A Germanic Pagan Looks at the Ten Commandments
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Once, the Ten Commandments were by law posted in schoolrooms in the great Commonwealth of Kentucky and other places around the USA. Now, efforts are being made to post them here and elsewhere. Most folks in these parts seem to think that's a great idea. However, I'd also bet that most of those same folks couldn't even quote them from memory! Let's take a quick look at the Ten Commandments and see just what all the ruckus is about I'll be quoting from them (in abbreviated form) from Exodus 20:1-17, King James version of the Bible. That's the second book in the Bible, in case you didn't know. I'll start with commandments 5-10 for reasons which will soon become apparent.
5. "Honor thy father and thy mother." It's hard to argue with that. However, with all the child abuse, child molestation, etc. coming to light these days (I'm sure it's been going on all along) I must say that respect is a two-way street You can honor your parents without doing, saying and thinking whatever they want you to. You have a right to make your own choices as an adult, whether or not your parents approve. Wise parents understand that their adult children may have needs, dreams and aspirations very different from their own. The best way to honor bad parents is by not being like them!
6. "Thou shalt not kill." My understanding is that the Hebrew is more properly translated as "Thou shalt not commit murder." Everyone but a few sociopaths would agree with that! Please note that the Bible never mentions abortion, affirmatively or negatively. Whether or not there is such a thing as a "just war" is something Christians and others have argued over for millennia. Personally, I'd gladly fight to protect my family, faith, friends and country, but I wouldn't die for Big Oil!
7. "Thou shalt not commit adultery." There's little joy in it anyway, what with the fear, the guilt and the sneaking. ...If you can't be happy with one partner (which is what seems to work best for most individuals), work out an open relationship and take due hygienic precautions. Please note that sexual relations between unmarried individuals are NOT "adultery"; although the same precautions do, of course, apply, and nothing in life, even (perhaps especially) celibacy, is devoid of risk of one sort or another. None of us, except a few astronauts, will ever leave this world alive, so live boldly and joyously!
8. "Thou shalt not steal." As a rule, this is a good idea. However, if the ONLY way you can feed yourself and your family is to steal, then a higher obligation (that of surviving and helping loved ones to survive) comes into play. Fortunately, this doesn't happen too often today in developed countries, although, in this Heathen's opinion, President (?) "Dubya" is doing his best!
9. "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." Gossip and lying destroy communities, and we humans are by nature social animals. This is a useful bit of wisdom, whether or not it is of divine origin.
10. "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's ..." (home, slaves, wife, livestock and other property). Yes, greed will eat you up alive and ruin your life if you let it. In this day of rampant credit card abuse and resultant bankruptcies, we would do well to reflect on this. However, please note that this commandment implicitly endorses slavery and the idea that a woman is her husband's property. And they want to plaster THAT up all over public buildings?!? SICK!!!
Commandments 5 - 10 deal with social relationships in what was for the time a fairly complex and well-organized society. Commandments 1 - 4 are of a different nature entirely. Here we enter the fascinating but obscure realm of myth and tribal taboo:
1. "I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other Gods before me." First of all, "before" seems to imply that Jehovah isn't insisting on Monotheism, just star billing. In either case, what a prima donna! Jealousy is more suited to spoiled brats than to Gods! My understanding is that "beside" would more accurately reflect the meaning of the original Hebrew. Be that as it may, I was never a slave (at least not in this lifetime) and I've never even been to Egypt! Most of my ancestors came here to the USA from the British Isles. In any case, it's none of the government's business whether an individual believes in one God, twenty Gods or no God at all! Thomas Jefferson said so, and he was right! This IS a free country, after all.
2. "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image." This can be interpreted in a number of ways. Strict Muslims won't even make a representation of the animal or human form for fear someone might worship it! Observant Jews, however, can keep a copy of the Venus de Milo or other image of Pagan Deities in their homes as long as they make a small scratch on its nose to show that they pay it no reverence! Neither of the above religions makes use of images as aids to worship. By the way, folks who do don't worship the image, they use the image as a means to connect with What it represents! Christians have argued over this commandment almost from day one of their religion's existence, and have reached various conclusions. Please note, however, that the vast majority of the world's Christians are members of The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches and DO use images (statues or icons) in their public and private worship. I doubt they'd want stuff put up on public buildings accusing them of idolatry!
3. "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain." When I was a kid, I used to get this quoted at me every time I'd get mad and yell "Oh my God!' However, in Spanish "¡Ay Dios mío!" (which means exactly the same thing) is as mild as milk! I think this shows that Commandment #3 is open to various interpretations. I believe the original meaning was to prohibit using Jehovah's name (primitive belief often equated a thing's name with the thing itself; remember what I said about tribal taboo) to make a false oath. Lying is definitely un-cool, unless, of course, you have Jews hiding in your basement and armed Nazis are asking you about it. In that case, lie away with a big smile and a clear conscience!
4. "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." Folks, the Sabbath is SATURDAY (or, more precisely, sundown Friday to sundown Saturday), making this perhaps the most violated of the Ten Commandments! Saturday is still "sábado" in Spanish. Yes, everybody needs a day off every now and then, but that's not what this is about. This is a holy day of the Jewish faith (Christians appropriated the Jewish scriptures without permission and then added their own writings.) Obviously, none of this is any of the government's business, but just try to buy a bottle of wine at the store on Sunday to go with your after-church dinner! Yes, Baptists aside, most of the world's Christians would see nothing wrong with the above scenario.
It should be obvious from the above that the government of a free country has no business endorsing the first Four of the Ten Commandments! The other Six are as a whole good ideas, despite some outdated language and concepts. However, I am sure there are better ways to encourage individuals to behave in an honest and socially responsible manner than quoting ancient texts in whose inspiration the majority of Humanity does not believe.
Religions belong in homes and houses of worship, not the government! This is the only way to preserve freedom in our religiously diverse nation and world.
last modified 07/21/2003