Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Commandment #8 of 10

Thou shalt not steal.  Exodus 20:15

To be honest I don't have much to say about this one that I didn't say about #6.  It sounds good on the surface but is too vague to be truly useful.  There are plenty of reasons that stealing might end up being ethical in certain situations.   If it were to save someones life for instance I would be willing to steal, this law seems to fail to make any such exceptions.

The other thing about stealing is that the concept goes hand it hand with the concept of property ownership, just about every sufficiently developed society in human history has developed this concept, usually about the same time they traded hunter-gather culture for that of an agrarian one.  The point is that the idea that, in general, we shouldn't take others stuff is not unique to Christianity and requires no god to mandate it.  Stable societies require such a law if they wish to stay stable.  It seems to me there is no real way to claim that our founding fathers only made theft illegal because the bible said so, even if they were super religious.  Plenty of societies prior to Judaism's advent made this a crime and plenty since. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Commandment #7 of 10

Thou shalt not commit adultery, Exodus 20:14

This happens to be one of the few commandments I generally agree with.  I do have a couple of small disagreements though.  My first problems comes from what was generally considered adultery, until modern times the only person who would be blamed for breaking this law was generally the woman involved.  Men were mostly overlooked.  

The other issue I have is that I think this is primarily an issue of honesty.  If people agree to some form of poly-amorous relationship, as long as all parties agree and no one is being dishonest or forced into anything against their will I don't really see the problem with it, though technically such behaviors would run afoul of this command.

In any case, I can't think it is good or reasonable to criminalize sexual infidelity on its own.  This seems to be something those in sexual relationships need to work out on their own without interference from the government.

This commandment, at one time, had a larger place in the legal system in the U.S.  In fact are still states that carry a law punishing adultery varying from a life imprisonment in Michagan, to a 10 dollar fine in Maryland.  Of course these laws are very rarely used, and several supreme court decisions have made most states reluctant to attempt to prosecute people under these laws, since they are often overturned in higher courts.

Though the government has been rather inconsistent when it comes to laws against sexual behavior I generally find that making sexual behavior illegal between consenting adults to be something unneeded and counter to the constitutional guarantee of equal rights.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Commandment #6 of 10

Thou shalt not kill.  Exodus 20:13

Now we reach the first commandment to actually be codified into our laws and stay there.  We do of course consider it wrong to kill other human beings, except in certain limited cases like self defense or war.  

However, I have a major problem with this command.  Besides being vague, god regularly violates his own law, and even hands out orders which regularly violates this law.

Take this passage from Samuel 15 for instance:
Thus saith the Lord of hosts ... go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare him not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.
Now, understand if this were just a war I would have a certain modicum of understanding, we in the modern world still unfortunately end up in wars, but the command god levels here clearly orders the killing of non-combatants, to be frank he orders a genocide on a level more extreme than any 20th century dictator.  War is always ugly, but in the U.S. we make a special point to avoid injuring non-combatants.  God, on the other hand, seems to think murdering infants, elderly, women, even pregnant women we can assume (so much for abortion being wrong by god's standards) is fine, you know as long as he commands it.

This leaves those who believe morality is commanded by god in a odd position.  Most Christians like to claim their morality is objective, however it seems in this case to be completely relative to whims of god's command.  It's wrong to kill, until god commands you to kill babies, and then suddenly its time to pick up swords and stop lopping off baby heads.

Perhaps I am being crass, but I think its needed.  I cannot stress how horribly immoral and unethical I find the bible to be as a whole.

This leaves the modern Christian with an interesting logical conundrum.  Many of you may remember the story of Deanna Laney who, in 2004, stoned her children to death because she felt god told her to.  Now as an atheist I think its clear there was a lot more wrong with her than her religion, she clearly had mental problems.  Most Christians would of course join me in that assessment, but how do they justify their position?

Christians must believe that god does hand out commands to his followers, and clearly god has had no problem in the past telling people to kill children so how can they be certain that people like Deanna Laney were not told by god to kill their kids?  This is the basic problem with a supernatural centered world view.  The belief in forces that are undetectable by any natural means leaves it fundamentally impossible to determine if people's subjective views of reality are true or not.

Of course this a bit far afield of the original topic.  The point I am trying to make here is that even though this command is built into our legal system in theory, in practice U.S. law is much more clearly defined, and more consistently practiced than the biblical law.  Odd isn't it, that god, a supposed perfect being, can't even create an ethical system as well organized and consistent as us flawed humans.  It's almost as if these laws were just created by men and not by a god at all.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Gay marriage legalized in NY

For a while it seemed like the whole thing was going to be stalled out by religious wingnuts trying to add lines in the bill that allowed them to continue to be bigots while the rest of the world went on without them, but reason won through in the end and the bill past.

...Now if only we could get Arizonans to agree that providing equal rights all citizens is a good thing.

Commandment #5 of 10

 Honour thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee. 

On the surface this seems like a pretty good command doesn't it?  I mean who doesn't think honoring ones parents is a good thing?  However, upon closer examination this commandment is of little real value.

