What is the first commandment? That we love the Lord our God with all our mind, heart, soul and strength is what Jesus told us. Jesus, and the Jewish scholars of his day put a positive spin on the negative (do not) that Moses brought down from the mountain:
You shall have no other Gods before me
Have we loved the Lord perfectly in our life? Have I? Have you? Of course the answer is no, none of us has. Why?
Because we have not always considered God’s ways or wants or desires for our life. Truth be told, we are not very good at listening to the one we profess to love.
So, OK: we have not always felt love for God, but in our imperfect, human ways of love (like between lovers) we have sometimes shown what many of us think of as signs of love: we have been unhappy, dissatisfied, even angry at God. You might say, “We can’t help the way we feel,” a truism I question, but thus is life in this broken world. Sin runs so deep we do not even recognize it, whether we can help it or not.
Because in our soulish selves (our life) we have not loved God in our every word and deed. Instead, we have lived unto ourselves, to please ourselves and not to please God.
And because of this our every word and deed has not glorified our beloved. Far from it.
OK. If you see what I am saying, you may wonder what all of this has to do with having other Gods before God. Very simply, if we are not considering God in our daily decisions (thoughts) who are we considering? If we are not feeling any great love for God at the moment, on who or what is our love presently focused? And how often is our life focused not on pleasing God but on pleasing and satisfying ourselves?
To defer to ourselves is to make a God of ourselves, and we prove ourselves to be the offspring of the one who believed the lie “That you shall be like God, knowing good from evil.” When we defer to the other relationships in our lives, family, friends, leaders, bosses, we make little gods of those others. Do we follow the what the news tells us, what our favorite candidate says, our favorite celebrity, our favorite talk show host? And so on… So who do we really love, believe in and follow?
Put the Lord your God first, always is the admonition. “Worship the Lord and Him only shall you serve.” But it is honestly hard to put God first and family second, isn’t it?
If this series of posts was intended to prove Paul’s words, that “we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” I would not have to post again. No one has truly kept the first commandment. No one at all… but that leads to two very important considerations:
1. Thanks be to Jesus who bore our sins, shortcomings and offenses in his body on the cross. We know that to be guilty of one part of the law is to be guilty of it all. But through Jesus, we are no longer under the law, but under grace. Don’t be slow to give him thanks.
2. But under grace we must remember that grace was not given for license to sin. Though no longer a sword dangling over our head, this commandment remains the standard by which we are to live. I fail at it, daily, which does not mean I weep in guilt about it (and neither should you). But when I am aware of my shortfall, I try to let it inspire me to do better. And I keep trying. Though I fail seventy times seven times, I try. How about you? Are you still trying to please God, to always let God be your only God, or have you given up?
If the first commandment has to do with making little gods out of others, in our relationships and, most of all, making gods out of ourselves—all people—the second has to do with things.
Moses brought this down from the mountain: “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything.”
About now, I figure someone is going to say, “Wait a minute. The command against other Gods and the one against idols had to do with the world the Israelites were living in back then. It was a polytheistic world full of other gods and idols…” True, and not.
The gods represented authorities and demanded a person’s devotion. We have plenty of people these days who both have authority over us and/or demand our devotion. And idols were representations of powers and principalities where a person could bargain, compromise themselves, make the right sort of sacrifice and get everything they wanted. Are we so different?
There are thousands of things in this world that qualify for idols, money being only one and perhaps the most obvious of those things. And we have wants (desires), objects to take our full attention and devotion: that new dress, the perfect car, the dream home, the latest bit of technological wonder. And all too often we are willing to compromise ourselves (commit sacrifices) to get these things. This, God understands and speaks against.
What is worse, is the idolatry–the worship we give to those intangible things that we so often struggle for: power, prestige, status. For some, it is like we want to make ourselves gods not only over ourselves but over others, especially in workplaces and most especially in bureaucracies. Some believe money can buy these intangibles. Some seek elective office, for all the wrong reasons as the expression goes. Some enter into professions, not for the profession but where such things are given, or they bring it into the church: that controlling, need to be in charge, to be counted as special attitude that poisons so many gatherings of God’s people.
