Kemo D. (kemo_d7) wrote,
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Kemo's Church

Welcome back to the Church! Today we're going to talk about The Ten Commandments or THE TEN TABOOS.. 

Since most Atheists operate at ethical levels far above that of the Ten Commandments, many Atheists seem to have forgotten just how flawed a system the commandments represent. It seems necessary, therefore, to review them critically for modern readers.


First Amendment Or First Commandment?

As we shall see later, there are at least three different sets of "Ten Commandments" in the bible. We will begin our examination of these would-be guides to the upright life by considering the version of the commandments that appears in the fifth chapter of Deuteronomy.


We commence with Commandment No. 1:


Thou shalt have none other gods before me.


Of what moral value is this? All it is, is a telling bit of evidence that the particular god in question is patterned after petty oriental potentates and is very jealous and intolerant of competition. What is a Hindu child in a Kentucky school to do? The commandment requires him to prefer Jehovah to Krishna. The first commandment is of no use for moral purposes, and it flatly violates the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which prohibits any establishment of religion. Americans, whether they live in Kentucky or not, must make a choice: The First Amendment or the First Commandment. They can't have both. Of course we know that Rehnquist is scornful of the idea that there should be a separation between state and church. But does he seriously think that all Americans must not only believe in Yahweh, but must prefer him to all other beings believed to go bump in the night?


Thou Shalt Not Make Thee Any Graven Image - Unless Thou Art Catholic

Like the First, the Second Commandment is totally devoid of moral content. In fact, Catholic catechisms do not even list it as a separate commandment. (Muslims, of course, take it very seriously.) It reads:


Thou shalt not make 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 waters beneath the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto 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...


Now Mr. Rehnquist appears to think that the Ten Commandments are the foundation of the Common Law in America. Not only does this commandment rule out old-fashioned printing-presses (as well as any freedom thereof!), since images were often engraved upon the plates they used, it flies in the face of the most fundamental ideas of justice known - in the Common Law or elsewhere. It says that Yahweh holds the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren responsible for the deeds of their ancestors if the latter committed a "crime" such as engraving a fish upon a rock. Can anything more un-American than the Second Commandment be imagined? All of society would fall apart if everyone tried to emulate the god of the Second Commandment.


Thou Shalt Not Take The Name Of Thy Lord In Vain - Thy Currency Excepted

Moving on to the third commandment, we read:


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.


Where is there any moral content in this commandment? How is a person a bad citizen simply because he or she takes a god's name "in vain"? Most people have no idea what this commandment refers to at all, unless they have studied anthropology. The ancient Jews, like the Egyptians from whom they borrowed many of their superstitions, believed that people and gods alike possessed secret names. If anyone learned the secret name of a person or god, that person or god could be controlled magically by using the secret name in incantations, spells, or curses. The priests, like Moses, claimed to know the secret names of their gods and goddesses and could, therefore, get the deities to cooperate with humans - for a fee, of course, and privileges.

It is important to note that this commandment has nothing to do with "dirty" language. The only four-letter word forbidden by it is the word "Yahweh" - which requires only four letters to be written in Hebrew. Now if people started frivolously "taking the name of the Lord in vain," the poor old Lord would be so busy following everyone's whims that he would trip over himself trying to come and go simultaneously. But not only would taking Yahweh's name in vain cause problems, calling on that desert deity even for important reasons would soon get out of hand, considering the population explosion (even allowing for the massacres periodically ordered by the jealous Jehovah). And so, in the commandment recorded in Lev. 24:16 [New English Bible (NEB) translation], we read: "Whoever utters the Name of the Lord shall be put to death."

It would seem that this would rule out vocal prayer in the public schools of Tel Aviv as well as
Kentucky. Moreover, in the interpretation of Orthodox Jews, it rules out even the printing of the English word "God." According to their requirements, American money would all have to be reprinted to read "In G-d we trust."


