Yesterday, the Supreme Court handed down two different decisions (here and here) regarding the ability of state or county officials to display the Ten Commandments in public. No doubt the closely split decisions will fuel the on-going debate about the role of religion in politics. However, to my mind a far more interesting debate, and one which you’re not likely to hear in public, is how any seemingly rational person could believe that the Ten Commandments could form the legal basis for any kind of good society at all. In fact, I believe that the Supreme Court should have thrown the Ten Commandments off of government property on the simple and common sense grounds that any government which claims these ridiculous rules as its legal origin doesn’t deserve the respect or loyalty of its own citizens (or, at least, of the non-retarded ones).
Face it, some of those Ten Commandments are pretty silly. And the belief that they are the perfect creation of some all-powerful, all-knowing infinitely benevolent God is laughable once you begin to look at them in detail. You would think a Supreme Being could do better. I bet that if you were to randomly pull twelve people off a bus they could come up with a better code.
Now, some of the commandments do make a lot of sense: don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal and don’t lie. Those are good. Any functioning society requires them. But they certainly don’t need a divine source – a society of atheists would require them as much as a society of religious people would. Then there are some that are good advice but I’m not sure about their elevation to the level of divine commandments. For instance, “Honor your mother and you father.” OK, yes, you should respect you parents. But what about the commandment to not covet your neighbor’s house or ox or wife? Does envy really deserve to be on the same level as murder? But hell, let’s be generous and say that these six rules are beneficial and necessary to creating a good society.
Now we get to some commandments that are just plain stupid and that any society could do without and be none the worse and perhaps even better. For instance, the first one: “I am the Lord thy God…Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Talk about self-serving tripe. Think about it. If Pepsi was writing the Ten Commandments, the first would be: “Drink Pepsi!” On the same basis we can discard “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” (a.k.a. “Don’t slam Pepsi!”). So, too, with the commandment to observe the Sabbath (“Take the time to enjoy Pepsi!”). As a society we can chuck out all of these and we’re no worse off. The final commandment to consider is the prohibition against idolatry/graven images. Once again, this rule is completely arbitrary and unnecessary. And the irony, of course, is that those who support putting the Ten Commandments in every courthouse and classroom are themselves guilty of engaging in idolatry. So this commandment doesn’t even work on the people who claim to believe in it.
So in the end we have six good commandments and four which are, to put it mildly, crap. But it’s worse than that.
Now it’s pretty obvious that certain very important things are missing from these allegedly perfect commandments. For instance, where is “You shall not rape”? Where is “You shall not commit genocide”? These would have been far more helpful that some jackass rule against engraving. (Of course, there’s no Biblical prohibition against genocide because the Bible is a pro-genocide book. See Exodus 17:8-16; Num. 21:33-35, 24:20; Deut. 7:1-2; Joshua 6:21, 8:24-26, 10:28-4; 1 Sam. 15:2-7.) Where is “You will help the unfortunate”? Or “You will be compassionate.”?
No, legally, the Ten Commandments have nothing to offer us. An important historical document? Yes. But that's all they are. To display them publically as a source of on-going inspiration and guidance in public affairs is to do nothing more than to openly advertise your own stupidity.