The Happy Heretic

Judith Hayes

JULY 1999

WHAT Ten Commandments?!

If I hear the words "Ten Commandments" one more time I think I'll throw up. I don't know whether I'm more pissed off or depressed. I'd say it's too close to call. I am as stunned as anyone by the audacious, sanctimonious and entirely unconstitutional actions of the House of Representatives. On June 17, 1999, they voted in favor of displaying the Ten Commandments in public buildings, including of course schools. The House showed yet again that they are determined to make the USA a theocracy. If ever a House vote could be said to be not just wrong but stupid, this is it. The vote was 248-180. And it is stupid as hell.

Why? The unconstitutional nature of their outrageous proposal is practically a given. How they could not know that is beyond me. The time that's being wasted over this nonsense, at taxpayer expense, will only increase as the inevitable court challenge comes about if this insanity is made law. The vote itself was just a knee-jerk, backlash reaction to the country's anger about the availability of guns, following the shooting massacre at Columbine High School. But instead of focusing on our preposterous gun laws, the House played the religious card and began singing the Moral Values Begin in Church Anthem. (Which kind of church?!)

(I still haven't figured out [1] when the amendment was passed that made the NRA the fourth branch of government or [2] what the hell is the NRA's problem with waiting periods?! They fight them tooth and nail, but why? The only possible answer is that if someone flies into a blind rage, like O.J. on a bad day; and goes into a gun shop to buy a gun to blow away his entire family or faculty or student body; and then has to wait three days, he might lose some of that rage and not be able to do it. Blow away all those people I mean. I guess the NRA doesn't want us to have that right taken away from us---to blow away lots of people I mean. So I guess we owe the NRA thanks after all for looking out for our "rights." To blow away people I mean.)

In addition, the mere suggestion that nailing a religious plaque on a schoolroom wall would have the slightest effect whatsoever on crazed, rage-filled murderous lunatics, is an insult to the slimmest intelligence. It is just an attempt by the Religious Right to get a foot in the door so that they can continue their never-ending, zealous, unconstitutional attempts to proselytize in all public arenas.

But there are some other not so obvious reasons why this whole thing is foolish. For those of you who have read my first book, I'm afraid some of this will be redundant. But if I don't shout it from the rooftops, now, I may suffer severe internal injuries or something.

There are no "Ten Commandments" anywhere in the Bible. I will repeat this since so many people, including and especially Christians, have no idea what's in the Bible. There are no Ten Commandments. Just as I am always asking which God you are talking about, since there are so many to choose from, I am now asking which Ten Commandments you are talking about, since there are so many to choose from. While it is true that in Exodus 20 there is a list of things to do and not to do, it is not true that the list has ten rules. The only way to wring the magic number ten out of it is if you ignore some of the directives and lump several others together and call them one. It is totally arbitrary, totally misleading and just plain wrong.

For example, the so-called Ten Commandments begin in Exodus 20, verse 2 or 3, and end with verse 17. Yes, it takes fifteen or sixteen verses to name ten directives---if you accept that there are ten directives. The Jewish version of the first of these commandments is "I am the LORD thy God" (Exod 20:2); but Christians consider that a preamble, and claim that "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Exod 20:3) is the first commandment. So who is correct? They can't both be right, can they?

In addition, in Exod 20:24, just seven verses after the misnamed Decalogue, there is another definite commandment. It is clearly an imperative. Here it is: "An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee." So why is this commandment simply ignored?! How is it any different from the others?

Mr. Bob Barr should be sacrificing sheep and oxen in his backyard. He was clearly told to do so. There is no ambiguity in that commandment. It should be ox and sheep time everywhere in the Bible Belt.

But even worse than the oxen and sheep thing is what happens in Exodus chapters 13, 23, 34 and 35---in fact, the entire Old Testament. It is literally packed with commandments just as forceful and just as clear (or unclear, depending on your point of view) as those in Exodus 20 (however many there are). But somehow they didn't make the Top Ten list.

Confusing things further, in Exodus 34, the commandments given there are actually described as "replacements." Why? Because Moses dropped and broke the first set of tablets, the ones he got in Exodus 20. What a klutz! "And the LORD said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou brakest." (Exod 34:1) [Emphasis mine.] With these words, along with slamming Moses for being such a putz, God is saying that the words from the first tablets will be the same as those on the second set. Again, no ambiguity.

