March 09, 2005

On the Tablets of Stone

My friend recently linked me to a story I remember reading a while back, and in light of recent events I see it fit to comment on it. I might break this into a few posts, since it’s a rather lengthy matter. I’ll start off today with something that irked me from the 2nd paragraph of Christopher Hitchens’ story. Moore's Law: The immorality of the Ten Commandments.

The first four of the commandments have little to do with either law or morality, and the first three suggest a terrific insecurity on the part of the person supposedly issuing them. I am the lord thy god and thou shalt have no other ... no graven images ... no taking of my name in vain: surely these could have been compressed into a more general injunction to show respect.

The Commandments go as follows:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before (or besides) me.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

The “person” … “supposedly issuing them.” Wow that’s ridiculous. He starts off with an ad Hominem argument, in an attempt to attack anyone that believes that God gave the Ten Commandments without actually giving any reasons why he thinks that might be so. As such, I won’t even bother to address it. Instead let’s think about his basic point. How is this being insecure? Seems to me it’s setting a standard, like saying to an 8 year old: “I’m your Father; I’ve taken care of you, and will continue to do so. You will follow my rules because you are under my authority.” I realize some people might not like that idea, but whether or not you like it isn’t the issue, and insecurity has nothing to do with it either. What would be the point of someone that isn’t a position of authority giving you a Law?

I watch Law & Order a lot, it’s always fun to notice the detectives while interviewing people. When the plain clothed detectives first come up to an individual they often flash their badges … why? They do this to set the standard, to show the person they are about to ask questions of that they a) have the right ask them, and b) the ability to hold them accountable. It’s not because they are insecure.

Further, “surely these could have been compressed” into a general “show respect” clause. Sadly, this just shows a lack of effort on Hitchens part. These Laws are in fact compressed, all the Laws are compressed. If he had bothered to read the next paragraph after the Ten Commandments are given in Deuteronomy 5, in most Bibles the next section is titled “The Greatest Commandment” where Moses goes on to say:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Deuteronomy 6:5

Jesus is asked this question in Mark 12:

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.

So yes, Hitchens it can be, and was compressed by ‘the very person supposedly issuing them.’

Regardless, you can’t compress those three laws in the “respect” clause. For one, there is a major difference between “respect” and “obedience.” For example, I can respect the ideas of an individual without having to, in any way, actually follow their ideas. God isn’t calling for respect here He’s calling for sole devotion to him, and not to any other gods or idols, or things. This might rub some people the wrong way, but so what, that doesn’t have anything to do with if it’s True. He’s also saying not to defile, pointlessly talk about, or uselessly exploit His name (which was thought a rather powerful thing in ancient times, since it sets you apart, and gives you your identity.) It’s spelled out clearly, and descriptively, in four parts so there is no “gray-area.”

Now, that said, these Covenantal Laws are not something I would expect a government to legislate. That doesn't mean they don't have anything to do with government, or courts. However, the idea that a “Law” has to be something legislated is preposterous anyhow. We don’t legislate the Law of Gravity, or Einstein’s Laws. The first four Commandments are Laws applying to God’s relationship with us, not so much to society in general. However these Laws set the stage for why we should follow the rest of the laws, and are a necessary framework. As seen in the Declaration of Independence’s first paragraph:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

Based on the idea that God is the authority, we then follow what He’s set down in the lines that follow.

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