Monday, September 10, 2007

The Ten Commandments aren’t Christian law

A long time bug up my butt is self-proclaimed “Christians” touting Jewish law — especially the “Ten Commandments” (Exodus 20).

Let me be clear, I am not a “man of faith”. I am not a member of, or believer in, any religion (except maybe Star Wars and Lego). I think religion is a bad idea. That said, I do have a Christian background (although I was not raised “in the church”) and have long been fascinated by the stories and theology.

Anyway, we’re frequently hearing about ‘Christians’ trying to force the Ten Commandments on everybody. But they apparently haven’t actually paid attention to their own theology. The Jewish text is called the “Old Testament” for a reason. In Christian theological terms, it describes the way things used to be before the whole crucifiction(sic) deal. Christian theology says that Jesus created a “New Testament”. If you actually read “The Gospels” (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), you’ll find the two (not 10) Christian commandments:
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
—Matthew 22:37-40, King James Version
The second is actually so important that it gets restated later in John:
This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
—John 15:12, KJV
So, unless they want to adhere to Jewish laws of the Old Testament, Christians who tout the Ten Commandments are failing to stick to their own theology.

Particularly hypocritical are those who selectively tout Old Testament rules that serve their agendas, while ignoring many of the rules that they don’t care to bother about. They’ll haul out homophobic crap like Leviticus 18:22, but conveniently ignore parts like Leviticus 11:7-8 because they happen to enjoy eating bacon.

Now, I happen to like the second Christian commandment. Love everyone — act from love — is really a pretty good principle to live by. I just wish those blustering ‘Christians’, like Emperor Bush, would follow the actual christian commandments…

Deriving the ten from the two

You can actually derive — in general — the intent of most of the Jewish commandments from the christian commandments.

The first chunk of the ten focus on being devoted to ‘God’, not putting ‘Him’ down, and all that. Those kind of go along with the christian commandment to “Love the Lord thy God…” (although certainly not an exact mapping).

The other, non-God-focused, commandments mostly follow if you are sticking to the second christian commandment. For example, if you love your parents, you will “Honour thy father and thy mother”. “Thou shalt not kill” generally makes sense as it’s usually not a loving thing to kill someone (although there may be exceptions such as “mercy killing” or assisted suicide which could potentially be loving acts).

“Though shalt not commit adultery.” Well, adultery typically harms someone — or multiple people — such as whomever is being cheated on. Those being harmed aren’t being treated with love, so that’s definitely a christian no-no. (In this context, I wouldn’t classify fully consensual multi-partner relationships as being adulterous.)

All that said, “Thou shalt not kill” and it’s compatriots are not christian laws. They can be useful in helping us analyse and, hopefully, understand the christian laws. But, they are just points on “the map”. “The place” is the two actual christian laws (of which, I only personally care about the second since I don’t believe in any “God” or “Gods”).

The map is not the place

A core problem I see with much Christian analysis is the classic human problem of “the map is not the place”.

Throughout the Gospels, whenever the character of Jesus tells people something (usually in the form of a “parable”) they are always confused and he has to go into explanations — shifting from principles to examples.

In my reading, I see the whole of the Gospels as being the same pattern. Jesus tells folks his core message, “Love one another”, but they are confused and don’t understand what he means. So, he elaborates, providing examples to illustrate what acting from love can mean.

The problem comes when people start to take the examples as the law. We end up with things like the “good Samaritan law” — which isn’t really christian law. It’s just an illustration, a map. The Gospels aren’t saying you have to help injured people on the side of the road. They are showing an example of what acting from love might look like.

The map is not the place. The example is not the law.

Christianity’s misstep

Those who’ve studied the historical context from which the Christian texts emerged, or who have read works like The Pagan Christ by Tom Harpur, will be familiar with the reality that the content of “The Bible” mostly reworked from earlier religions (perhaps most notably, the Egyptian Osiris myths which feature the 3-day resurrection the Jesus crucifixion story is based on). There are a few extras tacked-on to keep people (especially women and slaves) in line, such as enforcing hair lengths based on sex, but the text is largely cribbed.

The thing that particularly stands out about the Christian approach to these mythologies was their imagining that the stories were somehow historical reality rather than just illustrations of ideas. The texts of Christianity were not seen as fantastical works to help us explore understanding our existence, but rather as the literal truth in our physical reality on Earth.

While the content of the text was all derivative or outright plagiarized, this extremely problematic thinking was the thing that truly set the Christian religions apart from their predecessors.

The tragic mistake of Christianity is that they took a map, and saw it as being the place.

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