sisyphus, in a moment that would shake most anyone to utter despair, Mersault is happy. And here is the consummation for Mersault and for the “Return to Tipasa” quote: Mersault had lived. He had experienced good times and bad, but in both, he found peace.”
- March 6: Why moderate religion is more bankrupt than fundamentalism - “Many, even myself, wholeheartedly agree that “love wins.” Some just don’t feel the need to summon God to make it so. As it turns out, love wins every day without him.”
- March 11: On the genesis of life - “Perhaps every theist agrees that there is an appearance of a design, but when I consider the vast number of failed planets and potential planets in our universe through the eons, the likelihood of a planet like ours eventually arising seems quite high, and in some 12-14 billion years, so high that we should be surprised if such a planet had not eventually formed. We live in that eventuality.”
- April 16: The gospel untruth – “It is, of course, within one’s right to believe something based on scant evidence and from a book steeped in contradictions, faulty science and math, bare bones textual evidence and stunningly primitive ethical codes. Some happily do, and all the better for them. … But even a cursory look at the case for the gospels reminds the rest of us that while Easter eggs, candy, and springtime offer nice pleasantries this time of year, the religious element ever behind the upcoming holiday was built, glorified and crowned on a now teetering house of cards.”
- May 2: 10 basic questions for believers (with sub-questions) – “What kind of loving father demands you love him or face the fire if you don’t? What kind of loving father demands you pass spiritual tests (Job, Abraham) to show your devotion?”
- May 13: Book review: ‘Night’ and the problem of evil – “No book that I have ever read brings these questions to the forefront with such brutal honesty. And I think it may be for that reason that The Times used the words “terrifying power” to describe this short, but seismic cattle car ride through the bowels of man’s darkest hour.”
- June 22: Jefferson’s religion - “To say Jefferson was a Christian in the modern sense of the word, that is, that Jesus was God incarnate, rose from the dead on the third day and will judge mankind on the last day, would be a false statement to make any way you slice it. He was a Christian in this sense only: he argued that to be literally “Christ-like” (the meaning of the word itself) was the highest moral height a person could reach, and that is all. Of everything else modern Christians believe about Jesus, Jefferson rejected without compunction, and this is clear from his letters and correspondence. In the modern sense of the word, Jefferson would not be a Christian and would be bound for eternal fire based on the doctrine of today’s Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Church of Gods and Calvinists.”
- June 30: Book review: ‘Tried by War’ – “Unlike other Lincoln biographies, which typically focus on his stance and political efforts to abolish slavery, his assassination, his humble upbringings and other topics, few, as McPherson points out, have delved specifically into Lincoln’s role as commander in chief.”
- July 3: Response to a recent letter to the editor – “And speaking of snakes, the Bible, with its differing accounts of man’s creation in the Garden, the variant steps by which the universe was made and contradictory details about Noah’s Ark, the Ten Commandments, Christ and, indeed, the very nature of God, the good book does a fine job of disproving itself and provides not even the hint of a “reasonable explanation.”
- Aug. 21: Book review: ‘Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society’ – “The conservative voice, often toeing the religious line, hostile to teaching evolution in the classroom, friendly to interests of corporations and investment bankers, hostile to the interests of minorities and the poor and hostile to change, is too strong in this nation, while the progressive voice, the only voice that demonstrably moves people toward ultimate utilitarianism, is too weak.”
- Sept. 13: Gene therapy to treat cancer - “… it’s hard to overstate how important research into cell modification, gene therapy and stem cell research could be in treating and curing some of the most destruction diseases of our time, from Lou Gehrig’s, to cancer, immune deficiencies, Parkinson’s and others, yet, most of the evangelical people in this nation are worried about protecting the interests of clusters of undifferentiated cells.”
