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  • THE TEN COMMANDMENTS IN 2005

    Asking people today about the Ten Commandments is roughly as profitable a use of time as a discusion with them about the judicial achievements of the Nuremberg Trials. That the former date back to the time of Moses, while the latter is still strong in living memory is telling: history is not a cool subject. Yet the chilling statement that: "Those who are ignorant of history are bound to repeat it," echoes through the millennia.
    As time moves on and societal norms change, how does the Decalogue measure up? What is relevant to twenty-first century humanity? First let us take them off of those heavy stone tablets and put them on to the kitchen table for discussion.

    The first three commandments seek to govern the relationship between God and humans. They are:
    The Betrayal of Christ
    "Why do you call me Lord, Lord,
    and not do as I say?"
    [Luke 7.46]

    1. "I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me."
    2. "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images."
    3. "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain."

    The next group of commandments seek to govern public relationships between people:

    1. "Observe the sabbath day, to keep it holy."
    2. "Honor your father and your mother."
    3. "You shall not kill."
    4. "Neither shall you commit adultery."
    5. "Neither shall you steal."
    6. "Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor."

    The last commandment seeks to govern private thoughts:

    1. "Neither shall you covet your neighbor's wife."

    Now, millenia have come and gone since their inception; the wording may be a little archaic, but the intention seems plain enough. Dare we peer at this with modern eyes?


    "I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me."

    Well, this is OK for sincere Christian churches and Jewish synagogues, but it is easily argued that it conflicts with the beliefs of minority religions in society. It is offensive to followers of Hinduism, Sikhism, Wicca, Buddhism (some traditions), Agnosticism, Atheism, Humanism, and etcetera. These religions worship many Gods, a different single God, two deities or no God. How about if we said: "It is the primary duty of humanity to respect the ongoing Power of Creation, as well as the universal manifestation of creation in all its forms" Do you think that those minorities would be able to tag along?

    Instead of the worship of money, status, success, beauty, power, popularity, etcetera, which is rapidly eclipsing God, this would allow every single human being to see God simply as that awesome Power of Creation who [for Judaism, Islam and Christianity] is encapsulated so beautifully in the Book of Genesis!


    "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images."

    Of course, the commandment in its entirety is considerably more detailed and, these days, its content gives us lots of problems. This commandment lost its intended validity after the destruction of the second temple [AD 70] because it considers toleration of a false religion to be a sin, i.e. allowing others to enjoy religious freedom and to follow their own religious beliefs is to be suppressed at all cost. However, Rabbinic Judaism and Christian Judaism emerged side-by-side at this time and the Pharisees, Sadducees and priests of Herod's temple in Jerusalem would have suppressed both.

    If you consider the penchant for killing exhibited by the likes of Stalin, Hitler, Queen Victoria and her extended family, sundry Popes and Dubya Bush, the suppression of religious freedom also brings us into direct conflict with other commandments.

    Taken at its face value, for Christians this commandment would make it a sin to place a painting of Jesus on the wall of a home or church.

    It is way past time for us to agree that everyone should be allowed the freedom find their path to God.


    "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain."

    Yesterday, at Halifax Shopping Centre I heard: "Oh my god!!!" at least twenty times; mostly from the mouths of young women. Is that what this commandment means? No, it is not. Originally, the intention was that one is not to use the name of God for any frivolous or malicious purpose or in heretic rites. It was [and is] also employed to put "the fear of God" into witnesses at court proceedings and was useful in inviting the potential of divine retribution when legal contracts were sworn on the bible. Fundamentalist Christians view it in tandem with the preceding commandment and see it as a prohibition to false doctrines or opposing the literal truth of God's word. Ask any Baptist about the Assumption of Mary and ask any Catholic about other denominations.

    Perhaps we should strive to live in God's grace, and honour ourselves in the way that we live our lives: it is, after all, easy to talk the talk, but a challenge to walk the walk. And, if those young women were to exclaim, "Oh, my integrated PDA, digital cam cell phone!" the remark might at the least indicate the presence of on-going cranial activity.


    "Observe the sabbath day, to keep it holy."

    Here in Nova Scotia Premium Hamm, Mr. Sobey and Frootique Pete are once again wasting time and tax dollars on this one. But having a day where beleagered families can actualy get together because the shops are closed might not be such a bad idea. It would be great if that included something Spiritual and a communal meal, but sometimes that's not easy with ma working, and pa working on a case of Molson's when it is the only day available to visit brother Jim in Springhill Jail and sis ain't up to the drive because she's stoned again and the youngsters just want to tear up the neighbourhood on their ATVs.

