Disclaimer: I don’t believe in God or any of that smug organised religion stuff. I used to a long time ago, and studied it hard. Now I believe that we are our own gods. The idea of an all-powerful deity who thought that a spot of human sacrifice 2,000 years ago was a Good Idea just doesn’t cut it for me. Sorry if that offends you, move along please.
Disclaimer 2: This is a Long Post. Be warned!
I find the 10 Commandments fascinating. As a set of rules to live by, they’re both wonderfully succinct and badly flawed at the same time. Their creators certainly knew a thing or two about human nature. It’s likely that the Commandments originated from a few sources, including the Egyptian Book of the Dead and Persian worship of Ahura Mazda. Sorry, folks – Christianity had it’s origins as a pantheistic religion centred around Iran and Iraq. Y’know, those places y’all hate so much. Funny how things turn out, isn’t it?
Anyhow, the 10 Commandments. They’re flawed. For a start, there are two versions of them, and they’re different. According to Exodus 20, this is what God said to Moses:
– cut –
- 1 And God spoke all these words, saying:
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.
4 “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;
5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work,
10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 “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.”
You can read the other version here. That’s the version dictated to Moses after he broke the tablets containing the first. The bottom line though is that they’re clearly not the same.
That’s the first flaw. Did God change his mind, or what?
Should we follow the Commandments laid out above, or the later one which says that “All that open the womb are Mine” and talks about observing the Feast of Weeks and “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk” but curiously omits adultery and murder.
I suggest we stick with the first. God was clearly having one of His more bizarre days the second time around. Hey, it happens to us all.
The first two Commandments are interesting from a monotheistic perspective. The first boils down to “Don’t worship other Gods” and the second is “Don’t make false Gods”. This clearly shows Christianity’s pantheistic origins. What’s the point in God telling you not to worship other Gods if they don’t exist? Especially considering it’s further quantified by the second Commandment telling you not to make any fake ones.
If you believe in the One God then surely there must be other Gods too. The Bible says so, and right here in the Ten Commandments!
The third Commandment is usually misinterpreted and belittled as meaning “don’t swear”, but it’s implications, especially in the modern age, are much wider. It means “Don’t say ‘God made me do it.’”. Don’t claim to be acting and speaking on behalf of God when you’re not. Considering that both George Bush and Tony Blair have claimed that God gave then the Holy Nod about invading Iraq, I’d say that they have an eternity of damnation waiting for them just for violating this one Commandment.
This highlights another problem with the Commandments. There are no punishments listed. Nowhere does it say “…or you’ll rot in Hell”, or “…else you will be put to death” or whatever. Are the Commandments equal? Is working on the Sabbath as wrong as, say, murder? God didn’t say. Bummer.
All we can assume is that these are the Real Deal. God’s final word. His Law, so to speak. There’s no punishment listed because it’s unthinkable that anyone would disobey them.
God clearly isn’t a realist.
Like most folks, I’ve broken at least one. Bush and Blair have broken at least four (Taken the Lord’s name in vain, committed murder, coveting (oil, in this case) and bearing false witness, in case you’re counting). And they say they’re men of God. Sheesh.
The Commandments are also absolute. There’s no “….except in this case” tacked at the end. That’s fine for most of them. “Don’t worship other Gods, ever.”, “Don’t make false idols, ever.”. OK, no problem with those. Some of them could have really done with a little more clarification though.
We’re told Don’t murder, period. There’s no “…except when the fetus is under 8 weeks” or “…..but it’s ok as my CO says he’s a terrorist” or “….unless he killed someone too.”. That’s both a strength and a weakness. Absolutism is laudable, but there will be exceptions. There will be times when taking a life is the only route to take, for example when a life support machine is the only thing keeping someone alive, or if a mother’s life is in danger during pregnancy. Are the doctors breaking this commandment by acting? I don’t know, and that’s why clarification is so lacking here.
As they stand, the Commandments split into two sections. The first four focus on respecting God, and from a religious stance they’re great. The last six deal with more earthly matters; those six could form the cornerstones of any secular society and would stand the tests of time. Despite the weaknesses of the Ten Commandments, you’d be hard pushed to find a better set of rules to live by.
And that, really, is what religion is all about.