Pretty much the best way to tell if someone is truly full of it is if they insist that the Ten Commandments are the basis of the American legal system and philosophy. As countless skeptical folks have tried to explain, this argument is so patently absurd that you really have to wonder if the people claiming it have actually even read the “Ten Commandment”s in the first place. Ed Brayton over at Dispatches takes on the latest example of this claim: from a Presidential candidate no less. As he notes, as seems obvious, and yet as no theocratic activist seems to ever acknowledge, of the standard ten, only two would even be constitutional in the U.S., and even those two (against murder and theft) are common universals in nearly every society in recorded history.
The Ten Commandments themselves aren’t even all they’re cracked up to be. In the modern form, they are little more than a Disney-fied version of the original Scriptures, which are far more complicated and obscure in their presentation. The first set of commandments, handed down to Moses on stone tablets, are not even called the Ten Commandments anywhere in the text. In fact, the number of actual commands are so ambiguous that different Scriptural faiths divide them up differently: there seem to be thirteen distinct statements made at least. This makes the common call to post “the” Ten Commandments on public school walls problematic even amongst believers: Protestants, Catholics, and Jews all have their own versions. Any version you pick is going to be a sectarian selection right off the bat.
Then of course there is the problem that these commandments are really only the first of a very many laws and commands, at fact which is often simply avoided, usually because many are barbaric and generally folks don’t want to follow them anyway. Also avoided is the fact that the text very explicitly describes the decidedly unlovely punishments for breaking the original commandments. In nearly every case, it’s death.
Christian theologians, when forced to actually confront these passages, often squirm and complain that Christ re-wrote the law, that it no longer applies, only ever applied to Israelites, and so on (and yes, these are, amazingly, the very same people who try to insist that only by light of their ideology can morality be absolute). I have a hard time understanding how that makes someone who was murdered for cleaning out his garage on the Sabbath any less dead, and any less unjustly dead. The same God, supposedly, ordered these punishments to be carried out, and we have every reason to believe that they were carried out on many poor souls. There is no “out” from that, no moral excuse. The fact that the penalty was magically lifted at some arbitrary date around the time of Christ makes it more absurd and morally offensive, not less.
But if that wasn’t bad enough, it turns out that there are some things in Scripture that are explicitly called the “Ten commandments.” This second list, however, given to Moses after he broke the first, supposedly replace or reproduce the first set… but don’t. And this list is treated as even more important than the first, since it is the basis of God’s Covenant, and includes several new and decidedly batty things like “All the first-born are mine” that concern exactly how God is to be worshiped.
Oh yes, “All the first-born are mine.” (the plain translation is actually more graphic, specifying the first-born as those things which “openeth the matrix.” Ew.)
Imagine if that hung on a public school wall!
On second thought, that’s awesome. Let’s post the real Ten Commandments! Public school kids should totally be regularly informed that the creator of the entire universe desires, perhaps more than anything else, fresh fruit.