The Ten Commandments Revisted

By Larry Sherber

Those of you who heard my last presentation on Gay, civil and women's rights were exposed to my more serious side. But it has always been my contention that humor is one of the great healing forces in the universe. So today, let's lighten up and get healed as we revisit the Ten Commandments. I have never purposely written anything that would insult, offend, or disrespect anyone's religion or belief system; the key word being purposely. So know up front that this presentation is being given with a complete absence of malice. It is filled with satire, half truths, meaningless humor, unresearched facts, immaterial declarations, uncalled for remarks, weak stereotypes, unimportant observations, out of context quotes, irreverent ideas, insensitive opinions, misleading paraphrasing, bad grammar, unpopular statements, outrageous comments, unsubstantiated rumors, tasteless innuendoes, slanderous accusations, and unclean thoughts, and is not, I repeat not to be taken seriously! That said, let us indulge in the great Unitarian Universalist tradition of exploring and questioning our culture's sacred rules and institutions. Sit back, relax, and open your minds to some new ideas and new ways of looking at that moral anchor of our society, the darling of the Christian right and even many of us on the religious left: the Ten Commandments.

In my humble opinion, these laws that were passed down to us thousands of years ago are sorely in need of updating and revisions. So with love in my heart, with the intellectual curiosity burning in my Unitarian brain, and with my tongue in my cheek, I will present a completely biased, twenty first century critique of some of those age old ethical guides that Moses, with great effort and difficulty, delivered to the morally starved Israelites.

Before I get started I'm going to give a little personal history on the subject. My earliest thoughts came as a 9 year old in 1956, of course, with my viewing of Cecil B. DeMille's classic epic movie entitled The Ten Commandments. The part of Moses was given to that handsome serious actor Mr. Charleton Heston. Looking back on it now, it was easily the worst casting choice in the history of film. The entire casting department has since either committed suicide, been institutionalized, or are hiding in isolation. The spokesman for the the National Rifle Association, who dedicated himself to giving violent extremist groups, terrorists, and criminals easy access to automatic weapons and their guns of choice was chosen to deliver the Ten Commandments? Which, lest you forget, contain the words "Thou shalt not kill!" Only in movies would a leader and symbol of the Christian right be given the part of a leader of the Jewish left! I hope the irony of this has not been lost on just me! I know, hindsight is 20-20. Who knew back then what kind of world would exist a half century later? On the other hand, we have to hold someone responsible for this transgression; it's the American way. So let's blame it on Hollywood, home of those moral degenerates.

The Ten Commandments, being of little interest to me for the next 25 years, once again came into my consciousness at the movies during a showing of Mel Brooks' The History of the World, Part 1 in 1981. Now there was a more likely candidate to play Moses. Mel Brooks, a real Jew with a sense of humor, was perfect for the part. After all who was in more dire need of a sense of humor to get him through his trials and tribulations than the overworked and emotionally drained leader who led his people out of bondage. In the big scene where Moses came down from the mountain after an intense meeting with God, I was surprised to see him carrying three tablets instead of the two I expected. As he was reaching the final destination for his historic delivery he spoke: "The Lord has instructed me to give you these fif?," and just at that moment one of the tablets fell from his hands and crashed into a thousand pieces on the rocks below. What could have been a monumental tragedy for the future of the human race was avoided as the quick thinking Moses recovered and continued, "these Ten Commandments." When I finally stopped laughing I spent weeks thinking about the five commandments that were lost in that fateful accident, and then the original Ten slipped out of my consciousness again where they laid undisturbed for decades: out of sight, out of mind.

However, in the past few years, since my move to north Georgia, it has been impossible to avoid the Ten Commandments, as they seem to be growing like wild flowers in many of the front yards of my new mountain neighbors. I have finally decided to deal, once and for all, with this proclamation from above. So let's take a fair, but critical look at selected commandments as viewed from a liberal, make that radical, standpoint created right here in the twenty-first century, and hopefully get some practical pointers on how to lead kindlier, gentler, and fuller lives.

First, an important clarification: who knows the real number of commandments that actually exist? Anyone? Well, I did a little research in a traditional Bible and on the internet and, much to my surprise, I discovered that there are actually three generally accepted versions of the Ten Commandments: the Judaic, the Catholic, and the Protestant. There seems to be a little confusion about which are the real commandments. Only the Judaic version has a commandment that states "I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the house of bondage." Having a Judaic background, I immediately recognized this as the "You owe Me" commandment to make you feel guilty if you should break any of the other nine. The Protestants are the only group with a commandment that states: "Thou shalt not make for thyself any graven image." Now according to Webster's dictionary, the definition of 'graven image' is: "an object of worship carved usually from wood or stone." This apparently allows the plastic Jesus found on the dashboards of many cars to slip by on a technicality. The Catholics are the only religion to have two 'covet' commandments. While the Jews and Protestants state simply: "Thou shalt not covet," the Catholics specify; "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors wife" and "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods," suspiciously leaving out anything about thy neighbor's young sons. So, with each of the three religions having their own special commandments, plus sharing eight others, there are, as best I can tell, actually thirteen different commandments. Let's take a look at a few of the 'Big Eight', as I've affectionately called the commandments everyone seems to agree on.