- Sept. 25: Biblical deconstruction I: In exordium – “The Bible, as much and probably more so than the Koran (since the Bible is older), has been the central cause of more human suffering and misery than I care to contemplate. God himself, if he existed, would be on the hook for at least 2.476 million people, not counting the flood, first-born Egyptians killed, etc. Thousands of his followers have millions more on their hands, from the Crusades, to Native Americans, to Africans dying from not having access to condoms (thanks to the Catholic church), to the Salem Witch Trials, to … it goes on.”
- Sept. 29: Biblical deconstruction II: the garden – “Last, how moral is it that the crimes of a person from, say, the 18th century, be used to convict and imprison someone living in 2011? Yet, the errant choice of two people forever impacts the lives (and apparently the afterlifes) of every single person who has or who ever will live simply because a god in an ancient text penned by superstitious society in Palestine deems it so. Yet still, God doesn’t seem very interested in the “sins” of millions of blasphemers and worshipers of other gods that followed Adam and Eve, except of course, in the pages of the Bible. As it happens, the world outside of the Bible, the only world that matters, hasn’t heard a peep from Big Brother.”
- Oct. 5: Biblical deconstruction III: Cain and Abel – “If God, then, is the author of reason, reason itself must be modified to also include murderous, barbarous, cruel and sadistic, scheming, as well as capriciousness, which is actually one of his least offensive attributes.”
- Oct. 8: Real inspiration – “Religious folks talk a lot about spiritual inspiration. Well, how about inspiration, made possible by science, that brings a deaf woman to tears?”
- Nov. 20: No, this is not a spoof - “Has the electorate mindset shifted so much that a former establishment politician like Gingrich has to change is tone and amplify his speech to have a chance in 2012?”
- Nov. 30: On Butler’s ‘Erewhon’ – “All things considered, then, the entire text of the book is basically a business proposal that includes some proselytizing ruminations, and hidden behind the plot is Butler’s own cunning way of dicing up elements of Victorian life with the satirical knife edge.”
- Dec. 23: Josephus and the historical Jesus – “Article 3 is obviously the passage that Christians pull out of context and attempt to claim this is evidence for Jesus outside of scripture. First, an observing Jew would not admit that Jesus was the Christ, much less make laudatory comments about him like: there were “ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.”
Big government ≡ bad unless the topic is gays, guns, abortion, the Ten Commandments in public places or the military. Does that about cover it? The open hypocrisy of some folks in Congress seems to know no bounds.
House Republicans are preparing to push through restrictions on federal financing of abortions far more extreme than previously proposed at the federal level. Lawmakers who otherwise rail against big government have made it one of their highest priorities to take the decision about a legal medical procedure out of the hands of individuals and turn it over to the government.
Their primary bill —the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” — is so broad that it could block insurance coverage for abortions for countless American women.
The anti-abortion forces almost derailed health care reform last year over whether people could buy policies that cover abortion on new insurance exchanges. The compromise embedded in the reform law sets up a hugely complicated plan to segregate an individual’s premium payments from the government subsidies. It is so burdensome that it seems likely to discourage insurers from offering any abortion coverage at all on the exchanges.
But anti-abortion lawmakers are not satisfied. The new bill, introduced by Christopher Smith, a New Jersey Republican, would bar outright the use of federal subsidies to buy any insurance that covers abortion well beyond the new exchanges.
The tax credits that are encouraging small businesses to provide insurance for their workers could not be used to buy policies that cover abortions. People with their own policies who have enough expenses to claim an income tax deduction could not deduct either the premiums for policies that cover abortion or the cost of an abortion. People who use tax-preferred savings accounts to pay medical costs could not use the money to pay for an abortion without paying taxes on it.
The only tax subsidy left untouched is the exclusion that allows workers whose premiums are subsidized by their employers to avoid paying taxes on the value of the subsidy. Many, if not most, employer-sponsored insurance plans cover abortions. There would have been a huge political battle if workers were suddenly told they had to pay taxes on the benefit or change their policies.