First off, it is quite vague, what exactly does it mean to honor ones parents?  What actions qualify as honoring them and which don't?  You would think that a command which includes a threat of a shorter life span for disobedience would be more specific about the details.

Secondly what about parents who don't deserve honor?  Some parents are abusive, or bad, or criminals.  Recently Damon Fowler was kicked out of his own house for standing up for church state separation in his high school graduation.  He was effectively disowned by his parents for this.  Many parents are not worthy of honor, do we honor them anyway?  

If you're father is a thief do you help him steal....wait that violates another commandment doesn't it?  Is it possible for god to create a set of 10 rules which don't contradict themselves?

Not only is the command a rather useless one upon close examination, politically it is no where to be found in our laws.  It doesn't directly contradict anything in our laws unlike all of the earlier commandments, but nothing in our laws command children to honor their parents.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Commandment #4 of 10

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.  
Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 

This is the first commandment that actually deals with behavior as it pertains to humans and the effects said behavior has on them rather than god. 

On the surface it doesn't seem to bad to suggest that people take a day off, but once we read it carefully we find that a big part of this command turns the focus back on god again, in that we are supposed to do this because god did it.  Further, it is not simply a requirement that people take a break once in a while it is a specific day that everyone must take not work.

The nature of this command becomes more clear when viewed in the context of Number 15:32-36. in this passage a man is caught gathering sticks on the Sabbath and at the behest of god is put to death for his violation of this law.  Once you read that it becomes clear that once again this law was not really about making things better for our fellow humans, but about control.  God wanted his followers to take a day off and spend it worshiping him.  In fact isn't this exactly the mentality of many modern Christians when it comes to Sunday?

Certain pieces of law have been put into our legal system based upon this law, such as laws prohibiting sale of liquor on Sunday, but by and large this is another commandment that is largely ignored by our government.  Little wonder since it would violate the establishment clause, plus a death sentence for work on Sunday would wipe out just about everyone in the country.  In modern society it would be impossible for us to implement a common day off for everyone.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Commandment #3 of 10

Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.  Exodus 20:7

On to number 3,  god still seems majorly concerned with his how people view him.  Considering he is now 3 for 3 he seems to have a major preoccupation with himself.


The main thing to note here is that this commandment referred to a use of god's proper name, of course which proper name is a debate in and of itself.  One that can, and has, filled entire books on ancient Jewish religion.  God was referred to by many names in the Christian Old Testament, especially the earlier parts which has caused some scholars to speculate on whether early Judaism might have been polytheistic.  I don't personally have an opinion on this as I am not well versed enough in the history, nor do I really care, polytheism is no more rational then monotheism in my book.

Modern Spin:

Most modern Christians spin this to speak about using swear words, specifically things like "god damn it" or "god is a fucking asshole."  Christians always hate it when I say that last one for some reason...


Well, for one, its a threat.  God doesn't really say what his is going to do, but considering some of the other stuff he does in the bible it probably won't be good.


Now we reach the first commandment to actually make it into American law in some form.  I speak, of course, of blasphemy laws.  Of course the federal government never had such laws as they would have violated the first amendment.  However state governments often have had such laws.  Though as far as I know no one has been successfully prosecuted for them since the 14th amendment extended the effects of the bill of rights to all levels of government.

I would say that  the 1st amendment puts our law, in a philosophical sense, in a rather strong opposition to this commandment.  The government, unlike god, choose to not criminalize what people say in and of itself.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Commandment #2 of 10

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.  Exodus 20:4-6
So this one is bit longer than the first one.  It also contains some rather interesting lines.


This one, like number 1, was very literal, but was not necessarily a commandment against any form of art.  Almost all art at the time was religious in nature, so it was a warning make idols and then worship them and serve them.  In many ways it is a rather similar command to the first one. God seemed to want to make sure people were paying attention to him and not a statue.

As an aside this particular command resulted in the destruction of quite a bit of catholic art work during the protestant reformation.  Many protestant groups decided that all the art the Catholic church had commissioned counted as graven images.


Wow, where to begin.  If commandment #1 made god sound like a bit of a narcissist, then he openly admits in in this commandment when he points out that he is "a jealous God." He then follows it by a threat to punish the children of anyone who dares not love him.  It is one of the many places in the bible where god sounds like an abusive prick.  Oh of course he loves you if you do what he says...but its a rather conditional love, rather like the love of a husband who gives his wife a black eye when she burns his dinner.


Once again, I see nothing the U.S. constitution which would mirror this command.  In fact I noticed  a rather strange while reading this. People like Roy Moore, or Rep. Patrick Williams (D-Shreveport) consistently try to push for large displays of the the 10 commandments to be placed in public places, in an action that, ironically, seems to go against this very command. Am I the only one that finds it odd that these people demand the right to put up a large stone plaque of rules they think everyone should obey, which specifically tells them not to build monuments?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Commandment #1 of 10

So I am writer out some posts speaking about each of the 10 commandments.  As I mentioned in my last post, there are many people out there under delusions that the 10 commandments are brilliant and that they are the basis for our moral code in this country.

