2005/01/29

Trash the Ten Commandments

Despite what orthodox factions may wish to claim, the global society is changing and we do not live in a world made up of kingdoms and slaves nor do most of us treat women as objects. It is possible to fight against change--as many conservatives do--but it must be recognized that we do live in a different society than we did at the time of the Old Testament. This is why we should axe most of the Ten Commandments. They may have served as a cornerstone for morality during the time of their inscription but they serve us little good today. My plan is not to suggest a substitute, but simply to explain why we should surrender the Ten Commandments to the annals of history.

First, the Ten Commandments as they appear in Exodus:


  • Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

  • Thou shalt not make unto 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 water under the earth

  • But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work

  • Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

  • Honour thy father and thy mother

  • Thou shalt not kill.

  • Thou shalt not commit adultery.

  • Thou shalt not steal.

  • Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

  • Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.



Most of the commandments have no place in our society, and the ones that do ("You ought not kill", "you ought not steal", etc) are ground into the minds of the normal human. That is not to say that some humans, those we refer to as social outcasts or psychopaths, will reject the common morality we all share. There is no evidence to the contrary of this other than that of Eve pulling the fruit from the tree of knowledge but there is anthropological evidence to support this claim. For example, Sweden is a secular state yet the people are happy and free, allowed to do for the most part, that which they please. The Swedish recognize that basic human emotions require a certain amount of civility and do not need Biblical reinforcement.

One critical trend to note in the Bible and especially in the Ten Commandments is the equation of women with objects, possessions of their masters, the men. In the last commandment, God and Moses equate women with a house, an ox, and a donkey. What do you think of that, ladies? This sexist chauvinism does not flow with our "advanced" society in which women have the right to vote, to work, and to pursue property instead of simply be property.

While this is of course a brief analysis, I think it is sufficient enough to spark a little debate. If you disagree with my stance, I'd like to read a rebuttal which employs the liberal use of anthropological as well as historical data to support your ideological beliefs. If you agree with me, please offer a solution for what can replace the Ten Commandments in a modern society. I have some ideas, but I'd like to hear what others say before offering my own.

17 Comments:

I tend to agree, though as a Christian of sorts, I've always been more impressed with the beatitudes anyway. I've never like any rules that stress what we should "not" do rather than suggest what might be positive ways to live.

As you said, probably they've just outlived their usefulness. 

Posted by surrogate
1/29/2005 03:45:00 pm  
Interesting topic, SB. For my part I don't regard ANY biblical contents as ANY kind of moral authority. It is all but an interesting historical curiosity, just the same as the sort of stuff archeologists find dinging for mummies and other traces of past human culture in the desert of Egypt and elsewhere.

In fact, it is also how our (France) constitution was written: there is no *adpatation* or *modernization* of biblical statements. The bible and its competitors were completely dismissed as irrelevant during its writing. In fact, the only mention of religion in the entire document is simply in the clause about intellectual freedom, which states that all citizens are free to exercise the religion of their choice.

It is in effect an agnostic document, where any moral values are defined to conform within humanitarian ones, and not at all to be in accordance to the bible, the Koran, or any other religious document.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed in 1948, falls into the very same category.

I am under the impression that it is also the case for most if not all western countries. If any of you know of some in which the teachings of the bible (or other) is inscribed in the constitution, or was a model from which the constitution was elaborated, let me know, for I would find it very interesting.

And so, in this light, I don't see the point in re-writing the 10 commandments. They are a historical curiosity which, as you point out, reflects the era they were written in. For the purpose of their being applicable to our societies at the core level (meaning the constitution, the laws of the land, etc), they might as well stay as they are since they are irrelevant and don't come into play.

On the other hand, for those Christians who see them as relevant to their individual selves, then it would probably make sense to modernize them some. But this is out of my league, and it is for concerned christians to debate the issue. 