The Smith bill also would take certain restrictions on federal financing for abortions that now must be renewed every year and make them permanent. It would allow federal financing of abortions in cases of “forcible” rape but not statutory or coerced rape, and in cases where a woman is in danger of death from her pregnancy but not of other serious health damage. It would free states from having to provide abortions in such emergency cases.
A separate Republican bill would deny federal funds for family planning services to any organization that provides abortions. It is aimed primarily at Planned Parenthood’s hundreds of health centers, which also provide many other valuable services. No federal money is used for the abortions. This is a reckless effort to cripple an irreplaceable organization out of pure politics.((1))
After finishing “Positivist Republic: Auguste Comte and the Reconstruction of American Liberalism, 1865-1920″ tonight, I began re-reading some passages from neuroscientist Sam Harris’ short but cutting critique of religion, “Letter to a Christian Nation,” in which Harris targets, in succinct language, some of the more pervasive arguments for Christianity. Apparently not over my reading bug, I made it to page 19 before I felt compelled to highlight a particularly stunning passage. Here, Harris discusses the apparent timelessness of the Ten Commandments:
They are, after all, the only passages in the Bible so profound that the creator of the universe felt the need to physically write them himself — and in stone. As such, one would expect these to be the greatest lines ever written, on any subject, in any language.
I thought that was a key point. Lines directly penned by the all-knowing, omniscient god that set this universe in motion. We might expect the most profound and stunning words ever heard in human history. Harris:
Here they are. Get ready …
- You shall have no other gods before me.
- You shall not make for yourself a graven image.
- You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
- Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
- Honor your father and your mother.
- You shall not murder.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.
And Harris’ further commentary:
The first four of these injunctions have nothing whatsoever to do with morality. As stated, they forbid the practice of any non-Judeo-Christian faith (like Hinduism), most religious art, utterances like “God damn it!,” and all ordinary work on the Sabbath — all under the penalty of death. …
Commandments 5 though 9 do address morality. … Admonishments of these kind are found in virtually every culture throughout recorded history. There is nothing especially compelling about their presentation in the Bible. There are obvious biological reasons why people tend to treat their parents well, and to think badly of murderers, adulterers, thieves, and liars. It is a scientific fact that moral emotions … precede any exposure to scripture. Indeed, studies of primate behavior reveal that these emotions (in some form) precede humanity itself. … All of our primate cousins are partial to their own kind and generally intolerant of murder and theft. They tend not to like deception or sexual betrayal much, either. Chimpanzees, especially, display many of the complex social concerns that you would expect to see in our closest relatives in the natural world. It seems rather unlikely, therefore, that the average American will receive necessary moral instruction by seeing these precepts chiseled in marble whenever he enter a courthouse. And what are we to make of the fact that, in bringing his treatise to a close, the creator of the universe could think of no human concerns more pressing and durable than the coveting of servants and livestock?
If you think that it would be impossible to improve on the Ten Commandments as a statement of morality, you really owe it to yourself to read some other scriptures. Once again, we need look no further than the Jains: Mahavira, the Jain patriarch, surpassed the morality of the Bible with a single sentence: ‘Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature of the living being.’ Imagine how different our world might be if the Bible contained this as its central precept. Christians have abused, oppressed, enslaved, insulted, tormented, tortured, and killed people in the name of God for centuries, on the basis of a theologically defensible reading of the Bible. It is impossible to behave this way by adhering to the principles of Jainism. How, then, can you argue that the Bible provides the clearest statement of morality the world has ever seen?
I’ll add that there is no mention of the prohibition of rape, and we only need point to the glowingly immoral case of Moses himself in Numbers 31:
But Moses was furious with all the military commanders who had returned from the battle. “Why have you let all the women live?” he demanded. “These are the very ones who followed Balaam’s advice and caused the people of Israel to rebel against the LORD at Mount Peor. They are the ones who caused the plague to strike the LORD’s people. Now kill all the boys and all the women who have slept with a man. Only the young girls who are virgins may live; you may keep them for yourselves.