What is the object of our desires? This is the idolatry question. How much are we willing to bargain, compromise ourselves and make sacrifices to achieve these things? “Hey! I worked hard all my life. I deserve the chance to enjoy myself.” But wasn’t your work dedicated to God? Did you work hard all those years for yourself or God? What if you died the very night you retired? Would that mean all your hard work was for nothing? I tell you, the sin is so deep in the very marrow of our bones we do not even recognize it.
Of course, everyone is guilty of desiring and striving after objects which invariably distract our focus and lead us away from God. There is not one person alive who can claim otherwise. Thanks be to Jesus that these objects will not be the death of us. But having said that, God’s standard does not change. He has said we are not to make idols of anything.
We need, at the very least, perspective on all of the things that swirl around us so that we are not consumed by them. We are to be consumed by God and God alone. Whenever I find myself wanting and striving to obtain something, even something important, I take a breath, ask forgiveness and kneel before the altar of God. The standard remains, though I fail seventy time seven times, I try again.
Do you call yourself a Christian? Yes, very good. The third commandment that Moses brought down from the mountain says this:
You shall not misuse the name of the Lord (or as King James says, you shall not take the name of the Lord in vain).
So if you have ever done or said anything unworthy of Christ, and you call yourself a Christian, congratulations. You have taken the name of the Lord in vain.
No. Using the Lord’s name as a curse word is not an endearing quality, but it is also not a matter of vanity. It is uncouth, perhaps a sign of hubris or ignorance, but not vanity. Vanity is when a person speaks of themselves as better than they are, like when we call ourselves Christians and then do or say something, or show an attitude or lack of love, faith or compassion that casts aspersions on the Lord’s name. Vanity is claiming all the glory and making unbelievers wonder who this Christ really is and want no part of him.
Does that mean none of us dare call ourselves Christians? No. But it means we have all fallen short of the glory of God. Think about it. Every Christian without exception has behaved in a hypocritical manner at one time or another. We can’t seem to help it. That’s Okay, though. God will forgive that, too; only we need to recognize and confess it, and try to stop taking his name in vain as much as we are able.
As the man said, “I don’t go to church because churches are full of hypocrites.” And the woman answered. “You should go, too. At least those hypocrites are in the one place where they can get the help they need.”
NOTE: Thus far, I have not spoken to atheist, agnostics or others. This study has been strictly “in-house” so to speak. It is kind of pointless, after all, to tell an atheist to have no other god before God, or to not get hung up on the things (graven images) of this world, or to not take the Lord’s name in vain. It is a given, I suppose, that non-Christians and atheists have all broken these first three commandments in one way or another—except maybe this one. At least the atheist does not claim to belong to the Lord (to be one thing) and then show that he or she does not belong to the Lord… After this, though, and the further into the study we get, the more atheists and non-Christians will be included. Indeed, we have all sinned and fallen short, and to be guilty of one part of the law is to be guilty of it all, or so the scriptures say…
If my intention here was simply to show that “We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” Commandment #4 is too easy: Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Clearly, no one is faultless here
It is not that we don’t know how to take a day off. Some of us live for our days off, only we don’t know how to rest. The Sabbath is the seventh day, the day God rested, the day we are supposed to rest. We fill our days off, like filling retirement, with more things than we can possibly do in a day. (Can you say, “Stress?”)
OK. Some people know how to relax, after the grass is cut or the errands run or maybe, just maybe, some people really know how to sleep. Sleep is fine, only that is not what God is saying here… Sleep type of rest isn’t what this is supposed to be about. You are forgetting the second half of the commandment: to keep it holy.
Most people have no idea what holy is. Do you? Some have a definition about setting apart, sanctifying and all that. No. Do you want to know what is holy? God is holy. That’s it. Only God is holy. Nothing else comes close, no matter how set aside or prayed over it may be. Holy water? I don’t think so.
God is holy, and the only way to keep the day holy is to spend it with God. Period. Jesus said to take his yoke because his yoke is easy and his burden is light, and we will find rest for our souls. That is a Sabbath rest. Rest for the soul.
So now someone is going to point out that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Indeed it was, and we ought to get down on our knees and thank God for giving us such a wonderful gift, a gift which we break if we don’t keep it. To say it was made for us only says we miss out on the blessings and benefits when we sin.
