Wednesday, April 25, 2007

All the first-born are mine

A friend of mine once wanted me to debate with some "intelligent conservatives" because he was of the opinion that I would be a good representative of the left. These were nice people, but the first question they wanted to discuss was "What do you think of the ten commandments being posted in schools?" This was an ingenious lead-off question because it's one of those issues that conservatives often see as being simply obvious as all hell and so by opposing it I was immediately beyond the pale in their eyes. Someone intervened before I answered and the whole thing was laughed off before I could even say "Let's not waste our time discussing such a pointless attempt to violate the constitution."

I wish I had that chance back now, because I was just struck by a magnificent compromise. Let's not let the ACLU continue to have its reputation tarnished trying to get this or that stone tablet removed from this or that courtroom. I say we post the Exodus 34 10 commandments in every classroom, seriously. Why Exodus 34? Well, the bible couldn't be clearer on this point: the Exodus 34 commandments are the real deal. As you'll read if you follow this this link Moses broke the original ten commandments (like a total schlemiel) and so God had to write them up again (and he specifies that they will be the same.) Well here they are in all of their glory:

1. Thou shalt worship no other god (For the Lord is a jealous god).

2. Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.

3. The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep in the month when the ear is on the corn.

4. All the first-born are mine.

5. Six days shalt thou work, but on the seventh thou shalt rest.

6. Thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, even of the first fruits of the wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end.

7. Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leavened bread.

8. The fat of my feast shall not remain all night until the morning.

9. The first of the first fruits of thy ground thou shalt bring unto the house of the Lord thy God.

10. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother's milk.

Can everyone deal with this compromise? These commandments would teach children some very important lessons about religion. For one thing, it's obvious that there are plenty of contradictions in the bible (most religious people I know are fine with this, but some don't recognize this); I'm referring here (as only one example of many) to exodus 20 which produces an entirely different set of commandments even though these are said (by God!) to be the same. For another, it makes apparent that the bible is largely a historical document codifying the rituals, myths, and oral traditions of an oft-primitive people. Most importantly though, you need to know that when someone says something like "Homosexuality is wrong because it says so in the bible" they could just as easily be saying "not taking the apples that fall on the ground to church is wrong" (see commandment 9.)

This is not a slander against religious people, because many already know this stuff. The ones who've actually read the bible have no doubt confronted passages in Deuteronomy Leviticus and Revelations about how wearing blended fabrics is wrong, shaving your head and shaving your beard (into a goatee) is wrong, or about how Jesus will kill all of the children who had the misfortune to be born to adulterous parents. Moral absurdities like the sad tale of a woman who tries to save her husband from being beaten up by another man but has the misfortune of touching the assailant's junk and (of course) has to have her hand cut off often do little to shake the faith of believers because such a faith isn't understood in a literal way. Though it's not my cup of tea, I don't really have a problem with that sort of selectivity by itself (and there are plenty of people who disagree with me.) I have a problem with the next step that some people take: "BUT the earth is still only 6000 years old because the bible says so" or "BUT Homosexuality is still wrong because the bible says so."

There are plenty of good arguments for the separation of church and state. Nevertheless, we should ignore them for just this once, in the spirit of compromise.

1 comment:

Ms. C said...

Most intelligent, progressive Christians recognize that the Old Testament is largely a historical document and is filled with contradictions. In the New Testament Jesus calls bullshit on all the old laws and traditions, points out that they are laws made by men, not by God, and creates the new covenant which breaks apart all the old laws and incisively gets to the heart of what God wants from us-- for us to live God and to love the other people we're here on Earth with. If Mormons don't want to drink caffeine, and southern Baptists don't want to kick it with gay people, and Pentecostals want their kids to think that dancing is evil, then fine, whatever, but those choices can't have anything to do with Jesus or the words attributed to him in the New Testament.