Remember The Sabbath Day - To Keep It Wholly Miserable for Thyself and Thy Neighbors 

The Fourth Commandment, like the first three, also violates the First Amendment. But this commandment is worse than the previous three: not only does it have no obvious positive significance, it has a great deal of evil behind it. The commandment reads [
NEB version]:


Keep the sabbath day holy as the Lord your God commanded you. You have six days to labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; that day you shall not do any work, neither you, your son or your daughter, your slave or your slave-girl, your ox, your ass, or any of your cattle, nor the alien within your gates, so that your slaves and slave-girls may rest as you do...


Now while it is nice to have a day of rest every now and then, there is no reason to suppose it is better on Saturday than on Tuesday. There is nothing inherently moral about Saturday. And we may note with disapproval that the commandment presupposes the institution of slavery.

Nowhere does the bible say "thou shalt not keep slaves." On the basis of the Fourth Commandment, we must suppose that Mr. Rehnquist's favorite god thinks it is more wicked to work slaves on Saturdays than it is to own slaves in the first place! So sacred is the sabbath, in fact, that in Exodus 31:15 we are told, "Whoever does work on the sabbath day must be put to death." No penalty for owning slaves, but death with dishonor if you accidentally turn up too many pages on your calendar and go to work on Saturday!

Before proceeding to the Fifth Commandment, we must discuss the use of the word "slave" in the
version of the Fourth Commandment cited here. The King James Version (and all other English versions up through the Revised Version of 1880-4) uses the term "servant" to render the Latin servus - "slave" - as well as the corresponding Hebrew and Greek terms which we today would translate as "slave." In common British usage during the 14th and 15th centuries, the English term "servant" was the word for "slave," and this usage (according to The Oxford English Dictionary) continued in the North American colonies into the 17th and 18th centuries.

Whereas the New English Bible, a product of Oxford and Cambridge Universities, correctly uses the word slave - thus allowing readers to see a wart on the face of the commandment - the fundamentalists" beloved New International Version (which I derisively refer to as "the Jerry Falwell bible") renders the Hebrew ‘ebed as manservant and ’amah as maidservant - deliberately, we may suppose, to make the text less offensive to modern mores.


Honor Your Mother - If You Want The Real Estate

The fifth commandment reads [


Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that you may live long, and that it may be well with you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you.


Now generally we would agree that it is good to honor our parents. But it is also a fact that many parents are not honorable, and reflexively to honor them is to induce confusion in the area of ethical and moral standards. We must protest that it is downright wrong to honor parents who are rotten, abusive, murderous, and crazed by religion. While we may feel an obligation to have them locked up or put under psychiatric care, it does not follow that we must honor them.

As is often the case with commandments, the really objectionable parts of them are not found in the abbreviated versions which are posted on walls and memorized in catechism class. So it is with this one. The commandment ends alluding to the pernicious myth that Yahweh gave
Palestine to the Jews, giving them the right to slaughter the previous inhabitants. This policy is being pursued even to this day in modern Israel
. The dastardly displacement of the Palestinians from their land after WW-II is directly derivable from the coda tacked on to the honor-your-mother commandment.

We have now gone half-way through the so-called Decalogue, and it might be good to recapitulate our findings before having at the second half. We have already seen that the first three commandments have absolutely no moral significance whatsoever. These commandments are really taboos against gods other than Yahweh, against making images or statues, and against using the magic of Yahweh's name for frivolous purposes. The Fourth Commandment, the sabbath commandment, derives from the Mesopotamian taboo concerning "unlucky days," and we have seen it to be an evil commandment, presupposing slavery without condemning the institution. The Fifth Commandment, the honor-your-mother commandment, we have seen as supportive of the atrocities in Palestine today, since it is a source of the myth that a tribal god named Yahweh gave that patch of real estate to Jews alone.

This is not a promising beginning, but we shall slug on, and examine the remainder of the graffiti Rehnquist wants to see on
Kentucky outhouse - I mean schoolroom! - walls.