That folks can be compelled to worship a god who condones and even commands such ruthlessness and sexual depravity escapes my understanding.
But ahh, some might retort: where did you get your basis for judging whether an act is moral or not if it didn’t come from outside source? Arguments about a moral framework embedded in humans seems almost beside the point here. As Harris stated, many animals other than humans display what we might call ethical and altruistic behavior. Humans’ overarching sense of right and wrong is nothing terribly special. We tend to, in general, seek to lessen the harm done to our fellow man and promote the good, except, of course, when a man feels he has religion on his side. Then, and history supports this time and again, a man will by any means harm or oppress others for no other reason than to advance the influence of his faith.
The need to dismiss religion in polite society still and unrelentingly presses upon us as a species, and this will continue as long as man fails to, in turn, dismiss his fear of death and the dark. For, only one of many examples of religion’s power to completely expunge whole societies, look no further than Alexandria, Egypt, which, as I noted in this movie review of “Agora,” has been upended again and again for centuries by religious bickering and religiously fueled violence and bloodshed. Here’s a report of the most recent incantation of the predictable and century-long squabbles in that once illustrious city of learning and philosophy. Of course, Christians and most believers, in their frenzy to affirm faith, have disgraced and disparaged their own species for millennia, although they doubtfully possess the clear-mindedness to notice the carnage left in their wake.
So, I’ve been thinking lately about the ongoing debate over the Bible’s 10 Commandments. To address this issue at all, one must first specify which 10 Commandment is the correct one, Exodus 20:2–17, Deuteronomy 5:6–21 or the Exodus 34:11–27.
For a set of laws seemingly so important to the precepts of Judeo-Christian belief, one would think that there would be one, and only one, version of the heralded Commandments, but no dice. Through translations and edit after edit, we have three. Admittedly, the versions from Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 are largely similar, but they begin to differ at verse 14 of the latter version of the commandments.
So, before I offer my own, let’s review the commonly accepted 10, as this site has:
1. ‘You shall have no other gods before Me.’
2. ’You shall not make for yourself a carved image–any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.’
3. ‘You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.’
4. ‘Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.’
5. ‘Honor your father and your mother.’
6. ’You shall not murder.’
7. ’You shall not commit adultery.’
8. ’You shall not steal.’
9. ’You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.’
10. ’You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.’
I agree with No. 5 to a degree, unless the said father and mother are reprehensible, abusive people, and I also agree with Nos. 6, 8 and 9.
The other commandments can either be combined or dismissed. Nos. 1-3 can be lumped together because they all speak of God attempting to retain or hold of power over his “creation.” No. 4 was disavowed by Christ himself. No. 7, though certainly disagreeable and not preferred, should not be punishable by eternal fire (seems like overkill), for there are civil cases where, although one is technically married, one may also be technically separated from someone for a very long time, abdicating the said persons from the commitment presented in the marriage vows. Regardless, although it’s usually the case that adultery is not the best course of action, it’s certainly not on par with rape or murder.
No. 10 is stickier. While someone probably shouldn’t lust after other folks’ property or wives, etc., ambition is probably a good thing to the betterment of individuals in raising families and making ends meet. Given the localized nature of this particular commandment, the verse sets it rightly, not in some spiritual realm, but in Bronze Age Palestine, where one, indeed, has an interest in achieving a better means.
Also, not-so-mysteriously absent from this list is rape and slavery. Perhaps they are absent because the commandments are speaking only to other Jews in the very small and clanish world of the Palestine at the time. In other words, the commandment “Do not murder” means “Do not murder Jews,” not, “Do not murder anyone on the planet.” Thus, maybe it’s not so odd that rape and slavery didn’t make the Top 10, since, at least enslavement among fellow Jews wasn’t as prominent as enslavement by Jews of people from other lands. Given the ugly episode of Lot and his two daughters, Judges 21:10-24 and many other passages, rape and incest seemed to be par for the course in the bible. Thus, it’s absent from the main list as well.
