Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Law of Ten…or Two

Moses A while back, everyone's favorite Alaskan hilljack, Sarah Palin, had a chat with Bill O'Reilly. This was about the national day of prayer, which a judge rightly struck down as unconstitutional. The national day of prayer isn't what this entry is about...we can save that for another day, perhaps when it rolls around again next year, and we can debate it all over again.

During the course of their conversation, Sarah said that our laws were based on the ten commandments. She was roundly ridiculed for such a statement, and I was one of the ones ridiculing her. If she would bother to read even a little bit about our history (maybe she could find something about it in "all of them" newspapers that she reads), it would be obvious that she is completely mistaken. Not only were the majority of the framers of our Constitution leery of religion in their own lives, they were explicit in their wishes that religion not play any role whatsoever in our government.

However, a lot of people seem to think that Sarah was right in saying that our laws are based upon the ten commandments. Let's take a look, shall we? Let's see all the commandments and which have federal laws based upon them.

1. You shall have no other gods before me.

No laws that I know of say that this is a crime.

2. You shall not make for yourselves an idol.

Again, no laws on the books that I know of.

3. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.

I believe that a few towns have tried to pass profanity laws, but I don't believe they have been very successful in their endeavors at prosecution. I wonder if their statutes were explicit in what profanity was acceptable and what wasn't? Did they specifically mention words like "goddamn" or "goddamnitalltohell," or did they go with the diminutives that some religions also find offensive, like "jeez" or "golly" or "gosh?" Do Catholics find "sweet mary mother of jesus!" offensive, or does it all depend in the way one says it? Does inflection matter? A devout person can say "Jesus!" and claim that they are just exhorting their deity. Another person can stub their toe on a park bench and say "Jesus!" Who is anyone to judge who is misusing the name of God?

4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

I suppose that you could say that certain archaic laws concerning liquor stores not being open on Sunday (Yeah, I'm talking to YOU, Indiana!) are involved with this commandment, but I don't think it's reasonable to say that there are any laws stating that someone should be punished for not keeping the Sabbath holy.

5. Honor your father and your mother.

Good advice, but again, no laws. I also have to say that not every parent deserves honor. There are those who abuse their children, verbally, emotionally, physically, and sexually. I have a hard time with any religion or religious text that states that every parent deserves honor and respect.

6. You shall not murder.

Boy howdy, we've got a winner! We've got laws on the book in every goshdarn state (oops, excuse my #3) saying that this is indeed a crime. Now we're talkin'! Okay, let's keep going.

7. You shall not commit adultery.

Hm. Guess there's not really a law against that. Next!

8. You shall not steal.

YEAH! There's another one! Theft is wrong, and there's all kinds of laws against it. Grand theft auto, petty larceny, burglary...yeah, baby, we hit the jackpot here! Of course, despite the myriad laws, it all comes back to this one commandment, so you don't get multiple points for it. Drat.

9. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

I suppose you could stretch this to encompass perjury, but some religions stretch this to say "thou shalt not lie." It's certainly not a good thing to maliciously lie, but if you think all lying is bad, you might want to take a lesson from Lucy. (Check out Lucy’s bridge game with her friends, from about 6:00 to 12:30. "Stop cackling, Marian, I've been waiting ten years for you to lay that egg!")

10. You shall not covet.

Darn. No laws there, either. Of course, coveting can lead to stealing, which would violate #8 and violate state and federal laws, but coveting is a thought, not an action. There are no legal prohibitions against thoughts.

So if we look at the commandments that have actually become law--actual, tangible laws on the books--we've got a whopping two out of ten. The ten commandments are batting a whopping .200! If you're in the minor leagues, .200 doesn't get you sent to the majors, and if you're in the majors, batting .200 is apt to get you sent down to the minors. It's not exactly a stellar performance.

What it all comes down to is that we are not a theocracy. There are other countries that base their laws upon religion, like Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, and many others; such laws are oppressive and we find them to be in direct opposition to democracy. Why would anyone here think that it would be acceptable for us to base our laws upon religion? Why would anyone think that we already have done that? That couldn't be further from the truth, and it must always stay that way.

Some of the sentiments expressed in the ten commandments are universal truths. Animals have been shown to behave in moral ways, because such behavior leads to a strengthening of the social group and fabric. It leads to better survival within the group. A set of commandments is not essential to motivate people to do good or to behave in the best interests of society. Are laws necessary? Of course, because there will always be those who do not want to act in the interests of the greater good.

