Deconstructing The Ten Commandments
It is difficult and annoying trying to keep track of all the religious-driven legislation this session in Oklahoma.
The right-wing Republican agenda has become exclusively theocratic. The local GOP bigwigs have apparently given up on secular, state government. They have allowed the religious kooks in their party to hijack their platform, and, of course, Oklahoma Democrats are helping them as much as they can.
The state’s corporate media, as usual, is oblivious or somehow incredulously believes theocratic government will help their declining businesses thrive.
So here we are in Oklahoma, circa 2006. Republican Sally Kern’s House bills would allow the teaching of intelligent design, or neocreationism, in schools, and allow students to practice their religion during school hours. The local religious extremist has also floated a bill that will force libraries to keep books away from children she personally deems inappropriate because of her religious views.
There is another intelligent design bill making its way through the Senate. There are four bills that will restrict access to abortion pending in the legislature.
State Rep. Thad Balkman's bill allowing pharmacists to refuse to dispense the "morning after" pill has already passed the House. Balkman, a Norman Republican, has also been aligned with the creationism-in-schools movement in the state.
Some political observers say there are legislators waiting to introduce language into some random bill that would make abortion illegal in Oklahoma if the U.S. Supreme Court rules that states can make abortion illegal and the people vote to do so.
This is from the state’s Progressive News organization:
“HB-2803 makes abortion illegal in Oklahoma if/when the Supreme Court strikes down Roe v Wade -- pending certification by the Oklahoma Attorney General and a vote of the people.
“The bill is dormant in a House committee and the deadline has passed for getting it out of committee. However, this language could be inserted into another bill on the House floor.”
Now the Oklahoma Senate has passed a bill sponsored by James Williamson (R-Tulsa), on a 45-1 vote, that would essentially give counties permission and money to place monuments of the Ten Commandments on public grounds. Only State Sen. Bernest Cain (D-Oklahoma City) voted against this ridiculous measure, and he should be commended for his action.
Under the bill, a fund would be established to give Oklahoma counties money to defend lawsuits brought by people who believe in the separation of church and state. Although millions upon millions of American citizens and thousands of Oklahomans believe in separation, we actually will have to use our own money in the form of tax dollars to defend religious intrusion in government.
A trial is set to begin in May over this issue in Haskell County, which has placed a Ten Commandments monument on courthouse grounds. A local resident, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, have filed a suit against the county. This bill would give counties like Haskell County taxpayers’ money to fight the ACLU and others.
The Ten Commandments issue is cropping up throughout America. Emboldened by their immoral president and the GOP, the right-wing fundamentalists are on a Christian crusade.
I believe placing Ten Commandments monuments on public grounds is an obvious, direct violation of the First Amendment.
I want to approach this issue differently, however. I argue the Ten Commandments are morally repugnant, vague, and outdated. They have constructed a conventional narrative, a framework of reality, in the Judeo-Christian tradition that has led to immense suffering in the Western World. They have created deep psychological pain, contradiction, lying, and helplessness. They destroy lives, in very real ways, with their irrationality and paradoxes and expectations. We are better off without these ten hypocrisy-producing absurdities. I am not the first to argue this, of course. Others agree the commandments are immoral.
The Ten Commandments, or Decalogue, come initially from the Book of Exodus in the Bible’s Old Testament. Moses goes up to the mountaintop and God gives him the commandments. Here is the full passage:
"God spoke all these words, saying: I am God your Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, from the place of slavery. Do not have any other gods before Me. Do not represent [such] gods by any carved statue or picture of anything in the heaven above, on the earth below, or in the water below the land. Do not bow down to [such gods] or worship them. I am God your Lord, a God who demands exclusive worship. Where My enemies are concerned, I keep in mind the sin of the fathers for [their] descendants, to the third and fourth [generation]. But for those who love Me and keep My commandments, I show love for thousands [of generations]. Do not take the name of God your Lord in vain. God will not allow the one who takes His name in vain to go unpunished. Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy. You can work during the six weekdays and do all your tasks. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God your Lord. Do not do anything that constitutes work. [This includes] you, your son, your daughter, your slave, your maid, your animal, and the foreigner in your gates. It was during the six weekdays that God made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. God therefore blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Honor your father and mother. You will then live long on the land that God your Lord is giving you. Do not commit murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not testify as a false witness against your neighbor. Do not be envious of your neighbor's house. Do not be envious of your neighbor's wife, his slave, his maid, his ox, his donkey, or anything else that is your neighbor's."
