After the famed “Scopes Monkey Trial,” it might seem the state of Tennessee would avoid doing anything that put religion on display in a public place. Apparently, no wise men reside in the state because an old truism says, "a word to the wise is sufficient," State Representative, Matthew Hill, is trying an end-run around the constitution by introducing a bill to display the commands as a historical artifact. Tennessee has a losing record in trying to post the commandments as recent history shows them with a record of 0-4.
The Big Ten
Unfortunately, despite the nationwide public relations effort and the great Cecil B. DeMille, the Ten Commandments as a source of moral guidance are nearly irrelevant. Even a cursory examination reveals no groundbreaking ethos or morals that had not appeared before the Bible. In fact, the casual reader might find the 10 Commandments not to be anything like the ones in the movie.
For instance, the Ten Commandments religionist fight to post in schools and courthouses, are not the familiar ones from the movie by the same name. Most people do not know this and probably do not care. What Christians erroneously call the "Ten Commandments" show up twice in the Bible, at Exodus 20:1-17 and at Deuteronomy 5:6-21. (NIV)
Laws regarding human behavior surfaced long before the Hebrews came up with the “big ten.” Despite the majesty of Cecil B. DeMille’s great movie, even a cursory examination reveals there is little meat on the bone. Of the 10 Commandments, only two translate into today’s modern secular law; “Thou shalt kill and Thou shalt not steal.” Even a moral midget can figure the latter and the former is common sense.
Unfortunately,”thou shalt kill,” leaves far too much open to interpretation. It doesn't cover war, crusades, witch-hunts, inquisitions, self-defense or state sanctioned killing. Perhaps, no killing means just what it says--no killing. Apparently, no one saw fit to leave any addendums or codicils to cover life beyond the beginning of the Common Era, which is difficult to reconcile with omniscience. Still, no killing makes sense and that's probably why even the Egyptians had laws against it long before the Ten Commandments.
The advisement not to commit adultery or lie, rank as two fair suggestions for staying out of harm’s way. Violating either could cause loss of friends, family and even one’s life. Interestingly, research from evangelical researcher, George Barna, shows that adultery is just as common among Christians as the rest of society. Adultery definitely ranks as a major character flaw, but has no place as a law in modern society other than as a possible reason for divorce and, depending on the circumstances that may be unrealistic also.
Lying covers a wide range, but it is the most common infraction in the world, practiced by Christians as well as nonbelievers. The rule against lying has no amendments or codicils that make exceptions of “white lies” or lies to protect another’s feelings or even their life. A lie is a lie is a lie.
Honor thy father and mother. This is an excellent piece of advice, but as law it is worse than terrible, it is irresponsible. Some parents are barely worthy of the names “father” or “mother” much less being required to honor them. Obviously there were good intentions behind the command, but a little omniscience would reveal that not every parent is worthy of respect. Perhaps, there should be a commandment to honor your sons and daughters that might help end child abuse and deaths because of fatal faith healing.
Jimmy Lusted in his Heart
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods. Both of these are offshoots of thou shalt not steal as a wife was considered property. This is a preemptive strike making even thinking about it a sin. This could be useful in curbing thoughts that could lead to a crime but it is far too vague. Useless.
Thou shalt not use the lord's name in vain. Blasphemy! This is a victimless crime. No harm—no foul. Besides, an all-powerful God surely can deal with those that break this commandment. If he chooses to do nothing, any action by a mere human suggests that God is not as powerful as advertised. Besides, this is a terrible idea, especially when punishments all lead to death—an obviously bad law with an even worse punishment.
Don't make graven images. This no help at all and is another victimless crime. Keep the Sabbath holy. We live in a 24/7 world and this has absolutely no effect on human behavior especially when no one is really sure of the Sabbath. Popular thought would place the Sabbath on Sunday, but since the Bible is a Jewish construction, the Sabbath comes on Saturday. Laws preventing businesses from opening on Sundays are little more than quaint “little” rules from the past.
Thou shalt not worship other Gods. Again, this is another victimless crime, but it is a curious law at best in that it implies there are other gods, otherwise, why the law if there is only one god? With the history of religion that includes the Crusades, the Inquisition and suicide bombers, a better command might have been better to say thou shalt not worship any Gods.
Clearly, the 10 Commandments fall ignominiously short as a moral guide for human beings. Where are the laws against rape and child abuse? Looking at the secular law in the smallest municipality reveals a clearer understanding of human behavior than any version of the 10 Commandments. Most people don’t plan to die—ever, even though they know it is part of the human condition and that includes religionists that regularly sin thinking they always have time to “get right” with God.
There is absolutely no doubt that human law is more comprehensive, more effective and more merciful than anything written in the 10 Commandments because it poses real consequences in the here and now. With as much attention that Christianity pays to sex, who practices it, how they practice it and with whom, you’d think the 10 Commandments might have mentioned something about it. Some might say the commandment to not commit adultery covers it, but that law was about property (wives and daughters).
For the an item that raises so much concern among American Christians, it would seem rules for sexual behavior would be listed among the guidelines. So important were they that Moses had to climb into the mountains to receive them, struggle back down the mountain carrying the stone tablets and then smash them to smithereens because his “homeboys and girls” decided to party while he was gone.
There are even the Ten Commandments of the Jews, Catholics and Protestants. Each is different, but I am not going to list them unless specifically asked to do so. They are on the web somewhere. However, I am going to list the “Ten Punishments,” because you will notice that the God of the Hebrews had a one-track mind.
1. Exodus 22:20 He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the Lord only, he shall be utterly destroyed.
2. Leviticus 24:16 And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death.
3. Exodus 31:15 Whosoever doeth any work in the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.
4. Exodus 21:15 He that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.
5. Exodus 21:17 He that curseth his father or his mother, shall surely be put to death.
6. Exodus 22:19 Whosoever lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death.
7. Leviticus 20:13 If a man lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death.
8. Leviticus 20:10 And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.
9. Mark 16:16 He that believeth not, shall be damned.
10. Mal. 2:1-4: And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you. If you will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart to give glory to my name,... behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces.
Now, put that in your thurible and smoke it. Such a friendly and forgiving God unlike his son, who showed himself to be mean-spirited, caught up in receiving money and totally disgusted with the poor and sick. Now, since the 10 Commandments come up short in so many areas, the following is a compilation of suggestions for improvement:
1. Thou shalt not cause harm
2. Thou shalt educate thyself
3. Thou shalt always ask questions
4. Thou shalt never believe anything without independent verification
5. Thou shalt consider other points of view
6. Thou shalt not rape.
7. Thou shalt not do violence.
8. Thou shalt not lie in any form (see number 1)
9. Thou shalt not fight. (see number 7)
10. Thou shalt not steal
11. Thou shalt not cause harm to one’s self (see number 1)
12. Thou shalt not threaten
13. Thou shalt not torture (see number 7)
14. Thou shalt not cheat
15. Thou shalt not deceive (see number 14)
16. Thou shalt adhere to both the letter and the spirit of the law.
17. Thou shalt not hate
18. Thou shalt make every effort to make amends.
19. Thou shalt not perform sexual acts with children.
20. Thou shalt not knowingly introduce others to harm. (see number 1)
As George Bernard Shaw said, "No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says. He is always convinced that it says what he means." Clearly and unfortunately, humans decide what is good by standards not handed down by God, but from their ideas of what “should” be. Of course, this list does not cover it all, but it’s a start.