Posted by WhyNot
1/29/2005 03:49:00 pm  
*snort*
Most organized religions, not just Christian, seem to bear some kind of general resentment towards women, and pronounce all sorts of ways to control, degrade, and own us. It is the primary reason I refuse to attend any "church" of any religion. As for the more "progressive" Christian churches in the US (you know, the ones who let women be ministers and don't tell gay people they are going to Hell), even they insist on relying on the misogynistic Bible, and even get all misty-eyed about it. If the Bible were published today, it would be denounced as extremely violent, sexist, and bigoted. For me, the value I get out of reading the good parts of the Bible doesn't outweigh the price of the book I gave to support it's distribution. 

Posted by Sarah
1/29/2005 04:28:00 pm  
I agree with you completely Sarah. I quit going to church years ago, and do noot believe in any sort of organized religion. How can we be expected to follow, when Christians themselves can't even decied what they believe? And it's not just Christianity. The whole system has broken down and gotten so political, it's to the point that the original messages of Jesus, Muhammed, Buddah, and all of the others is just completely lost. How can it be ok for a priest to hide behind the cloth when he molests a child? 

Posted by angiekruger
1/29/2005 06:02:00 pm  
Sarah: "Most organized religions, not just Christian, seem to bear some kind of general resentment towards women..."

Yes, but Christianity is the only one which considers itself legitimate here in the States so I figured I'd focus on that. I agree, all western religions harbor hatred towards women. The Chinese submission of women comes from social philosophical texts and not their religions.

"If the Bible were published today, it would be denounced as extremely violent, sexist, and bigoted."

Umm... the Bible IS published today and for the most part in the US is not seen that way. That's the problem. That's why people need to speak out against its "moral teachings".

Angie: Religious institutions are annexes to the political structure. They always have been. Like consumer goods, Christianity is a tool used to control the unwashed masses. It's just another shiny toaster. 

Posted by starchybean
1/29/2005 06:33:00 pm  
Some might find this interesting.

The Standard Ten Commandments: Believed to have been written by the Long Island Secular Humanists in 1999:

We, the members of the human community speak these words, saying.

We shall not limit freedom of thought.
We shall not cause unnecessary harm to any living thing or the environment.
We shall be respectful of the rights of others.
We shall be honest.
We shall be responsible for our actions.
We shall be fair in all matters to all persons.
We shall be considerate of the happiness and well being of others.
We shall be reasonable in our actions.
We shall nurture these values by word & deed in our children, family, friends and acquaintances.
We shall not limit inquiring or testing by their consequences, on any matter, including these Commandments. 

Posted by Dianne
1/29/2005 08:44:00 pm  
With the exception of the 10th commandment, which if modified to say "spouse" instead of husband would probably mollify your core argument against the Commandments, which ones do you object to?

Regardless of whether they are being followed (and the 2nd and 3rd are routinely ignored by nearly all Americans), they are a fine set of rules to try to live by. Adaptation of basic moral tenets isn't required. Irrespective of which god you follow, if you obey those ten simple rules (substituting spouse for wife, of course), you cannot help but to live a much simpler, happier, and good life than most.

I don't pretend to say I live by all of them...but I strive to.



 

Posted by Buckwheat
1/29/2005 08:47:00 pm  
“if you obey those ten simple rules (substituting spouse for wife, of course), you cannot help but to live a much simpler, happier, and good life than most.”.

Very true, Buckwheat. But I think I much prefer Dianne's version of 10 commandments (the long island secular humanist one). I guess it's all the same, in the end: it's to do with humanitarian values, and has nothing to do with religion.

PS: “Buckwheat".... interesting name... isn't it one of the characters in Richard Adam's fabulous book “Watership Down”?  

Posted by WhyNot
1/29/2005 09:27:00 pm  
Were the first four Commandments enacted into law today they would violate the Constitution.

1.Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

2.Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or 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.Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

4.Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all they 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, thy manservant, nor they maidservant, nor they cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates.