So now someone is saying, “I’m a minister and I always spend Sunday with God.” No you don’t. Sunday is a work day, not a rest day. You need to spend one day per week at rest with God, in the rest that God gives, in the midst of the peace that passes understanding. Does anyone really do this, weekly, or as they say, “religiously?” No.
Let me add one word about sin: Sin is like red wine (or blood might be an appropriate image). How much does it take to ruin a white shirt? Sure, some men will say, “What ruin? It gives the shirt character.” Women know better. All it takes is one drop, and it doesn’t even have to be a big one to ruin the shirt forever.
I hope you can truly apprehend this. I don’t know. Our culture has denied sin for so long I don’t know if anyone these days can perceive how horrendous and deadly even the smallest sin can be. But understand this: Believe the Good News in Jesus. Because without him…………..
Honor your father and mother Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God will give you.
Honor is the operative word, I believe, and it has been understood and misunderstood in a thousand ways through a thousand cultures for more than three thousand years. This means, among other things, that this is not something unique to the Judeo-Christian tradition. Indeed, some would suggest that Asian cultures have a much better handle on this idea of honoring parents, overall (though some might say they go too far).
In truth, though, this commandment and the five that follow are commonly understood and have been commonly encouraged in all cultures in all of history. In that respect, atheists and agnostics need to understand the importance of these things as surely as believers; and there is no excuse for breaking these commandments. To break this commandment and all that follow is no less than utter rebellion, not only against God, but against humanity: family, friends, neighbors, community, culture, society and the world. Just so we are clear.
Now, to underline the universal importance of this and the following commandments is in no way meant to suggest that any have been kept perfectly, ever.
In this case, the operative word here is, as I have said, “honor.” Depending on how it is defined will determine the extent to which the commandment has been broken. Of course if a person defines “honor” as simply acknowledging who their mother and father are, then they might not have broken the command; but then they would be guilty of self-deceit or lying because clearly that is not all that this is about.
For believers, there is one parent where we can draw a parallel: Our Father in Heaven. I have to say quickly that the commandment is not suggesting we worship our parents or anything of the kind, but in terms of relationship, we see how we ought to behave. Parents should be treated with all due respect, including their opinions on all matters, whether we ultimately agree with their advice or not. Parents should be told when there are good time and bad, and indeed, nothing should be hidden from them…and if you think about it, I believe you can see where this is going.
Then there is this: as believers we strive, however imperfectly to be good children of God. We make the effort to please him. So also we ought to strive to be good children and make the effort to please and “honor” our parents. We strive to do well in school, at work, in life, with spouses, pleasing to all, raise children, and in so far as possible, live happily with all that we have and in all that we do. We consider others, live faithful, upright and honorable lives. Believe it or not, what honors parents best is to show that we were well raised.
And then finally, there is also this: I feel the kind of lives that are pleasing to God also honor parents. God has shown us what is good, what the Lord requires but to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with our God. Live this way and your parents will be proud.
Do not murder We know what Jesus told us: “You have heard it was said to people long ago, do not murder…but I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”
And who has never been angry with someone at one time or another? From here on, the words become more difficult to hear, not easier. Because of this, I know a lot of people including plenty of professional theologians (PhDs and ThDs) who use every literary and critical trick they can invent to explain why it doesn’t really say what it says. This approach is not recommended.
Do we take God’s Word at face value (in a literalist sense)? No. You do need context, history, language, and all to really grasp what is being said. These things, however, must never be used as an excuse to deny what is said. (some later post, perhaps).
So Jesus said don’t even be angry, and once again we can see that you, me and everyone who has ever lived is guilty of breaking this command. “We have all sinned and fallen short…” About now, though, I figure someone, having perused the first five posts here is going to give the speech about greater and smaller sins and suggest (as always) that surely God will not judge us harshly (or as harshly) for our lesser transgressions. “So we think anger in our heart, it is not like we actually went ahead and killed someone…” Wrong!
For one: How much red wine must spill on a white shirt to ruin it? Answer: one, little drip. A man might say the spot gives the shirt character, but women know better. How many lies makes a person a liar? Just one. And how many parts of the engine have to break before the car stops functioning? One, if it is the right one. Calvin (for example) did a very good job explaining that this universe is full of “indifferent” things (things that have no ultimate significance one way or the other). These ten commandments, however, are not the indifferent aspects of life. They are the important parts of the engine, necessary for the car to function. Break just one, once and the car is made useless. (Thank God Jesus is in the repair business).