But the two lists aren't even close. Compare the two lists, supposedly identical, keeping in mind that I, like everyone else, have to arbitrarily number the commandments:

EXODUS 20:2-17

1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.

3. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.

4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

5. Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

6. Thou shalt not kill.

7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.

8. Thou shalt not steal.

9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

10. Thou shalt not covet.

EXODUS 34:12-27

1. Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee: But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves:

2. For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:

3. Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.

4. The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, as I commanded thee, in the time of the month Abib.

5. All that openeth the matrix is mine; and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male.

6. But the firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb: and if thou redeem him not, then shalt thou break his neck.

7. Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest.

8. And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest.

9. Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven; neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning.

10. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.

How can those two lists be so utterly different? When old butter fingers Moses dropped the first set of tablets, the second set was supposed to be a duplicate, remember? So who decided which were to be the Ten Commandments?! And how did they decide? Did someone take a vote? Toss a coin? Arm wrestle for their favorites? To repeat, there are no Ten Commandments.

(For the sake of space, from this point on I will summarize the commandments; but I will always provide the exact chapter and verse so you can see I haven't changed anything. It's all there.)

Likewise, why are the multitudinous other commandments not talked about? Here's a random sampling: Sons that are gluttons and drunkards shall be stoned to death. (Deut 21:21) Non-virginal brides shall be stoned to death. (Deut 22:21) Homosexuals shall surely be put to death. (Lev 20:13) Beat your children with rods. (Prov 23:14) Women must keep their mouths shut and learn only from their husbands. (I Cor 14:34,35)

Surely no one would suggest that these laws represent the epitome of morality! Yet the Religious Right Representatives in the House, such as Bob Barr and Robert Aderholt, consider the Exodus 20 list (heavily edited to make the nice round number ten) to be that very epitome. But look at what is not mentioned. Nowhere are there any words forbidding: sexual or physical abuse of a child; rape; slavery; torture; kidnapping; or spousal abuse. But almost as bad is that there is no mention of love and compassion for others. What the heck kind of Grand Moral Code would not mention those things?! A very bad one. That's what kind.

The claim that the Ten Commandments are not promoting a certain religion, but just encouraging morality, is so outrageously disingenuous as to be difficult to respond to. The first four of the ten "official" commandments address nothing but rules for worshipping the Hebrew God. The remaining six are uninspired, insipid, incomplete, childish nothings. Almost anyone could come up with a better list.

However, if Mr. Bob Barr and the rest of his ilk really think the Bible, all of it, is the inspired word of God, then they should be destroying altars, breaking images, cutting down groves, keeping the feast of unleavened bread, offering firstborn animals as sacrifices, and observing the feast of weeks. Oh, and they should be taking great pains not to seethe a kid in its mother's milk. (I never could make heads or tails out of that one.) But these are clear cut commands, not suggestions. So, Mr. Barr, et al., you'd better head for the nearest Muslim mosque with a battering ram, and fire up those barbecue pits.

Such selective editing and culling of the biblical commandments (actually it's slash-and-burn editing and culling since it eliminates 99% of the Bible's commandments) is the result of the embarrassingly primitive nature of the excluded commandments. Sacrificing animals to gods is Stone Age stuff. But Neanderthal mentality notwithstanding, if fundamentalists are going to insist on their right to force their primitive commandments into public places, then any of the rest of us should be able to post our primitive suggestions for moral behavior, such as the Code of Hammurabi, or the biblical parts about seething kids in milk. Or maybe even some of the commandments of my own personal deity, Bob the Raingod:

1. Thou shalt not hog the remote control.

2. Remember Ground Hog Day and keep it holy.

3. Honor thy Web Master that thy site may flourish.

4. Thou shalt not pee in thy neighbor's pool.

5. Thou shalt not stick a fork into a toaster.

6. Thou shalt not break wind in mixed company; but if thou failest, and doth indeed pass gas, thou shalt not suddenly stare at thy spouse with an accusing look on thy face.

7. Thou shalt not pick all the cashews out of the mixed nuts.

8. Thou shalt not chew gum in class unless you bring enough for everyone.

9. Husbands, thou shalt not complain if thy wives complaineth that thou wilt not ask for directions.

10. Thou shalt not balance thy checkbook while standing at an ATM.

1999 Judith Hayes

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