Or, How to Think About the Ten Commandments
In your comments on the first 3 commandments, you claim a conflict between them & the US constitution. I disagree - they come from entirely different spheres & serve quite different purposes. There is no need for them to align & it shouldn't be expected.
To compete as a meme, any religion is likely to have strictures similar to the first 3 commandments. Conversely a liberal democracy maintains a separation of state & religion & should be much more tolerant of other beliefs. It would damage the state to align the constitution with the strictures of any particualar religion. And it would not be in a religion's self-interest(!) to allow the tolerance of competing views that works for a liberal democracy.
Overall though I agree with your thesis.
I love that Hitchens recitation of his version, and re-watch it often on youtube.
This comment "But “commanding” honor—much less love—doesn’t ring true to me as a parent, since such sentiments usually come naturally anyway. Plus, commanding honor is an oxymoron, made all the worse by the hint of a reward for so doing" is the one that might ring true to most Americans, but in reality is probably one of our greatest weaknesses.
Who would waste their lives snorting coke and doing fentanyl if they were terrified of their parents? Quite few. It's the cultural lack of a command to bow to parental authority that has empowered the culturally destructive ass clownery of the past 55 years. We won't survive it.
It's great if love is freely given, but for the health of society, it's better to be feared if one cannot be freely loved. asian and African cultures seem to understand this better than westerners. I think this is one of the things Tocqueville was wrong about.
All in all, I would recommend Schermer consult with Hebrew scholars about broader meanings of these words than he is assuming through the English translations.
I like the attempt to approach it rationally, and I love that he has the right to do so.
Also, "jealousy" is a difficult word to translate between languages, even French and Italian you have different connotations, it historically was just applying to eros in French. Like all emotions, jealousy is neither good nor bad, it is what you do with it
You might not care, but some Jews hate to see the name of God written out. Christians have been chided for being insensitive in this matter, just so you know.
Michael, this is an excellent essay. We’ve made a lot of moral progress since the Ten Commandments was promulgated.
“The last part of this commandment—visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me—violates the most fundamental principle of Western jurisprudence developed over centuries of legal precedence that one can be only be guilty of one’s own sins and not the sins of one’s parents, grandparents, great grandparents, or anyone else for that matter.”
GW: According to the Adam and Eve story, God punished all human descendants for the sins of Adam and Eve. Does God consider the descendants guilty before they ever do anything wrong? The author of Genesis thinks so.
“IV. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
GW: A recent decision by the SCOTUS forces employers to honor an employee’s religious belief to not work on Sunday because he is a Christian.
“VI. Thou shalt not kill.”
GW: Here is a reasonable substitute:
“Any person X should not kill another person Y, unless
1. Defense: X must kill Y because this killing is necessary for X to prevent death or serious harm to X or to person Z who is endangered by Y.
2. Collateral Damage or Hostage Situation: X must kill Z who is an innocent bystander because this killing is necessary for X to prevent death or serious harm to at least two innocent persons endangered by Y, and Z happens to be “in the way.”
3. Mercy Killing: X is authorized to kill Y by either Y or Y’s medical surrogate, given prior written informed consent, because
a. Y has been in a coma or similar brain state for more than a year and the probability of recovery is very low which has been determined by Y’s unresponsiveness, Y’s lack of covert consciousness, and examination and agreement by at least two neurologists.
b. Y is very probably going to die within three months anyway.
c. Y has intractable suffering which has lasted more than six months and the probability of reversing it is very low.
d. Y exceeds the age of 90.
4. Rare Justice: X must kill Y because Y has killed or done serious harm to Z and the usual ethical procedures of arrest, indictment, trial, conviction, and incarceration are impossible or very impractical in this particular case.
“Coming from a deity who impregnated somebody else’s fiancé, that’s a bit rich.”
GW: I think the deity raped the woman. I wrote an essay supporting this hypothesis and it was rejected for publication (not by Skeptic).
“VII. Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
GW: This is a correct moral rule if the couple has contracted to be monogamous. Adultery has become too common and excused in our society. The failure to enforce the rule against adultery harms women more than men.
“IX. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
GW: This rule needs to be qualified, as follows:
“Any person X should not lie to any other person Y, except when it is necessary to protect X or a third party Z from serious injury or death.”
I like what I've heard from Dennis Prager interpreting the Decalogue. It had occurred to me, but I later heard Prager interpret how the Decalogue reduces to different kinds of stealing. Prager also interpreted the Hebrew for 'covet' as wanting not just things comparable to what one's neighbor has, but the neighbor's belongings. That is a desire to steal, which conception seems the inception of stealing.
Not much to argue with here aside from the opening line. I dare say “There is, arguably, no better known TITLE for a set of moral precepts...”.
Article 7, the one against stealing, needs some work. There are plenty of situations in which stealing is rational and should be allowed. Stealing food if there is no legal way to get it, for example. Stealing property used for immoral purposes, such as environmentalists sabotaging equipment used to destroy forests or kill wildlife. A prisoner stealing things needed to escape is another example.
A blanket prohibition against stealing makes no more sense than one against killing.
Instead of citing the U.S. Constitution, it would be better to refer to the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, which in theory, at least, appliies to all humans anywhere, not just in the legal system of one country.
Hitchins remark on cell phones is spot on!
I would add one important one: ''Do not automatically assume your children must follow your religion. They have the right to decide for themselves what religion, if any, they wish to belong to. You do not own them and do not have the right to bring them up in the religion of your choice. Parents have an obligation to respect the rights of their children, including the right to choose their own path.''
This is a good discussion of the Ten Commandments. Also, we don't have asses (aside from politicians and celebrities) or polytheism but we have possessions (keeping up with the joneses) and we have many pseudo-religious ideologies so if you follow the Ten Commandments you should think about how they should be applied today.
I always felt that Matt 6:24 should be connected to the Ten Commandments - especially when they are slapped on courthouses & schools.