Justice But to believe that our laws are based upon the ten commandments is demonstrably false and shows a profound lack of historical knowledge. Despite what many claim and what many seem to want, we do not base our laws upon Christianity or any Christian texts or tenets. That goes against what we stand for as a country, and is completely counter to what the framers of our Constitution intended. Are certain behaviors conducive to the smooth operation of society? Definitely. Is our legislation a result of the ten commandments? Definitely not. Note that the first four are all about God's insecurities, rather than any sort of law that would contribute to the good of the people or the survival of the community. Animals, including the human animal, figured it out on their own. Survival depends upon a society in which the majority work for the greater good. Those who choose not to do that are ostracized, marginalized, and excluded from the gene pool, resulting in a stronger society.

I have no problem with anyone who lives a good life because they feel their religion compels them to do so. I do have a problem with anyone who says that those who don't subscribe to the same religion have no morals, and I also have a problem with anyone who says that our laws are based on the ten commandments. People like Palin have a lot of learning to do when it comes to understanding our history and comprehending our Constitution. And people who think that it's perfectly okay to promote Christianity and place it in our courts, schools, and government need to think very seriously about the constitutionality of that. I would advise them to slide their tender little feet into other shoes and think about a different religion--let's say Mormonism--being mandated by our government. I'm guessing they wouldn't like that very much. But as soon as we let our government mandate, promote, or even condone any one religion, we are at risk.


  1. Excellent Beth, as usual. First of all the Ten Commandments aren't even Christian doctrine originally. They are Mosaic law, Old Testament stuff. If you reduce the ten to two then you have Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God. The God in question isn't specified except to say The Lord thy God is one God. Meaning. I suppose, not to be confused about who we worship and let's not be pagans anymore. The other is Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, also Old Testament stuff.

    Jesus picked those up from his own research, Sarah, and brought them into the modern world. And if you reduce those two to their essence you have the word "love." Ah, that's the hard one. It means loving a deity we can't see and loving our neighbor, meaning inclusivity, mutual respect and builing a safe and sane society, as you point out.

    I'm reminded of another Biblical reference which says that if you can't love your brother whom you can see, how can you love God whom you can't see.

    I propose another commandment, for this age and every age, Thou shalt not be ignorant.


  2. The unmitigated ignorance that she display on a regular basis is incredible! Now, I think Bill is not as bad as most and as a former teacher, he has my respect. But I know he feels something crawling up the back of his throat when he trys to lob softballs for Sarah Palin to hit, because that is what he is 'supposed to do'.

    I have always thought that childhood is where human unlearn to be human. There have been studies that have shown that many of the social prejudices that exist today, are learned. No one is born anti this or that (which is one reason why they aren't related!) and that outside influences create the insecurites from which our problems with ourselves as a species spring.

    I don't think Bill O'Reilly is as bad as the majority of the non-thinkers are on Fox. So I wonder what the interview with Sarah Palin was like for him, a former teacher. She has to look a lot like a dumber Tracy Flick to him...

    I didn't look at the link about the morals of animals. Part of what birthed my skepticism about religion as a young boy included a piece of information about animals and how they were born with basically the knowledge they needed to survive. They only needed to look and watch their parents so that they can apply what they actually already know.

    I would also say that understanding their roles in the 'tree of life' is a part of that 'knowing', as is knowing right from wrong and fair from unfair. What I would like to see is one of those brain scans where they show which areas of the brain are active or engaged when people like Sarah Palin speak or think. I wonder what makes the areas concern fairness or judgement light up in their minds.

    Somehow, the Alaskan Tracy Flick has finally found a way to break out of her small place and she is NOT going back!! Has there ever been a former LOSER VP that has gotten this much attention, ever?

    Just ramblin'!

  3. Palin was in error. Our laws are loosely based upon the principles and precepts of the laws handed down to Moses for the new emerging nation of Israel to govern itself by. They had nothing to do with the Ten Commandments. Too many people lump the personal law of the Ten Commandments for all of God's people to follow in with the law He handed Israel for a nation to govern themselves by and the Levitical law He gave to the priests. All are found in the Old Testament. And all were given by God through Moses. But each has a distinct purpose and design.

    To DB: The Ten Commandments were originally given as part of the Mosaic law, but Christianity has always included them in their own doctrines and beliefs because Christianity arose as and out-shoot from Judaism. Jesus was himself a Jew, a descendant of David. He presented Himself as the long prophesied Messiah. As for who the God was, there was no question in the Great I Am's mind nor Moses's nor any of the Israelites as to whom that was. Jesus reduced them to Love the Lord God and Love thy neighbor as thyself.

  4. Hi Beth,
    I'll bet even Sarah Palin knows that our laws aren't really based on the ten commandments, but it's convenient for her to say so. I think she uses statements like this to further cement her support among her religious right-wing base. Or do I give her too much credit ...?