Thou Shalt Not Kill - Unless I Tell You To

This brings us to the Sixth Commandment: "Thou shalt not kill." Many bible versions render this as "you shall not commit murder." While we may find this to be a generally good principle, we find that it is not terribly useful, since it does not define what is murder, and it appears to be making an absolute, unalterable command. Nor is the rest of the bible of value in determining what should be considered "murder." In fact, there are many circumstances where killing is commanded in the bible, but modern courts would certainly consider the killings to be murder. For example, in Deuteronomy 21:18-21 we are commanded [


When a man has a son who is disobedient and out of control, and will not obey his father or his mother, or pay attention when they punish him, then his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of the town, at the town gate. They shall say to the elders of the town, "This son of ours is disobedient and out of control; he will not obey us, he is a wastrel and a drunkard." Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death...


Would not William Rehnquist himself rule it murder, if the elders of Possum-Trot, Oklahoma (or is it Mississippi?), took poor ol' Billy-Joe Sykes and his empty Strawberry Ripple bottle out beside the Welcome-to-Possum-Trot sign and turned him into a cobble-stone pavement? And what would the Nuremberg Tribunal have said about Joshua 10:38-41 [NEB]:


Then Joshua and all the Israelites wheeled round towards Debir and attacked it. They captured the city with its king, and all its villages, put them to the sword and destroyed every living thing; they left no survivor. They dealt with Debir and its king as they had dealt with Hebron and with Libnah and its king. So Joshua massacred the population of the whole region - the hill-country, the Negeb, the Shephelah, the watersheds - and all their kings. He left no survivor, destroying everything that drew breath, as the Lord the God of Israel had commanded [emphasis added]. Joshua carried the slaughter from Kadesh-barnea to Gaza, over the whole land of Goshen and as far as Gibeon.


One leaves the Sixth Commandment with the feeling that its general sentiment is reasonable; but given the vague yet absolutistic language with which it is stated, it is of little practical help to people living in a complex society. Quite clearly, there are cases where killing is not only licit, but morally necessary. We leave it as an exercise for our readers to think of such situations on their own.


Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery -- Women Especially 

The Seventh Commandment, reads: "Thou shalt not commit adultery." Since this same commandment was promulgated by men who kept harems containing hundreds of wives and still greater numbers of concubines, we may be pardoned if we do not take very seriously the idea that there is something sanctified about this commandment. What this commandment really meant to its writer was that men should not steal other men's sex-objects. Not unexpectedly, no definition is given for the term "adultery." The historical context, however, shows that women were the property of men, and this commandment was really a taboo against genetic contamination of other men's breeding stock.

Depending upon the sexual hang-ups of the particular religionists who have defined it, the term adultery has been applied to sex involving divorced couples who have remarried with new partners, sex between a married person and an unmarried person, sex before marriage, etc. While we do not approve of sex acts which harm other persons, we would point out that the vast majority of sex acts are simple pleasurable acts which have little ethical significance one way or the other. It seems that religionists make altogether too much fuss about sex. In any event, the lack of an operational definition of adultery makes this commandment also of little significance from an ethical point of view. It, too, is but a taboo.


Thou Shalt Not Steal - Except From Egyptians

The Eighth Commandment, "Thou shalt not steal," presupposes a society of property holders, and is quite meaningless in purely communistic societies such as that of the African Bushmen, who share everything communally. It also is a commandment which it would be wrong to follow mindlessly without exceptions. Certainly, when all else fails, it is right to steal food to feed a starving child. It is right to steal the gun of a crazed killer. Only a lunatic would maintain that stealing is wrong under all circumstances at all times.