All this being said, if the 10 Commandments were truly offered by God himself, one of the few passages in the Bible claiming direct, direct, authorship, they should be some of the most profound words ever read by man.
They should surpass any of meager literary offerings of Homer, Shakespeare, Milton, Donn, Shelley, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Eliot and many others.
But they do not. Thus, if I may be so humble, let me offer my own rules for living (I will not be so brutish as to call them commandments). These, which differ significantly in simplicity from some others that have been proposed, are presented in order of most important to least. Also, I don’t see what is so important about the number 10. Indeed, if it was symbolism the biblical authors were after, it would have made more sense to have the 7 commandments (Or, perhaps 12 for the 12 tribes of Israel), rather than 10. My first “rule” really takes care of most of the rest, but for the necessity of having a list in the first place, I’ll expand mine. I only need 8, and they are as follows:
- Thou shalt treat all human beings as equals, irrespective of race, religion, political affiliation, sexual orientation or creed;
- Thou shalt not murder;
- Thou shalt not enslave other human beings;
- Thou shalt not commit rape;
- Thou shalt not abuse children, mentally, physically or sexually;
- Thou shalt not steal or damage others’ property;
- Thou shalt not commit perjury; and
- Thou shalt not commit extortion.
I rest my case.
Note: Edited with additional comments July 22, 2009.
Here is something I’ve been stewing over the last couple weeks as the God question, and my response to it, has apparently stirred the waters enough to compel quite a number of folks to pen their own stories and their reasons for belief to me. They all can be read as you scroll down to the bottom of the above link.
The question is this: What would compel me, specifically, and others, I would dare say, to be more inclined to believe the claims of the Bible. To begin, Dan Barker, a former pastor and sold-out Christian, in his book, “Godless,” used a telling quote from Mark Twain in chapter 13 of his book:
It ain’t those parts of the bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.
Ain’t it the truth! From Barker, briefly, here are a few points:
Should we kill? Exodus 20:13 of the Ten Commandments says no (So does Leviticus 24:17), while Exodus 32:27; 1 Samuel 6:19; 1 Samuel 15:2, 3, 7, 8; Numbers 15:36; Hosea 13:16 recounted where either the Lord or the people of Israel ordered or ordered to put folks to the sword or “dasheth thy little ones upon the stones,” and in many cases, many, many folks.
Does God change his mind? Nay: Malachi 3:6, Numbers 23:19, Ezekial 24:14, James 1:17 versus the Yays, Exodus 32:14, Jonah 3:10, Genesis 18: 23-33, where God changes his mind about how many of the righteous are required before he will destroy the city. God bargained with Abraham from 50 to 10. Notes Barker: “An omniscient God must have known that he was playing with Abraham’s hopes for mercy — he (God) destroyed the city anyway.”
Is God good or evil? Yes: Psalm 145:9, Deuteronomy 32:4; Nay: Isaiah 45:7, Jeremiah 18:11
When was Jesus born? Matthew 2:1 says that it was before 4 B.C.E.: “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king …” (Herod died in 4 B.C.E., as Barker notes); versus, Luke 2:1-4, which suggests after 6 C.E. For more on this point, see this link.
When was Jesus crucified? Mark 15:25 versus John 19:14-15. Notes Barker, “It is an ad hoc defense to claim that there are two methods of reckoning time here. It has never been shown that this is the case.”
How many animals on the ark? Genesis 6:19 versus Genesis 7:2.