  5. Great analysis of Palin's baseless conclusion. Pretty much every culture has some code of ethics or laws that govern human interaction, most developed long before Christianity existed. Palin and her followers arrogantly assume that everything in the world derives from Christianity. Many of the stories and parables in the Christian Bible are also in the writings of ancient Sumeria, China, India and others. The Sumerian tale of Gilgamesh includes a flood story that has a Noah like survivor. The Sumerian story was written long before the birth of Christ.

  6. To Barbara, it wasn't Jesus who reduced them. They had already been reduced. The Shema, Deuteronomy 6: 4 - 5 And Levircus 19: 18. It my have been clear to Moses who God was but certainly not his followers, not with a golden calf, other idols and the necessity of the zealotry of Phineas, etc. And Christianity has adopted from the Old Testament only what it has chosen to.

  7. Again, Db is absolutely right about the Mosaic Law Covenant. He beat me to it again. The Mosaic Law Covenant was in place to show the Israelites that they were not perfect; it was to humble them, and they were to *try* to live up to it, but it was mainly to point toward the true fulfillment of that Law Code in the ransom sacrifice of Christ, the Messiah whom they would eventually, as a people, reject. Jesus lived under the Law Code, and he did it perfectly, proving that he was the only one who could be the perfect ransom exchange for what the perfect man Adam lost; the only one, in effect, who could be the Messiah. When Christ founded the Christian Congregation he fulfilled the Law Code (Matt. 5:17). He became the Perfect Law. And when he was asked by the Pharisees what was the most important "commandment" he said it was to love God with our whole heart, whole soul, and whole mind, and then he went one step further and said that the second was to love our neighbors as ourselves. (Matt. 22:37-40, I think.) Those two "commandments" encompass all of the Ten Commandments, actually, and fulfill -- not do away with -- the Mosaic Law Code. So, no, the Founding Fathers did NOT base the Constitution on The Ten Commandmants. But I don't expect Palin to actually know what she's talking about when it comes to the Bible any more than I expect her to know anything about U.S. history, and Marty has a point. I think most of the time she's as dumb as she seems. But I think sometimes she is just exhibiting an enormous arrogance, bigger even than George W's and his VP, what's-his-name's, and that's something I thought I'd never think. If she says it enough, someone will latch onto it and give it some credibility, and she knows that!

    Also, to be accurate, 1) I believe some states do still statutorily prohibit adultery as a crime, but I'm not sure, and 2) technically speaking, if the U.S. did regulate the keeping of the Sabbath as holy, it would be from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, not Sunday.

  8. Unfortunately, most will not understand nor research such truths. It is sad what our rhetoric has become.

  9. A tad off topic, but Palin-worthy, did you hear about this:


  10. Barbara knows what The Great I Am was thinking! Somebody alert the press.

    On Number Seven, my experiences as an expert witness in the county Family Court system all came back to me in a regrettable rush: In SC, Sections 16-15-60 through 16-15-80 of the SC Code of Laws deals states,

    "Any man or woman who shall be guilty of the crime of adultery or fornication shall be liable to indictment and, on conviction, shall be severally punished by a fine of not less than one hundred dollars nor more than five hundred dollars or imprisonment for not less than six months nor more than one year or by both fine and imprisonment, at the discretion of the court."

    It goes on to define adultery in detail. (Incidentally, that same Title covers the illegality of breastfeeding in a public place)

    I'm pretty sure there are other states who retain such archaic laws on their books. In this state, when some spouse wants to throw a monkey wrench into the divorce or custody process, he/she pulls out good ol' 16-15-60, requiring the accused to prove it not so.

    Guys, I have a really nice house just blocks to the beach in SC. PLEASE BUY IT!!! Get me outta here.

  11. p.s. On Numero Seven, stil, The Code of Wiki states,

    "In the United States, laws vary from state to state. In those states where adultery is still on the statute book (although rarely prosecuted), penalties vary from life sentence (Michigan),[47] to a fine of $10 (Maryland), to a Class I felony (Wisconsin).[48] In the U.S. Military, adultery is a potential court-martial offense.[15] The enforceability of adultery laws in the United States is unclear following Supreme Court decisions since 1965 relating to privacy and sexual intimacy of consenting adults.[49] However, occasional prosecutions do occur.[50]"

    Dang. I mean, dagnabbit. Oh, jesus christ on a bike in the fog with his dog (my favorite expletive when somebody almost runs me off the road.)


I'm funny how, I mean funny like I'm a clown, I amuse you?