As is usual with the god of the bible, he cannot seem to keep his own commandments. Is this because god himself is above moral codes - making moral codes arbitrary and little more than taboos? Or is it simply that Yahweh is still struggling to get a passing grade in deportment? If Yahweh's definitions of good and bad are arbitrary, it is then quite meaningless for theists to say their god is "good." What's sauce for the goose, however, is also sauce for the gander. If stealing is to be condemned in absolute terms, we would like to know what excuse could be offered for the story recorded in the third chapter of Exodus. According to the tall tale recorded there, Yahweh (using a burning bush rather than Charlie McCarthy for his ventriloquist's dummy) instructed Moses to tell the Hebrew chillun to rob the Egyptians before taking it on the lam to


…When you go, you will not go empty-handed. Every woman shall ask her [Egyptian] neighbor or any woman who lives in her house for jewelry of silver and gold and for clothing. Load your sons and daughters with them, and plunder Egypt. [NEB Exod. 3:21-22]


Would Mr. Rehnquist mind having the Eighth Commandment state, when posted in Kentucky, "Thou shalt not steal, except from Egyptians"?


Jehovah's Witnesses Must Tell The Truth

The Ninth Commandment reads: "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." On the surface, this seems unobjectionable, although we should note that it does not say what most people think it says, namely, "Thou shalt not lie." In fairness, we must admit that if it did say "Thou shalt not lie" it would be as useless a rule as "Thou shalt not kill," since there are obvious situations when lying is entirely justified - indeed, ethically obligatory. Again, we leave it to the reader to think up examples of such situations.

The commandment is clearly quite restricted in its application, although it is not clear just what the circumstances are under which false evidence is to be forbidden. Is it only in trials before a judge? Does it include gossiping? Is it only wrong to bear false witness against one's neighbor? Is it proper to do so against foreigners such as gentiles? Once again, we find a commandment which suffers from lack of definition of terms, and we are a bit amazed that a rule concerning a situation so uncommon in daily life as court proceedings should be numbered among the Big Ten, right up there with the University of Michigan and Ohio State.


Keep Thine Evil Eye Off Thy Neighbor's Ass

We come at last to the commandment about coveting - being jealous and desirous of something belonging to someone else. Why coveting should have been considered a sin - right up there with murder and pronouncing the name Yahweh in the wrong tone of voice - is difficult to understand. While keeping up with the Joneses may sometimes be a bit silly, it is nevertheless true that almost all human progress comes from one person becoming dissatisfied with his or her lot and then setting out to achieve a better one. An obnoxiously successful neighbor may often be just what someone needs to overcome inertia, and get up and do things.

We shall examine the Tenth Commandment in its Protestant form. (I forgot to mention that not only are there three different sets of ten commandments in a given bible, Catholics and Protestants carve up the commandments in Deuteronomy differently. The Catholics, because of all their statues, idols, and icons, conveniently omit the Second Commandment, the one against graven images, and divide up the coveting commandment to make two servings.) It reads as follows [


You shall not covet your neighbor's wife; you shall not set your heart on your neighbor's house, his land, his slave, his slave-girl, his ox, his ass, or on anything that belongs to him.


Readers may have noticed that this commandment is addressed only to men. You (male readers) must not covet your neighbor's wife. While it is remotely possible that "Moses" was talking to lesbians also, it is all but certain he was talking only to men here. It would seem quite all right for women to covet. After all, no mention is made of not coveting your neighbor's husband. It is assumed that your neighbor - the one that counts, that is - is a man, and the women are merely his chattels, just like his slaves. We may note again that this is the second commandment to presume the existence of slavery and make no condemnation of the practice. It is worse to covet your neighbor's slave, than it is for your neighbor to own a slave!

An interesting interpretation of the coveting prohibition is discussed by A. Powell Davies in his book The Ten Commandments. According to Davies,
Edward William Lane, the great Arabist of the 19th century, felt that the term "covet" actually referred to the curse of "the evil eye." While I personally have been able to find only vague linguistic justification for this interpretation, there may be an anthropological basis for the idea. In many Semitic cultures even today, there is a taboo against complimenting a man on the beauty of his wife, the cuteness of his children, or the architecture of his house.