I could go on, but you get the picture. One commentator to my earlier post said that once I seriously investigated the Bible and asked for God’s guidance, that these and other “contradictions” (He put it in quotes) would be reconciled. Very well and invite that day, but as of now, there are serious questions. I said at the beginning that I had been thinking of a way that God could have possibly saved folks like me, who are bothered by contradictory details, a lot of trouble. And here it is:
A GOD-AUTHORED BIBLE, FOR REAL THIS TIME
How about this? God created the entire cosmos in six days, correct? If so, this request should have been a piece of cake. For God to make a better case for himself, he should simply have authored the entire Bible himself, not through human vessels, but literally before he created anything. In that expanse before creation that was filled only by himself, he could have easily created out of thin air a pen and notepad. He could have easily penned the Bible as he would have written it in 200-plus translations, including Greek, ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, French, German, Old English, modern English, Spanish, Swedish, Mandarin, Russian, Japanese, Yiddish, etc. For later generations, he could have easily created a computer and created for modern people any number of cassette tapes, 8-tracks, CDs, Blu-ray discs or any other medium of communication that would have been invented in the future containing either audio of “his word” or text documents of his word. Or one step further: Why bother with inventing anything to then physically go about the tedious routine of writing? Since he’s God, he could have simply spoken the entire thing into existence right then and there off the top of his head.
Since he is omniscient, he could have easily given us accurate, non-contradictory accounts of every single event in history up until a certain period in which he deemed fit, including spot-on, non-contradictory accounts of every event mentioned in the Bible. He could deliver this “true” account to mankind, at, say, 40 A.D. after Christ’s crucifixion and then deliver the same account to each generation hence so that every generation would have the current word from God. And since he is also all-powerful, he could have also made darn-well sure that the accounts he authored would not be corrupted, edited, changed, or restructured by the church.
Now, if we had such an account today that contained zero, not one, self-contradiction (and this would be possible for an omniscient, all-powerful god), I confess that I would be more inclined to believe. But as it stands, how could God, who was supposedly attempting to deliver the most important message humankind will ever hear in its existence, let his word pass into human hands? The first word that we have of the current canon is from Athanasius, the Bishop of Alexandria, Egypt in 367 C.E., as it appears today:
By the time of Athanasius, or shortly before, the church had reached an informal consensus about most of the writings to be included in the ‘New’ Testament. — Roy W. Hoover, “How the Canon Was Formed”
So, the structure of the current Bible that we have is far from God-breathed in so much that it was physically authored by men and arranged by men. Believers will obviously say it was inspired by God. But this does us no good. If a fellow named Luke, a true believer, composed a book today and called it God’s 21st Century Epistle and in its pages claimed that it was the inspired word from God for modern man, would we not question its authenticity? Then why do we not question the authenticity of books written thousands of years ago by folks supposedly from Bronze Age Mesopotamia?
And further, who were these folks that had the authority to decide which books made it in and which books were heresy? Who gave them that authority? Again, I could claim the same authority to again arrange them as I was inspired by God, or author a new one, but many would be quick to call foul (Thomas Jefferson, not necessarily on God’s authority, did something similar, which came to be called the Jefferson Bible). Thus, the current Bible could have been improved with an actual, true to life, word from God. If it were so important that we believe, either in him or in Christ, or both, shouldn’t he have given us more? I envision such a statement as a possible preface to a truly God-authored Bible compiled, not by men, but by God himself. To begin, it would read:
My sons and daughters,
These are my words, the history of man, my instructions for living your lives and my prophecies concerning the end times. Do not edit, rearrange, redact or in anyway alter these words. These are the words from the Lord your God in which you must keep for all times.
But we don’t have such a record, do we? We have the Bible which is unquestionably flawed, and I’ve proven that point repeatably, and can go even further. Again, if we had a document straight from God with zero snafus, for real, I would be less inclined to poise any questions about its validity. To add something here: Even if we had such a book, the need for faith would not be erased. Even if God physically and literally intervened in human affairs today, this would still not erase the need for faith. We see this in numerous places in the Bible, where men saw wondrous things with their own eyes, and once the miracle was complete, fell back into doubt. The Israelites had vast reasons to believe, didn’t they? But they continually fell back into idol worship. So, I don’t believe this request would have been too much to ask, but this isn’t the document in front of us.