Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Are the 10 Commandments even worth following?

In light of the current controversy surrounding the posting of the 10 Commandments on public (read government) property, perhaps we should take a moment and reflect on whether or not these ten laws - assuming we are discussing the more famous first set and not the lesser known yet arguably more authoritative second set - are in accordance with our values and principles. A brief examination follows:

1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me (Ex 20:3)

Implication - Any belief other than worship of God (Yahweh) would be criminalized
Penalty for violation - Death (Ex 22:20)

2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth (Ex 20:4-6)

Implication - All art would be criminalized
Penalty for violation - For making the graven images: punishment of your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren; if you worship the images: death (Ex 20:4-6 & Ex 22:20)

3. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain (Ex 20:7)

Implication - Blasphemy against God would be criminalized
Penalty for violation - Death (Lev 24:16)

4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy (Ex 20:8-11)

Implication - Work or recreation on *Saturday would be criminalized
Penalty for violation - Death (Ex 31:15)

5. Honour thy father and thy mother (Ex 20:12)

Implication - Children who disobeyed their parents would be criminals
Penalty for violation - Death (Ex 21:15, 21:17)

6. Thou shalt not kill (Ex 20:13)

Implication - It's ok to kill so long as it is Biblically sanctioned
Penalty for violation - Uncertain

7. Thou shalt not commit adultery (Ex 20:14)

Implication - Affairs would be criminalized
Penalty for violation - Death (Lev 20:10)

8. Thou shalt not steal (Ex 20:15)

Implication - All theft would bear the same penalty
Penalty for violation - Uncertain

9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor (Ex 20:16)

Implication - It is ok to perjure a non-"neighbor"
Penalty for violation - Uncertain

10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor's (Ex 20:17)

Implication - The thought of desiring or envying another man's "property" would be criminalized. A wife is a man's property, and it is permissable to have both male and female slaves
Punishment - Uncertain

- All the commandments are absolute laws with no exceptions. For example, a child that disobeys an abusive parent by telling the authorities would still be commiting a crime to be punished with death. There is no difference between stealing a nickel and stealing a million dollars, between killing for sport and killing out of self-defense.
- Double think. We're told not to kill while at the same time death is the penalty for the majority of the laws. Additionally, killing in the Bible is sanctioned for numerous other reasons.
- They conflict with the Constitution. The first four commandments violate the 1st amendment. All of the laws that have penalties (and even for the ones that are unclear it can be surmised what the likely punishment of choice would be) would seem to violate the 8th amendment as all are, by our standards, excessive and cruel and unusual, while the 10th commandment violates the 13th amendment's prohibition of slavery, and the 9th commandment conflicts with the due process of law guaranteed by the 5th amendment.
- Following the Commandments would cause a radical, impossible, and absurd restructuring of our society. Case in point, the 5th commandment; if we were to follow this rule all business would be closed on Saturdays, including, presumably, hospitals, police departments, firestations, stores, theatres, etc. All recreational activities would be disallowed (even college football.)
- They create thought crimes. The 10th commandment makes it illegal to even THINK about another man's property. Besides being ridiculous, this is unenforceable.
- The Decalogue is an endorsement of theocracy. The commandments make it clear that government derives its just power from God rather than the people, and if we are to follow these commandments then we are also obligated to legislate the rest of God's Biblical injunctions.

The 10 Commandments are antithetical to the democratic principle of equality under the law and the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

*Despite contempory convention, by Biblical standards Saturday is the Sabbath.

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