Thursday, August 12, 2004

The Ten Commandments

Can you believe that people are still going on about the Ten Commandments monument that was removed from an Alabama courthouse last year? In fact, it's going on tour! Somewhat sane supporters say that the Ten Commandments are the foundation of our laws, and are appropriate symbols of legal history. Insane supporters say that the United States is or should be an overtly Christian nation and the Ten Commandments should be in court rooms as a moral guide.

The opposition have always considered the case from the point of view of legality. Legally, they argue, the Ten Commandments are an endorsement of Christianity and unconstitutional. Imagine being a Muslim or (shudder) an atheist standing trial with a two-ton Judeo-Christian rulebook guiding the decisions of the judge and jurors. It simply isn't fair, and the opposition to the Ten Commandments is entirely justified.

However, the news rarely gets into whether, even if it were legal to have the Ten Commandments in a courthouse, they should be there in the first place. Proponents argue that they are the basis of modern laws. But are they?


Then God spoke all these words: I am Yahweh, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. 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. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, Yahweh, 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, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of Yahweh, your God, for Yahweh will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to Yahweh, 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. For in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore Yahweh blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that Yahweh, your God, is giving you. 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 male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Exodus 20:1-17]

In other words . . .

I. Don't worship anther god: not a law.

II. Don't make idols: not a law.

III. Don't say God's name in vain: not a law.

IV. Keep the Sabbath holy: not a law.

V. Honor your parents: not a law.

VI. Don't kill: a law!

VII. Don't commit adultery: not a law.

VII. Don't steal: a law!

IX. Don't lie: sometimes a law.

X. Don't covet: not a law.

So, at best, two and a half of the Ten Commandments are even related to our laws, and I don't think anyone could seriously propose that they are the origin of these ideas, since they are pretty much always illegal everywhere. Ironically, Yahweh approves of people both killing and stealing in many places in the Bible.

What's really funny is that there are two sets of ten commandments that Yahweh gives to Moses. The set listed above, and generally supported by the fanatics, is never called "The Ten Commandments" in the Bible. In Exodus 20, Yahweh tells them to Moses and then tells him a whole bunch of other laws. In Exodus 31, Yahweh puts the ten on two stone tablets. However, Moses gets mad and breaks them before ordering the Levite priests to slaughter 3,000 people. So, Moses makes two new tablets and Yahweh writes twn commandments on them in Exodus 34. This time, they are called the Ten Commandments by name, the ten that everyone should remember. And this time, they read like this.

I. Don't worship any other gods.

II. Do not make idols.

III. Celebrate the festival of unleavened bread.

IV. Sacrifice the firstborn of every cow and sheep.

V. Rest every seventh day.

VI. Celebrate the festival of weeks.

VII. All males must appear before Yahweh three times a year.

VIII. Don't offer sacrificial blood with leaven.

IX. Bring the best of the "firstfruits" to the house of Yahweh.

X. Don't boil a baby goat in its mother's milk.

Yeah. I don't see the fanatics clammoring to get those ten posted, the only ten actually called the Ten Commandments!

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