Most of the others are redundant in today's society.


 

Posted by Dianne
1/29/2005 09:50:00 pm  
Actually, the name springs from the Little Rascals. My hair was, in my much younger days) a bit on the very wild and untamed side no matter what I did with it short of shaving my head...and someone once nicknamed me "Buckwheat".

So it goes.

...and I like Dianne's version, except for the last one. Morality is not negotiable is it's basics. If I find that freedom of thought has bad consequences, can I then negate her first comandment?

If i were to advocate the disposal of the Ten Commandments, I would replace them with but one.

"Do no harm to others". 

Posted by Buckwheat
1/29/2005 09:56:00 pm  
“The Little Rascals”.

I had never heard of them, but Dianne filled me in :-)

“If I find that freedom of thought has bad consequences, can I then negate her first comandment?”.

Ah, very good point, Buckwheat, and one that I know Dianne has problems conciliating. Should we allow TOTAL freedom of expression? Should we be putting a stop when clearly the words spoken out are filled with anti-humanitarian contents and likely to generate hatred/racism/whatnot and ultimately result in horrific consequences?

Very tricky. I personally would prefer to think we humans can grow up enough so that we don't need to restrict ANY freedom of expression, let alone freedom of thought (which, practically BTW, is pretty hard to do, LOL). I'd like to think we are able to see that some ideas are potentially bad news and even dangerous if put into practice, but that we don't need to censor ppl from expressing them in fear they will indeed become practical reality - we the masses should be able to listen to any war-mongering diatribe without feeling the urge to implement it.

But I concede it's a hard one to stick by, when we review humankind's history, which is full of bad ideas having spread and conquered the minds of the ppl and have turned time and time again into the most tragic deeds. 

Posted by WhyNot
1/29/2005 10:43:00 pm  
The basic stance of the ACLU serves us pretty well when allowed to: defend to the death total freedom of speech, UNLESS it causes harm to others, as Buckwheat said. In other words, while we must allow a group of neo-Nazis to hold a rally in Washington DC, we cannot yell "fire!" in a crowded theatre 

Posted by Sarah
1/30/2005 07:16:00 am  
BUCKWHEAT: "With the exception of the 10th commandment, which if modified to say "spouse" instead of husband would probably mollify your core argument against the Commandments, which ones do you object to?"

Actually, it doesn't... because the Christian government (not the Bush Administration: the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons) will never change that because they continue to believe women are property. It wouldnt' be the same Ten Commandments anyway if they did change it. I don't have to object to all of them; I object to one and therefore the Ten Commandments are for me, a flawed moral entity.

They are no longer being followed and thus no longer apply to modern society. That's the problem with the orthodox movement; oftentimes it denies change instead of reacting to fight against it. Change is happening. There's no way to avoid it. You can either be with it or against it, but if you're going to be against it create rules people can relate to. 

Posted by starchybean
1/30/2005 07:12:00 pm  
George Carlin did a routine about the Ten Commandments, and wound up with two. Here it is:

Here is my problem with the ten commandments- why exactly are there 10?

You simply do not need ten. The list of ten commandments was artificially and deliberately inflated to get it up to ten. Here's what happened:

About 5,000 years ago a bunch of religious and political hustlers got together to try to figure out how to control people and keep them in line. They knew people were basically stupid and would believe anything they were told, so they announced that God had given them some commandments, up on a mountain, when no one was around.

Well let me ask you this- when they were making this shit up, why did they pick 10? Why not 9 or 11? I'll tell you why- because 10 sound official. Ten sounds important! Ten is the basis for the decimal system, it's a decade, it's a psychologically satisfying number (the top ten, the ten most wanted, the ten best dressed). So having ten commandments was really a marketing decision! It is clearly a bullshit list. It's a political document artificially inflated to sell better. I will now show you how you can reduce the number of commandments and come up with a list that's a little more workable and logical. I am going to use the Roman Catholic version because those were the ones I was taught as a little boy.

