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Ten Commandments Redux

Gil Gaudia

How many people who claim to be Christians and believers in the Bible and want desperately for the Ten Commandments to become part of secular society, actually know anything about or understand the meaning of these ten prescriptions for the "good life"? We are constantly hearing in the press and on television of plans, legislation and recommendations to have the Ten Commandments inscribed on schoolhouse walls, courthouse masonry and all manner of public statuary and architecture. How many people really have considered the implications that trying to adhere to these rules would have for our democracy? How would it be possible for any group go about actually incorporating these rules into our public daily lives?

To begin with, there are several sets of rules or orders that go under the rubric of the "Ten Commandments" which were allegedly handed down by God to Moses. Right here we have a problem, because the first set which were inscribed on stone tablets were smashed by Moses in a fit of pique. These were conveniently replaced by God as claimed in Exodus 34:1 and described in Deuteronomy. This would pose the first problem for advocates of decalogic advertising. Which of the two sets would be chosen for inscription on hallowed walls or pediments? In other words how would we choose between the two groups of rules, the originals that were destroyed, and their replacements which are considerably different from the first? All of this assumes that Exodus and Deuteronomy contain lists of ten commands which anyone can find and read and are labelled or called "Ten Commandments". I challenge anyone to point out where they are and quote them. Most experts would claim they are in Exodus, Chapter 20 verses 1 to 17. What we find here are seventeen statements, thirteen of which are of the "Thou shalt" type. These have been condensed into ten and are purportedly the ten commands that were given by God to the entire universe to be followed by all its inhabitants (See The Ten Commandmants, a book by Joseph Lewis, Freethought Press, 1946).

And if this alone were not enough of a problem, it so happens that there are actually three varieties of each of the aforementioned two versions, thereby making a total of six--yes count them, six--commonly accepted ways to describe these statements, namely the Protestant, Catholic and Jewish translatons. Since Protestants, Catholics and Jews all translate, write, read and describe their Ten Commandments differently, we would now be faced with a choice among six sets of ten rules purporting to be a harmonizing and unifying theme for our society and which would actually become a major source of societal conflict and confusion, because there is little probability that given an open discussion of the quality usually displayed by our political leaders that any agreement would be reached among them on this topic.

So how would we proceed therefore to identify and then agree upon which, how and where these marvellous words would appear for all of us to be uplifted and miraculously made into better citizens of our country? Citizens who would, according to at least one version of the decalogue, for example, kill less, steal less, work less (Yes, for those of you who haven't read the Good Book lately, one commandment is to take The Sabbath Day off; that includes K-Mart) and even swear less . I hesitate to mention "covet less" because I'm not sure what "covet" means in a society where most people want a Mercedes like their neighbor's or anything that Martha Stewart has to offer. The biblical phrase that includes "covet" goes something like "Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbor's wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbor's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is thy neighbor's." In a society filled and fueled by the vulgarians of advertising, television, Hollywood and politics this may be the most difficult concept to get across to our fellow eternal sucklings, to use Theodor Adorno's phrase.

I submit that when anyone argues that the "Ten Commandments" should be taught in our public schools", or included in some other aspect of society's function, then that individual has in mind some edited translation of someone else's simplified conception of what he or she thinks is found in the table of contents of some version (acceptable to that individual) of the Bible. In my opinion, nothing will be more difficult to accomplish or be less desireable.

"Ten Commandments Redux" is copyright © 2001 by G J Gaudia.
The electronic version is copyright © 2001 Internet Infidels.


  Bible, Bible: Old Testament, Ten Commandments

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