JR'S Free Thought Pages
Thoughts on the Ten Commandments
Quite regularly we hear about The Ten Commandments from news services in the United States. It’s not an issue anywhere else in the free world but to those rabidly religious folks to the south of us, it’s a big deal. The news is usually about someone’s insistence on posting the Christian God’s rules in some public place, like a courtroom, library or above a urinal. And there’s still a big movement by evangelicals to regress back into the Dark Ages and have, along with the Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, National Anthem and other appeals to God and country back into the classroom. God Bless America!
The primary problem with the Ten Commandments which we are informed by Christians that we must follow at our peril is that they are for the most part useless as a moral guide to any enlightened person in the 21st century. But more importantly, only two of them can be seriously claimed to have anything to do with ethics. Even “Thou shalt not kill” a categorical pronouncement, could never be followed without resulting in death to anyone who took it literally. Something had to die every time you feed yourself or opt for a vaccination that kills a deadly virus or bacteria. Perhaps if we replaced “kill” with “murder” (unjustified or immoral killing) it might make some sense.
Perhaps a little humour can shine some light on the problem. I introduce you to George Carlin’s take on the Ten Commandments, followed by my own revised secular version of the Big Ten.
George Carlin: The Ten Commandments
I have a problem with the Ten Commandments. Here it is: Why are there ten? We don't need that many. I think the list of commandments was deliberately and artificially inflated to get it up to ten. It's clearly a padded list.
Here's how it happened: About five thousand years ago, a bunch of religious and political hustlers got together to figure out how they could control people and keep them in line. They knew people were basically stupid and would believe anything they were told, so these guys announced that God— God personally—had given one of them a list of Ten Commandments that he wanted everyone to follow. They claimed the whole thing took place on a mountaintop, when no one else was around.
But let me ask you something: When these guys were sittin' around the tent makin' all this up, why did they pick ten? Why ten? Why not nine, or eleven? I'll tell you why. Because ten sounds important. Ten sounds official. They knew if they tried eleven, people wouldn't take them seriously. People would say, "What're you kiddin' me? The Eleven Commandments? Get the fuck outta here!"
But ten! 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 deciding on Ten Commandments was clearly a marketing decision. And it's obviously a bullshit list. In truth, it's a politic; document, artificially inflated to sell better.
I'm going to show you how you can reduce the number of commandments and come up with a list that's a bit more logical and realistic. We'll start with the first three, and I'll use the Roman Catholic version because those are the ones I was fed as a little boy.
• I AM
THE LORD THY GOD, THOU SHALT NOT HAVE STRANGE
SHALT NOT TAKE THE NAME OF THE LORD THY GOD IN
• THOU SHALT KEEP HOLY THE SABBATH.
Okay, right off the bat, the first three commandments—pure bullshit "Sabbath day," "Lord's name," "strange gods." Spooky language. Spooky language designed to scare and control primitive people. In no way does superstitious mumbo jumbo like this apply to the lives of intelligent, civilized human in the twenty-first century. You throw out the first three commandments, am you're down to seven.
•HONOR THY FATHER AND MOTHER.
This commandment is about obedience and respect for authority; in other words it's simply a device for controlling people. The truth is, obedience and respect should not be granted automatically. They should be earned. They should be based on the parents' (or the authority figure's) performance. Some parents deserve respect. Most of them don't. Period. We're down to six.
Now, in the interest of logic—something religion has a really hard time with—I'm going to skip around the list a little bit:
• THOU SHALT NOT STEAL.
• THOU SHALT NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS.
Stealing and lying. Actually, when you think about it, these two commandments cover the same sort of behavior: dishonesty. Stealing and lying. So we don't need two of them. Instead, we combine these two and call it "Thou shalt not be dishonest." Suddenly we're down to five.
And as long as we're combining commandments I have two others that belong together:
• THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTERY.
• THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY NEIGHBOR'S WIFE.
Once again, these two prohibit the same sort of behavior; in this case, marital infidelity. The difference between them is that coveting takes place in the mind. And I don't think you should outlaw fantasizing about someone else's wife, otherwise what's a guy gonna think about when he's flogging his dong?
But marital fidelity is a good idea, so I suggest we keep the idea and call this commandment "Thou shalt not be unfaithful." Suddenly we're down to four.
And when you think about it further, honesty and fidelity are actually parts of the same overall value. So, in truth, we could combine the two honesty commandments with the two fidelity commandments, and, using positive language instead of negative, call the whole thing "Thou shalt always be honest and faithful." And now we're down to three.
•THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY NEIGHBOR'S GOODS.
This one is just plain stupid. Coveting your neighbor's goods is what keeps the economy going: Your neighbor gets a vibrator that plays "O Come All Ye Faithful," you want to get one, too. Coveting creates jobs. Leave it alone.
You throw out coveting and you're down to two now: the big, combined honesty/fidelity commandment, and the one we haven't mentioned yet:
•THOU SHALT NOT KILL.
Murder. The Fifth Commandment. But, if you give it a little thought, you realize that religion has never really had a problem with murder. Not really. More people have been killed in the name of God than for any other reason.
To cite a few examples, just think about Irish history, the Middle East, the Crusades, the Inquisition, our own abortion-doctor killings and, yes, the World Trade Center to see how seriously religious people take Thou Shalt Not Kill. Apparently, to religious folks—especially the truly devout—murder is negotiable. It just depends on who's doing the killing and who's getting killed.
And so, with all of this in mind, folks, I offer you my revised list of the Two Commandments:
SHALT ALWAYS BE HONEST AND FAITHFUL, ESPECIALLY
SHALT TRY REAL HARD NOT TO KILL ANYONE, UNLESS,
Two is all you need, folks. Moses could have carried them down the hill in his pocket. And if we had a list like that, I wouldn't mind that brilliant judge in Alabama displaying it prominently in his courthouse lobby. As long he included one additional commandment:
•THOU SHALT KEEP THY RELIGION TO THYSELF!!!
From George Carlin – When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops ? (2004)
A Free Thinkers Ten Commandments
(1) Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.
(2) In all things, strive to cause no harm.
(3) Treat your fellow human beings, your fellow living things, and the world in general with love, honesty, faithfulness and respect.
Corollary: Do not discriminate on the basis of sex, race or species.
(4) Do not overlook evil or shrink from administering justice, but always be ready to forgive wrongdoing freely admitted and honestly regretted.
(5) Live life with a sense of joy, curiosity and wonder.
(6) Always seek to be learning something new.
(7) Test all things; always check your ideas against the facts, and be ready to discard even a cherished belief if it does not conform to them.
(8) Never seek to censor or cut yourself off from dissent; always respect the right of others to disagree with you.
(9) Form independent opinions on the basis of your own reason and experience; do not allow yourself to be led blindly by others.
(10) Do not blindly follow authority. Question everything.
Corollary: Respect the future of your child’s intellectual autonomy by not indoctrinating them with 2000 year old beliefs. Children are not chattels like your personal computer or pet dog. Teach them how to think rationally, independently and critically, how to asses evidence and how to disagree with you.