Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Big Ten

The Ten Commandments have been presented as absolute rules for conduct, whether a society is simple (tribal) or complex. This collection of instructions is regarded by Christians as the ultimate in moral sophistication, but Christians don't know, or choose to ignore, that Jehovah handed down 617 more laws, known as the Midrash, which dictate the details of daily life for Hebrews, from what to eat, how to dress, how to use money, proper family relations, and how to deal with strangers. This type of law-based religion is typical of tribal people, who define themselves by distinct body markings, clothing and hairstyles, and specific rituals, roles, and dietary rules meant to distinguish them from other people.

The Ten Commandments are a lazy person's version of these tedious tribal requirements. The world in which Christianity developed was Greek, and it had its own culture. Hebrew tribal identity had to be left behind if a new religion was to succeed; the ideas of the Plato were recruited as a basis for the philosophy of the New Testament.

As for The Big Ten, if Jehovah's repeated demands for abject obedience are removed, what remains is a statement of male property rights.

Don't kill, except when I command you to.

Obey your father and mother (right or wrong.)

Don't have sex with a woman owned by another man.
Do have sex with the women you own.

Don't lie about another man's deeds, or steal his house, his women, slaves, animals, or goods.

The Ten Commandments are not about ethical behavior. They establish a hierarchy of rights, with Jehovah as Top Male, followed by one's parents, and then Hebrew males. The notion that Mom has a measure of power fades when we realize that she is the property of her husband; his property is off limits. The commandment "don't kill" reserves mass murder for Jehovah, who demands that the Hebrews carry out murder and genocide on command, which they do.

It would be difficult to find a human group (outside criminal gangs) that promotes crime, or directs people to abuse their parents. The claim that this ordinary set of tribal rules establishes moral behavior is nonsense. It does explain why Christian fundamentalists cannot deal with complex issues that require ethical examination.