Before, I deconstruct each commandment, I point out the immoral reference to slaves in the above sentence, “[This includes] you, your son, your daughter, your slave, your maid, your animal, and the foreigner in your gates.” If we honor these commandments and believe in this Biblical passage, do we not also support slavery? This is morally repugnant. And if we qualify the slavery issue somehow—oh that was so long ago, etc.—then does it not follow that we can interpret each commandment as we wish, to read them in historical context?
Here are the commandments. I’m using an “accepted” Protestant version. Of course, the Christians, the “literalists and fundamentalists,” cannot agree on an accepted text because of translation and interpretation issues. Besides, all the commandments originally come from texts that predate the Bible. I give the commandment in bold, and then follow it with commentary in regular type.
(1) Thou shalt have no other gods before me. If this was such an great all-powerful, loving God, he would prove his existence, and then this commandment would be obsolete.
(2) 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. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. This commandment shows the God we are supposed to believe in to be "jealous,” insecure, capricious, and revengeful. Do these “values” then create the framework of the morality and value system we are supposed to accept?
(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. Again, this is a “God” of insecurity, an obsessive paranoid, a ruthless dictator. Why will he simply not prove his existence?
(4) Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy 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 thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. So next Sunday note all the people who professed to be Christian break this commandment. And if it is okay for the Christians to say that some commandments do not apply to today’s world, then isn’t it okay to completely discard the entire package?
(5) Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee. It is simply unbelievable the amount of pain and suffering this basic idea has caused in our culture. Are abused children supposed to honor their abusers at the cost of their lives?
(6) Thou shalt not kill. But is okay for American presidents like George Bush and his supporters to take actions that result in the deaths of innocent people and still stay aligned with the commandments. But it is okay the same people who want the Ten Commandments monuments on courthouse grounds are the main supporters of the death penalty in this country.
(7) Thou shalt not commit adultery. This commandment completely denies the reality of the world in both historical and contemporary terms. It gives language to a particular framework that has resulted in a countless number of ruined marriages and unhappy children of divorced parents.
(8) Thou shalt not steal. But those who primarily believe in these commandments sanction stealing everyday, from price-gouging energy companies to politicians who take money from unethical corporate lobbyists to corporate executives who steal from stockholders.
(9) Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. The lies of the right-wing in this country today will go down in world history as one of biggest con jobs ever perpetuated on a democratic republic. But, again, these are the same people who are pushing to have the commandments placed on public grounds. The commandments then serve to validate their lies.
(10) 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. But isn’t this capitalism, especially the right-wing “the-market-is-everything” capitalism we have grown used to under the Bush administration? The right-wing Christians, within the framework of capitalism, support and even celebrate the idea of “coveting” in every aspect of their ideology.
The commandments construct an immoral, jealous, capricious God and a set of obvious contradictions among their supporters.
So then these “values”—jealousy, anger, lying, hypocrisy—will be the foundation of our government in the coming theocracy?
We need to really think about the commandments and discuss them truthfully and openly before we allow the right-wing to start plastering them all over our public institutions.
What the right-wing will say is the commandments give us a moral framework. Ironically, the most ardent supporters of the Ten Commandments are those that most often break the commandments.
Some of the commandments are fundamentally immoral and repugnant. Some commandments create hypocrisy and psychological contradiction. They are outdated, weird and vague. We should not allow them in our public institutions for these reasons alone.