    For those of us who actually honour the family unit, and remember what community was like despite politicians, and before Trudeau and company, it should not be difficult to understand Spirituality. For the rest, this commandment is going to be a quantum leap in today's postmodern consumeristic, hedonistic world.


    "Honor your father and your mother."

    The rationale behind this commandment was undoubtedly to prevent the neglect of the elderly. Not so many centuries ago, where life was sometimes precarious, those who were unable to contribute to the standard of living of the family were sometimes not adequately supported. Today, it is troubling to see abuse of elderly people on the rise, in the home and in the care home. Even on the deathbed frequently that which should be a Spiritual passing, becomes a family feud over trinkets and possessions that the dying soul was unable to carry into eternity. Again this commandment refers to the family unit, but also in a larger sense it is advice about one's relationship with all those in authority. But there is a caveat: honour is a two way street. To be honoured, a person must live an honourable life: to those parents, priests, judges, elders, teachers, politicians, police officers [and others] who steal, abuse, rape and pillage their way through life I say this, "You have no honour, therefore you will have to make due with the phoney, pathetic accolades of your peers. A state funeral does not a statesman make!" The Order of Canada is a political tool used by politicians for political purposes.


    "You shall not kill."

    Oh dear, this is going to be difficult. Historically, the Roman Catholic Church interpreted the Commandment as if it read: "Thou shalt not kill people inside your denomination." The Christian Church has committed genocide many times in its history, as has every mighty ruler or petty dictator of empires, kingdoms, countries and tribal units.

    The twentieth century was the bloodiest by far, but you've seen nothing yet!

    Humanity has proved itself to be the greatest predator ever, and it occurs to me that it is very probable that the twenty-first century will see humanity destroy planet Earth, and thus kill itself in the process. There will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth, which will be the just reward for our innate ability to be unable to follow the simple laws of creation. Thou shall not kill for pleasure or gain.


    "Neither shall you commit adultery."

    This referred to a man engaging in sexual intercourse with a woman who was either married or betrothed to another man. In ancient Israel, a woman was considered a piece of property, which was generally owned by her father or husband. If a man seduced a virgin, the transgression was treated as a commercial infraction. The woman would have lost part of her value to her father. Not being a virgin, she might not be able to find a husband in the future, and thus her father could not benefit financially from her marriage. The seducer was required to pay the no longer virginal woman's father an amount of money, and perhaps to marry the woman. The woman had no say in the matter; some were forced to marry a rapist whom they loathed. [Exodus 22:16-17]

    For many Christians, marriage is a sacrament, and in marriage the husband and wife convey sanctifying graces upon each other. Marriage is still seen as a sacred bond. Adultery is the breaking of this holy bond, and is thus a sacrilege.

    Bottom line: once again this is about the family unit. Look at the statistical failure rate of marriage today, and typically this failure is caused by one or the other partners need for sexual or financial gratification outside the union of husband and wife. Who wins? Nobody except the divorce lawyers, while everybody loses paticularly the kids. If you don't think you can make a lifetime commitment to one person: do not get married and more importantly, make sure that you do not have any kids.


    "Neither shall you steal."

    Gee whiz, does that mean that I shouldn't sample the grapes at the Superstore? No, it does not, but remember that supermarkets have floor-walkers and surveillance cameras that can read the small print on a five-dollar bill, so let the sampler beware.

    This Commandment has been interpreted to refer to only one kind of theft; namely, to someone who kidnaps a person, forces him or her to work for him, and thus sells him or her into slavery. Although slavery is frowned upon these days, it is alive and well and young women are the most frequent victims.

    The streets of North America and the world teem with young women who have fallen prey to an abusive pimp [often after fleeing an abusive father] who facilitates their addiction to drugs in order to control their lives. Family values again? You betcha! These women are victims all the way down the line: imagine your teenage daughter being forced to satiate the perverted lust of various creeps who seek sexual gratification [whether outside the union of husband and wife, or just for kicks] eight or perhaps eighteen times each day until death from a drug overdose seems better than waiting to die of AIDS, syphillis, hepatitus or another beating.

    This might be where the ordinary, decent person has a problem with commandment number six. All I can say is this: I believe that "Thou shall not kill," does not apply to domestic animals produced for food, or a terminally sick dog or cat. A lot of countries [Hi Dubya!] extend that consideration to those whom their justice system finds guilty of capital crime. Perhaps, just perhaps, those humans that make money from the sale of drugs [all of them: not just the so called 'criminals'] having forfeited their status as humans by enslaving and despoiling others, might benefit from Dubya's and other political leader's plethora of gas chambers, gallows, gillotines, electric chairs or lethal injections.