The compliment is interpreted as a sign of envy, i.e., covetousness. When one covets something, he casts an envious (i.e., evil) eye upon it, and the object or person so coveted is thus bewitched or cursed. If Lane's interpretation of the Tenth Commandment be correct, it makes that commandment a strong rival of the Third as the most superstitious of the lot.


Another Decalogue

We come now to a second Decalogue which can be found in the twentieth chapter of Exodus. It differs from the Decalogue of Deuteronomy in vocabulary and it gives a different reason for requiring a sabbath rest. In Exodus 20, the rationale for resting on the seventh day derives from the "fact" that Yahweh had to declare "time-out" on the seventh day, when His Divine Omnipotence found himself all pooped out after creating the world in six days. No god wants to be upstaged by mere people. If god can't work a full seven-day week, by golly, no mortal is going to do it either! People might lose faith in a god with less stamina than they themselves have!

In Deuteronomy, however, the excuse given for resting on the sabbath is "so that your slaves and slave-girls may rest as you do. Remember that you were slaves in
Egypt and the Lord your God brought you out with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, and for that reason the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day." This contradiction in rationale for the sabbath commandment reflects the fact that the unknown writers of Deuteronomy were more sophisticated than the priestly law-givers of Exodus. For the Deuteronomists the idea that god needed to rest was primitive and embarrassing, and so they came up with a different excuse. Curiously, fundamentalists think both versions were written by Moses, even though it has been known for over a hundred years that Moses did not write the Pentateuch - the first five books of the bible.


Put These On The Walls

By far the most interesting set of ten commandments is found in the thirty-fourth chapter of Exodus, verses 12-26. You will never find this set on
Kentucky schoolroom walls, I guarantee! Let's take a look at them [NEB]:


1. Be careful not to make a covenant with the natives of the land against which you are going, or they will prove a snare in your midst. No: you shall demolish their altars, smash their sacred pillars and cut down their sacred poles.

2. You shall not prostrate yourselves to any other god. For the Lord's name is the Jealous God, and a jealous god he is. Be careful not to make a covenant with the natives of the land, or, when they go wantonly after their gods and sacrifice to them, you may be invited, any one of you, to partake of their sacrifices, and marry your sons to their daughters, and when their daughters go wantonly after their gods, they may lead your sons astray too.

[I would point out that the gods of the Canaanites were alleged to be really "hung," and so the Jews were worried about their daughters going "wantonly after their gods."]


3. You shall not make yourselves gods of cast metal.

4. You shall observe the pilgrim-feast of Unleavened Bread: for seven days, as I have commanded you, you shall eat unleavened cakes at the appointed time, in the month of Abib...

5. Every first birth of the womb belongs to me, and the males of all your herds, both cattle and sheep. You may buy back the first birth of an ass by giving a sheep instead, but if you do not buy it, you must break its neck. You shall buy back all the first-born of your sons...

6. For six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall cease work; even at ploughing time and harvest you shall cease work.

7. You shall observe the pilgrim-feast of Weeks, the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the pilgrim-feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year. Three times a year all your males shall come into the presence of the Lord...

8. You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice at the same time as anything leavened, nor shall any portion of the victim of the pilgrim-feast of Passover remain overnight till morning.

9. You shall bring the choicest firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.

10. You shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk.


According to Exodus 34:27-29 [NEB] - the verses immediately following the above enumeration - this is the real set of Ten Taboos that Yahweh gave to Moses:


The Lord said to Moses, ‘Write these words down, because the covenant I make with you and with Israel is in these words.’ So Moses stayed there with the Lord forty days and forty nights, neither eating nor drinking, and wrote down the words of the covenant, the Ten Words, on the tablets. At length Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two stone tablets of the Tokens in his hands, and when he descended, he did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been speaking with the Lord.


If Mr. Rehnquist would like to have this set posted on Kentucky classroom walls beside his signature, I would not object too strongly. In the meantime, don't eat any goat Stroganoff.


Kemo D. (a.k.a. no.7) 

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