Let's start with the first three:

I AM THE LORD THY GOD
THOU SHALT NOT HAVE STRANGE GODS BEFORE ME

THOU SHALT NOT TAKE THE NAME OF THE LORD THY GOD IN VAIN

THOU SHALT KEEP HOLY THE SABBATH
Right off the bat the first three are pure bullshit. Sabbath day? Lord's name? strange gods? Spooky language! Designed to scare and control primitive people. In no way does superstitious nonsense like this apply to the lives of intelligent civilized humans in the 21st century. So now we're down to 7. Next:

HONOR THY FATHER AND MOTHER Obedience, respect for authority. Just another name for controlling people. The truth is that obedience and respect shouldn't be automatic. They should be earned and based on the parent's performance. Some parents deserve respect, but most of them don't, period. You're down to six.

Now in the interest of logic, something religion is very uncomfortable with, we're going to jump around the list a little bit.

THOU SHALT NOT STEAL

THOU SHALT NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS
Stealing and lying. Well actually, these two both prohibit the same kind of behavior- dishonesty. So you don't really need two you combine them and call the commandment "thou shalt not be dishonest". And suddenly you're down to 5.

And as long as we're combining I have two others that belong together:

THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTRY

THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY NEIGHBOR'S WIFE
Once again, these two prohibit the same type of behavior. In this case it is marital infidelity. The difference is- coveting takes place in the mind. But I don't think you should outlaw fantasizing about someone else's wife because what is a guy gonna think about when he's waxing his carrot? But, marital fidelity is a good idea so we're gonna keep this one and call it "thou shalt not be unfaithful". And suddenly we're down to four.

But when you think about it, honesty and fidelity are really part of the same overall value so, in truth, you could combine the two honesty commandments with the two fidelity commandments and give them simpler language, positive language instead of negative language and call the whole thing "thou shalt always be honest and faithful" and we're down to 3.

THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY NEIGHBOR'S GOODSThis one is just plain fuckin' stupid. Coveting your neighbor's goods is what keeps the economy going! Your neighbor gets a vibrator that plays "o come o ye faithful", and you want one too! Coveting creates jobs, so leave it alone. You throw out coveting and you're down to 2 now- the big honesty and fidelity commandment and the one we haven't talked about yet:

THOU SHALT NOT KILLMurder. But when you think about it, religion has never really had a big problem with murder. More people have been killed in the name of god than for any other reason. All you have to do is look at Northern Ireland, Kashmir, the Inquisition, the Crusades, and the World Trade Center to see how seriously the religious folks take thou shalt not kill. The more devout they are, the more they see murder as being negotiable. It depends on who's doin the killin' and who's gettin' killed. So, with all of this in mind, I give you my revised list of the two commandments:

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.
Two is all you need; Moses could have carried them down the hill in his fuckin' pocket. I wouldn't mind those folks in Alabama posting them on the courthouse wall, as long as they provided one additional commandment:

Thou shalt keep thy religion to thyself. 

Posted by brogonzo
2/01/2005 04:53:00 pm  
The one part of the Bible that right-wingers always seem to ignore is Matthew 6. 

Posted by Sarah
2/01/2005 05:24:00 pm  
Brogonzo,

“George Carlin did a routine ...”.

ROFLOL, this is wonderful, thanks for sharing. This Carlin guy's spot on, plus he does a great & entertaining job of explaining what should be obvious to anybody with half a brain.

LOL, still laughing my head off, thanks again! 

Posted by WhyNot
2/01/2005 05:33:00 pm  
LOL Carlin always did have a way with words and putting things into perspective.

I didn't realize he was still active so I did a search on him. You can listen to an mp3 of his Ten Commandments on his site. http://www.georgecarlin.com/home/home.html

WhyNot is falling out of his chair.  

Posted by Dianne
2/01/2005 05:34:00 pm  

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