    This commandment also refers to covetousness: inordinate prizing and affecting worldly goods... [He who has the most toys, wins] envying the prosperity of others; as likewise idleness, prodigality, wasteful gaming..."


    "Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor."

    This forbids perjury while testifying in a courtroom. In ancient Israel, a person who lies in court receives the penalty that would be due a person guilty of the crime at question. That should happen today as well. I have sat in court and watched an RCMP officer perjure herself about something as petty as a speeding ticket, therefore it comes as no surprise when we see the number of people who serve many years or are executed for crimes that they did not commit.

    My father, a career policeman, once said, "Son, it's not obligatory to do someone a good turn, but it is reprehensible to go out of your way to do someone a bad turn gratuitously!"

    We should probably include the sins of passing unjust sentence, tale bearing, whispering, boasting, and etcetera. However, do not confuse tale bearing with whistle blowing! Most people are too gutless to blow the whistle when they see something is wrong: it is easier to sit on the fence, or worse still go along with the majority. The blown whistle exposed Chretien, whose name ironically translates to 'Christian'; frankly, if you do the crime you should also do the time, but as we all know: hypocrisy rules the day!


    "Neither shall you covet your neighbor's wife,"

    A woman, in biblical times, was considered to be the property first of her father and after marriage of her husband. She was a slave. Many biblical translations shy away from the term 'slave' and use more ambiguous words. Let us be quite clear, the Decalogue is not talking about servants here. A husband could beat his wife/slave so severely that she/he died, and not be charged with an offense. [A Roman could execute his own child for disobedience.] There is a growing worldwide consensus that slavery, the owning of one person by another, is profoundly immoral; it was not considered as such by the Decalogue. Slavery has been abolished in all but two countries, [except as mentioned above in the drug and sex trade, where it thrives] although near slavery is still found in many areas of the world.

    Also, the sins forbidden in the tenth commandment are, discontentment with our own estate; envying and grieving at the good of our neighbor, together with all inordinate motions and affections to anything that is his.

    So, there it is. Jesus of Nazareth, an infinitely more skillful preacher than I, managed to whittle the Decalogue down to a Duologue:

    1. "Love God with all your heart," and
    2. "Love your neighbour as yourself."

    Most people today have lost the ability to 'read between the lines' so my contribution is rather wordy compared with the Master's Duologue. If planet Earth is to be saved, and if humanity is to continue to live upon it, then it must be very obvious that we have to embrace a time of radical and dramatic change. I am going to be very frank: I do not think humanity has either the will or the ability to effect such change. This has much to do with the obvious fact that a very small number of powerful men and a handful of women wield global power. [Needless to say, patriarchy is alive and well in the penthouses of the ivory tower.] Often these people are referred to as the 'Black Nobility', 'Satan - Mammon' or simply the 'Three Percent', and while we know the identity of some of them, others are shadowy international figures whose wealth and influence is beyond calculation. It seems very likely that by the time we all wake up from the global nightmare: a nightmare that the majority of us refuse to acknowledge, the window of opportunity for remedial action will have slammed shut, never to reopen.

    It is a bleak picture that I paint. However, if you have managed to hang on to hope for the future that is to be commended, and if you have not, look to your children and your grand children, and maybe hope will rekindle in your heart. It is my sincere wish that the following postmodern commandments might in some small way help.

    Seven Commandments for the Twenty-First Century

    1. "Embrace the primary duty of humanity which is to respect the ongoing Power of Creation as well as the universal manifestation of creation in all its forms."
    2. "Respect the religious freedom and Spirituality of others. There is only one God, yet there are many paths."
    3. "Live in God's grace, and honour all humanity as yourself."
    4. "Embrace a philosophy of the natural, not the supernatural; of free will, not determinism; of the primary reality of the individual, not the tribe or the family."
    5. "Embrace an epistemology of individual thought, applying strict logic, based on individual perception of reality, not obedience and dogma."
    6. "Embrace the principles of rational self-interest, to achieve chosen values, for the purpose of individual happiness on this earth," and
    7. "Love passionately, openly and without discrimination, just as our Creator loves us, with no thought of reciprocation or reward.

    I put these new commandments forward for your consideration, not to arrogantly replace the Decalogue; this is not a modern day attempt to nail a thesis to the castle church door in Wittenberg, nor does it suggest biblical reform, but rather I offer for your consideration a postmodern view of how we might govern our lives and as Christians better serve humanity and our Creator.

    Author: Rev. Malachy Egan
    Article Date: 21 November 2005

    "Love God with all your heart,
    and love your neighbour as yourself."