For two: In case you haven’t noticed, God’s whole desire and intention is to transform us (renew our minds) into his likeness, and that is from the inside-out. It is not to say God is unconcerned with our physical being and welfare but the emphasis is on our insides because God knows (even if we are too thick to get it) that no anger means no murder. Thus anger is the root and it is better to cut the weed off at the seed rather than wait for it to grow. Anger, in that sense may be the greater sin.
Now, briefly, there are two more things to say about this commandment.
First: This commandment is not talking about war, corporal punishment or abortion. You may consider these forms of murder, but that is not what is being said (you know, that context, history and language bit). You may be firmly against any or all of these things (war, corporal punishment and/or abortion), and that is your choice. This commandment, though, is speaking about crimes of passion, cold-blooded, community breaking, relationship destroying murder: anger/hate for family, friend, neighbor, innocent bystander or duly elected leader. It also includes suicide which is no more than self-murder and is devastating on family and community.
Second: For all the atheists in the audience, there is a clear social context and importance here. No society can function that allows murder in any form. I recommend you pay close attention to the anger and hatred you nurture, because this is the root of community breaking and relationship destroying, even if it doesn’t actually lead to killing. Besides, it isn’t good for your ulcer.
Do not commit adultery. What can any human being say about this that will not anger virtually everyone? Nothing. But as far as it goes, the same was true back in Jesus’ day. Jesus decided not to pull any punches, and why should he if everyone was going to be unhappy no matter what he said? So he said if we so much as look at a woman (the opposite sex) with lust in the eye (even if we just think he or she is cute) we have committed adultery already.
Remember: God’s intention is to change us into his likeness working from the inside-out, so the inside is what matters most first… and why? I feel a big part of it is because only when we are free from sin, renewed in our thinking, etc., can we be in a real solid relationship with him, and by extension, with each other. Did it ever occur to you that all ten of these commandments are relationship oriented?
So anyway, now I might as well point out a few things myself, only don’t send me nasty e-mails. I assume whatever I say is going to make some people unhappy and really tick off the rest.
“God hates divorce.” That’s what his word says, and certainly divorce is a relationship breaker if there ever was one. “But for the hardness of (our) hearts, God allowed divorce for the sake of adultery.” (More like the thickness of our heads). But sure, that makes sense. If one of the couple abandons the other, the innocent one should not have to be punished.
At the same time, though, Jesus also said this: “At the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let (no one) separate.” (NIV).
Clearly, this is God’s intention or his perfect will, if you want to use that term. Man and man or woman and woman? No. However right that may be, it is not God’s intention. An affair? Maybe just a little fling? No. Not even close. Whoring around? Maybe just testing the waters in youth? No. Living together? No, no, no! We can rationalize and justify anything, and we all have reasons for wanting to do so. But the answer God gives is still, no. His will is clear to anyone who is not intentionally stupid.
So what is adultery, just a physical act? No, that is not right either. Jesus described it as being “unfaithful.” And how many men and women have broken the oneness (relationship) and are even now living unfaithfully to the relationship of oneness?
Physical abuse? That is obviously unfaithful to the oneness. Should a man beat himself?
Verbal abuse? Less obvious, but an equal and perhaps even worse breaker of oneness as far as I am concerned. Knowing I will make every woman in America mad, let me just say this: Wives, it is not your job to berate, disrespect, talk down to or manipulate your husbands. That is abusive.
But really, which is worse? To spank your child for wrongdoing or to lash them with your tongue? “You’re a no good, lousy (son/daughter). I am so disappointed in you. I don’t know why we ever had you…” The spanking will pass. The tongue lashing may require therapy twenty years down the road.
Mostly men, but to be sure, sometimes women should not have to put up with the abuse of words!
And then there is pornography (remember the lust of the eye part?). At least Playboy and Penthouse have been removed from magazine racks. What I want to know is why haven’t Cosmo and Glamour been removed? I read bold faced headlines on the cover of those and similar “women’s” magazines: How to have the ultimate orgasm. What men really want in bed. Your favorite sex fantasies. I mean, really! That kind of stuff is easily as pornographic as any photographs in Playboy. Why should visual be so horrible but verbal be Okay?