"Thou shalt have no other Gods before me." Although trying to keep an open mind, I'm already off to a bad start. With so many proclaimed supreme beings out there: Jehovah, the Judeo-Christian God, Allah, the Muslim God, Jah, the Rostaferian God, the Sikh God, The Gods of the African tribes, the list goes on and on; what's a sensible person to think? Is there only one true God? I've heard the argument that this is the case, that only one God exists and is worshipped by all the religions of the world; they just call Him by different names. But how do you explain each religion, and often each different denomination within the same religion, having found the only true path to God and heaven, sending all others to you know where? Would the one true God approve? Then I got to thinking, which usually gets me in trouble; is man created in God's image as we've been led to believe, or is Ludwig Feuerbach correct, that God was actually created by man, in man's image? Of course now I have to ask the question: are most cultures patriarchal because God is really a male, or was God created as a male by cultures that are dominated by men? Either way, those of us with feminist leanings feel like women were taken out of the race before the gun went off. After all, when was the last time you saw the word 'her' spelled with a capital 'H', except at the beginning of a sentence? This commandment is obviously producing more questions than answers so let's move on.

"Thou shalt not kill." If kill means what I think it does we've got a major contradiction here. The religious groups in our nation that are the greatest advocates of the Ten Commandments are also the strongest supporters of wars that we declare on other countries. The last time I checked it out, the goal of war was to kill as many of the enemy as possible. Now I understand that some fighting and killing is done in self defense and I can deal with that concept. If I use my imagination and ignore all the rules of logic, I can even understand why a society such as ours can condone capital punishment, although the rest of the Western world disagrees with us. After all, the Ten Commandments do come from the Old Testament, and somewhere in there it says "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." As a dentist I personally wish we could exchange a different body part for the tooth. But then I'm sure opthamologists and even proctologists also have loyalties to their own anatomical specialties, so I'm willing to "bite the bullet," no pun intended, and leave things the way they are. So although we have mixed signals here, "Thou shalt not kill" versus "an eye for an eye," at least there's some sense of consistency, both coming out of the same publication. But where is it written that it's okay to kill based on weak, make that nonexistent, evidence that, we, as a country, are somehow threatened, especially when there are several non-killing alternatives available at the time? I must have also missed the part that says it's okay to kill if the father of the leader of your country has a personal grudge against the leader of another country; but then I'm not much of a Biblical scholar. At this time it's only fair to mention that if there was a commandment addressing cynicism and sarcasm, I'd be on hell's doorstep.

Let's try "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." After some background research I've discovered that this is actually a 'two for the price of one commandment'; you should not lie and you should not make up false stories about your neighbor. I like the second part best. If we go by the strict interpretation, most people are safe on this segment. Since the majority of the population live in cities, and since city dwellers tend not to know who there neighbors are anyway, they're not likely to waste their time talking about them. This sets up our fellow coworkers, our friends, and our family members that don't live nearby as fair game for just about any lascivious rumors we can drum up. It also gives the tabloids carte blanche to go after any of the rich and famous. After all, how many tabloid reporters can afford to live in the same neighborhood with, say, Ben and Jen; wait, they're broken up. How about Brad and Jen; no they've broken up also. Hey, is that the same Jen that went with Ben? Well, you get the point. The fact is that all the commandments seem to have a plethora of contradictions and situations where they just don't work. For instance: lying. No one can convince me that God intended us to go into work and tell our boss, when she asks our opinion, that her new hairdo makes her look ten years older. Let's face it, sometimes the truth hurts.

Now that I've committed heresy by criticizing and discrediting some of our most sacred commandments, it's time to put up, or shut up. So, in closing, and in the spirit of that ancient tradition, here is the unabridged and lightly regarded version of my thirteen commandments for the twenty-first century. In all honesty, I couldn't have arrived at these without some collaboration with several of my friends, whose names are being withheld at their request for legal reasons and fear for their own personal safety.

#13: Thou shalt not commit road rage unless thou hast been shot the bird.
#12: Thou shalt never admit to any wrongdoing without first consulting with thy lawyer.
#11: Thou shalt not commit adultery, with the possible exceptions of adultery with Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie.
#10: Thou shalt not turn on thy cell phone in the presence of thine enemies or thy friends.
#9: Thou shalt not disseminate unsolicited e-mail jokes and other dumb stuff over the internet. (And by the way, anyone who wants a copy of these commandments, just check your e-mails when you get home.)
#8: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's flat screen television.
#7: Thou shalt not copy designer labels in vain.
#6: Thou shalt not invade any country because of bad intelligence information or because of family feuds.
#5: Honor thy mother and thy father according to the size of thy inheritance, because size does matter.
#4: Thou shalt not smoke marijuana except for medicinal purposes.
#3: No means no!
#2: Thou shalt not redefine what the meaning of is is.
And finally:
#1: Thou shalt not display the preceding 12 commandments in thy yard.

As they say here in north Georgia, I haven't had so much fun since the hogs ate my little brother. I hope none of you took any of this seriously, but for those who I might have offended, I have a fourteenth commandment. Thou shalt forgive thy fellow Unitarians, for they know not what they do.