Thursday, July 7, 2011

Commandment #11 of 10....wait...what?

Roy Moore's 10 commandment display being removed.

OK, there are no more commandments, but I thought I would make a final post about the commandments to comment on one of the most troubling things about the ten commandments.  The biggest issue I have with the ten commandments is not with anything in them as much as it is with what they left out.  The commandments speak about a wide variety of subjects to be sure, but as I have pointed out much is included that is either unneeded or downright unethical, on the other hand many things are missing from the ten commandments which would have made this set of commands much more useful as an ethical guide, and considering the author is supposed to be omniscient it does beg the question of how they didn't make the list.

1. How about a "thou shalt not own other humans as you would property?"  Most Christians quite rightly distance themselves from slavery these days, but until less than two hundred years ago many Christians felt that slavery was not only acceptable, but an entirely ethical practice, and based their arguments on the bible.  I pointed out that in commandment #10 it actually mentions slaves under the list of things you shouldn't covet with not the slightest hint of condemnation for the owning of slaves. But this is hardly the only passage mentioning slavery.  Exodus 21, just one chapter after the 10 commandments is full of laws expressly telling people how to properly go about owning slaves.  Not once in this or any other passage in the bible does it so much as say, "but it would be better if you didn't treat other human beings as property."  It is a hard truth that few Christians will admit but the bible not only does not condemn slavery it encourages it.

There is an argument out there presented by some Christians that slavery as laid out in the bible was not as bad as the practice of slavery was in the American south.  In other words, they argue that our impression of slavery in America "poisons the well" of slavery in general, which is, apparently, carried out in such a humanitarian fashion in the bible that no one could rationally object to it.

Not quite it turns out, because I object.  First, no matter how well treated a slave is still property, and I find it inherently unethical and logically unjustifiable to own other human beings.  Second, the Bible makes it clear that the slavery therein was anything but kind and gentile.

Take this passage for example:
And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished.  Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.  Exodus 21:20-21
In case you are unsure of the meaning here, this passage says it is not a crime to beat your slave to death as long as they survive a day or two.  No, slavery in ancient Israel was not humanitarian.

2. Here is another one that would have been nice, "thou shalt treat women as equals."  Imagine how many problems throughout western history could have been avoided if this had been in the bible.  As bad as the treatment of slaves was in the bible, the treatment of women was often worse.  If you were unlucky enough to be both slave and woman then you might as well forget having any sort of freedom.

Take this cheerful piece of literature:
Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.  But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves. Numbers 31:17
This is after the extermination of the Midianites.  Moses is essentially telling the Israeli soldiers, at the behest of god presumably, that they, after destroying a city including the girls parents apparently, they may force said girl to marry one of the very people who just murdered her parents.  Even worse it specifies virgins meaning these women were mostly likely younger that 15 years old.

Or should we talk about some of the statements about women's rights in the Pauline and pseudo-Pauline letters.  How he tells them to remain silent in church in 1st Cor. 14 or in 1st Tim 2.  If there is a treatise on women's equality to be found in the bible I have not found it.

3. How about a command against racism, or religious intolerance?  Not found anywhere in the 10 commandments I am afraid.  However, we can find plenty of passages in the bible where God orders genocide against whatever race, culture or religious group he happened to dislike, or happened to be on a patch of land he promised someone else.

All in all the Ten Commandments leave out a lot of things which would have helped make peoples lives much better.  Instead we get commands demanding worship and leveling threats at those who  refuse, and thought crimes.  If these were merely written by bronze age men who did the best they could, it would be understandable, in fact it would make perfect sense.  However if they were written by a all knowing God, it seems he could have done quite a bit better.  I find it impossible to believe that these were written by any sort of god.

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