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.  Exodus 20:3

Well there you have it, one of the shorter commandments in the list, commanding us to put god first. 
Historically this passage actually referred to other gods.  Judaism formed in in the middle of a world which was polytheistic.  As a result the Israelite believed in multiple gods, this command was to let them know that they had to put their god before these other ones.  This is actually a fairly typical command of any tribal deity (as Yahweh certainly was at this time).  Worshiping the god of another land would have looked very similar to treason to most of a persons neighbors at the time.

Modern spin:

Most modern Christians like to ignore the tribal roots of Judaism and instead tend to interpret this commandment as a metaphor.  Instead of talking about literal gods modern believers will refer to mundane things that distract them from "following god."  A pastors jargon from the pulpit will typically reference things like money, fame, sex, porn, video games, and generally anything that people enjoy.  


Well this most obvious criticism is that it makes god look like a narcissist.  He gives a top ten list of ethical rules and the first thing out of his mouth is "hey everybody look at me!"   It is hard for me to imagine that a being capable of creating a whole universe is going to be terribly concerned with whether or not I remembered to thank him for it.

Of course Christians try to spin this by saying that the command is really for our benefit.  They will often say that god only wants us follow him first because it will make us better or happier or more attractive...

OK, I made that last one up.

In any case this argument really doesn't work either factually or logically.  Factually it doesn't work because there are so many people who believe in other gods, or no god at all and seem just as happy and well adjusted as any Christian.  Logically it doesn't work because it leaves unanswered the question of why god would choose to create beings that must kiss up to him in order to be happy.

To illustrate lets compare god to a parent for a moment, since that comparison is made quite often by the bible and by believers.  Would anyone of us think well of a person who raised their child to be totally dependent on them for their entire life and unable to make even the simplest of choices with out checking with their mom or dad first?  Or would would think better of a parent who raised their child to be independent, to go their own way, and to live their own life?  I think we all know the answer to those questions.


This should be really obvious, there is nothing anywhere in the constitution or any part of the law that mirrors this commandment even slightly.  For that matter it would be impossible to do so in its present form. If one wanted to make it a law they would need to be much more specific, giving very clear instruction on what actions would count as putting something ahead of god.  

So commandment #1 is not part of our legal system and is far to vague on its own to even count as a law.  I see no reason to think that the founding fathers of the United States ever once took this commandment into account when designing the constitution.

I'm back....also, what the hell is wrong with people.

I ran across an article on the Washington Examiner this morning by a guy named
Gregory Kane.  I had never heard of him, but apparently he once won a Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Journalism, and he thinks Roy Moore is "too honest."

For those of you who don't know or remember Roy Moore was Chief Justice of the Alabama supreme court who refused to remove the rather large stone display of the 10 commandments he posted in his courtroom at the behest of a court order.  This, of course, resulted in his removal from office.  

So, now jobless, Moore did what every religious/pseudoscience nut does, he goes out on a lecture circuit leaching money off of people who are willing to pay to hear him whine about how the establishment is out to get him, and destroy whatever nonsense he happens to pedal.  It appears he has now been doing that at least 8 years now.

Moore's particular nonsense, if you haven't guessed, is typical of Christian dominionists.  He thinks homosexuals are evil,  that there is no church/state separation in any meaningful sense and that there is a huge liberal conspiracy to silence Christianity.  He has also stated clearly that he believes our justice system is based upon Christianity and the 10 commandments.

I could write a huge article talking about how inane and ridiculous Moore's ideas are, but I wouldn't be saying anything I haven't said before.  What really bothered me was a post that was made in response to the article.

I'm not religious. I belong to no church. I RESPECT everyone's right to believe, or not, in God, Allah, the hereafter, nothing, or whatever.  I understand that a crucifix is a symbol of death, predating Christianity. The 10 Commandments have always seemed to me to be a good set of rules, along with the Golden Rule, of living life in a satisfactory way. I have also observed, in my long life, that people who live this way seem to be more secure, happier and content than those who would rather impose their intolerance on others,

This post reminded me of an odd phenomenon I have noticed from some people ever since I left my religion behind, people who though not religious seem to think that religious ideas on the whole are positive and good for society.  The part on the 10 commandments caught my eye most of all since I have to conclude that anyone who is not a believer and thinks they are a "good set of rules" has clearly never read them.

I expect Moore and his ilk to irrationally make claims that our justice system is directly based upon these 10 rules, but anyone who would claim to be skeptical of religion ought to know better.  Therefore, I have decided to do a series of posts debunking the notion that the 10 commandments are good rules, 1 commandment at a time.

Moore and others like him would like to turn this country effectively into a theocracy, so I think it would be good for everyone to see exactly what is being promoted when judges post the 10 commandments on the wall of a courtroom and see for yourself if it seems reasonable to say our legal system is based upon it.