Ten Commandments Redux

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.