Second Thoughts on Publicly Displaying 10 Commandments

Until now, I’ve always opposed the idea of posting the 10 Commandments on government buildings.

I don’t want a theocracy. I don’t want religion at all, even separated from government. I’m embarrassed for my species that so many people imagine we haven’t advanced at all in millennia. Must we really turn to an ancient book that sanctions slavery and rape, stonings and genocide, to find not only guidance but unquestionable dictates? I’m disgusted by the notion that we should behave decently merely because of an imaginary system of rewards and punishments. Even mice only behave for real cheese and real shocks. How pathetic are we, exactly?

Well, truth be told, pretty damn pathetic. And how far have we advanced over the millennia? I’m beginning to wonder. Take a look at the ten commandments. Setting aside the preamble (worship this god, not that god, or you and your children and grandchildren and great grandchildren will be visited with iniquity), the first thing we’re commanded to do is to limit the work week to six days.

A six-day work week would be a huge step forward for many workers in the United States, not to mention the vastly greater number of workers abroad who produce profits for U.S. owners, profiteers, “job creators.” That’s right, we have lots of little “creators” now, and we are expected to worship them, but — among other defects — they tend to create seven-day-a-week jobs. Remember, not only are you supposed to take a day off, but so are your son, daughter, manservant, maidservant, cattle, and strangers. There’s no “unless they’re building your i-phones” clause. It’s for you to judge, I guess, whether foreigners rise to the status of cattle.

Next we are to honor our fathers and mothers. I’m no theologian, but stripping away pensions and threatening to slash Social Security doesn’t seem like honoring to me. Enriching health insurance profiteers rather than providing healthcare strikes me as the opposite of honoring. If we honor our fathers and mothers, we’re told, our days will be long on the land that god gave us. Well, never mind for a minute where the land came from or whether one species owns it or whether owning it is a helpful concept at all, if the land is going to last long (for anyone to do anything on it) we’re going to have to stop destroying it so disgracefully. We’re going to have to learn to treat something as sacred, as more valuable that our individual lives — much less the enrichment of our fossil fuel barons.

Then comes a big one, the first in the list of forbidden actions, the top crime — until now: Thou shalt not kill. The President of the United States kills and brags about it openly. He kills adults. He kills children. He kills adults and children who were nearby the other adults and children. He kills Americans and non-Americans. He kills people whose names and stories he knows. He kills people he cannot identify but whom he finds suspicious. He kills completely unrelated people by mistake. He kills with drones. He kills with planes. He kills with missiles. He kills with soldiers, guns, and bullets. He kills for no higher purpose found in the 10 commandments or elsewhere. His killing fuels hatred, resentment, rage, and more killing, sparking a vicious cycle of crime. He kills with sanctions and starvation. He kills by commission and omission in great numbers through the choice President Eisenhower outlined when he said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” The President does not kill alone. He has the support of the Congress, the courts, the military, and ultimately the rest of us. Our state governments kill too, in many cases, with “capital punishment.” Individuals kill too, in large numbers. And our entertainment, as for the Romans, consists largely of killing — just take a look at a television or a movie theater. Surely, Thou Shalt Not Kill should be posted on every wall of the White House, flashed in neon lights, and painted in blood.

Thou shalt not commit adultery. Now, there’s a command that we enforce tightly on our presidents while flagrantly disregarding as the norm. It’s as if we’ve made a grand bargain. Presidents get to kill. We get to commit adultery. But if we should step onto their territory and start killing, we will be killed or imprisoned. If they should step into our area and begin fornicating, well then we will shame, denounce, and perhaps even impeach them, before handing them multi-million dollar rewards for all the killing they’ve done. This needs to be re-thought. Perhaps our priorities for presidents are skewed, and perhaps our expectations of ourselves — we who are not absolutely corrupted by absolute power — are too low.

Thou shalt not steal. Like treason, large instances of stealing have ceased to exist, for if they succeed then none dare call it stealing. Our foreign policy is one of taking resources and labor. Our domestic policy is one of rewarding and protecting the greatest thieves.

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. But if you do, go big with it. Do it at the United Nations. Prop a CIA director up behind you. Do it with a straight face. And thou shalt be rewarded with a major book contract.

Thou shalt not covet. Stop right there for a long moment: Can you even imagine U.S. culture without coveting. It’s all about coveting and striving to provoke coveting by others. Both pursuits are accepted, rewarded, and praised. It’s very difficult to picture an alternative. Perhaps publicly displaying the ten commandments would shame us into trying.

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