Someone once asked C. S. Lewis why lust is so out of line in our culture. I mean what about gluttony. Isn’t that one of the “deadly sins?” (To paraphrase) Lewis said yes, but people won’t pay to see a chicken take it’s feathers off.
We are out of control in our culture, but God’s commandment is clear, whether we like it or not. Do not commit adultery covers a lot of ground.
Okay, so I’m a racist, sexist, homophobic bigot and etc.—oh, and inflammatory (that’s the new thing. I always wanted to be inflammatory). Still, no need to send the hate mail, at least not until the next post…
Do not steal Unlike the 6th commandment (Do Not Murder) where the sense is specifically murder (as opposed to the more general idea of “killing,”) this commandment begs the generalization. By that I mean it is not limited to simply taking what does not belong to you. Certainly it includes taking what is not yours, but by reason you can see that includes more than mere objects. Indeed, if we understand that “The Earth is the Lord’s and all who dwell therein,” we can imagine that nothing at all belongs to us. Thus any taking of any kind can be construed as stealing.
Why should it not be? Again, we must look inside, where God is determined to make us anew and like Christ, and we must examine the attitude of the heart and self- justifications and rationalizations of the un-renewed mind.
Can a spouse be stolen? Obviously. But what about the children? Can children be corrupted, ruined, or let’s say have their potential life stolen from them? I would say so, even when we do so innocently, believing that we are only doing it for their own good.
How about life? I would say one can make a more general case against killing here than with commandment 6. A person’s life can certainly be taken from them.
And what about time? Consider the understaffed call center and the muzak you are forced to listen to, or waiting at the DMV.
And how about labor? Just say taxes. Theft occurs and can occur on so many levels and in so many ways: from a billion dollar scam to taking someone’s daily bread; from the tangible to intangible; in word and thought as well as in deed.
To be clear, those inalienable rights that Thomas Jefferson talked about–you know, the ones endowed by our creator—are all too easily stolen: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And we are all guilty of stealing from one another all the time—even though we don’t realize it. You may say you have been the victim more often than the perpetrator. That may well be, but…
Some might argue that innocence is excusable. They might say it is only certainly wrong if your gut says it is wrong and you do it anyway. I say it is wrong even if your gut has not caught up with the fact yet.
So the heart: Have you ever been jealous or envious? Isn’t that stealing from the one you are with? Have you ever felt sorry for something you said, that you didn’t mean it? We suck life out of people with our words. Have you ever genuinely said you were sorry that someone had to wait for you? We say, “I’m sorry you had to wait,” but to what extent do we actually mean it and to what extent is it just the right thing to say? And who has worked for you in places where you know you could help? Laundry, dishes, yard work…
Are you a boss? Who have you kept down lately and what demands have you made for your own enrichment? Are you an employee? Ever goof off? And do you concern yourself with the happiness of others? Or do you demand that others be concerned about you and your feelings?
David got it right (Psalm 19): “Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant ALSO from willful sins; may they not rule over me.” (NIV). The willful sins are the ones we know about. The hidden faults are the ones we don’t realize, like how much we have actually stolen from others all our life long.
There is almost nothing worth having in this life that we have not stolen from someone at some point. And: “The Earth is the Lord’s and the Fullness thereof; the world and they who dwell in it.” And do we give him thanks or are we like thieves here, too?
Do not testify falsely against your neighbor. Whoo, boy! Are we in trouble here! Yes, of course it means testimony as in a court of law. Perjury is never a good idea; but really it is talking once again about the attitude of the heart and where it can lead us, if we let it. To be succinct, this commandment is a double-barreled shotgun against lying (falsehood) and false witnessing (giving testimony). The first is the one that corrupts the latter. Better to not enter into the first, as if that is possible since “Who can control the tongue?”
Now, I am hardly going to list all of the ways in which we lie. It can be as big as “No, I didn’t rob that bank,” when you know you did. It can be as small as “Yes, dear. That looks good on you.” Let me just say, it only takes one lie to be a liar… But you know that already.
Instead, I would rather look at the testimony part because this is where there seems to be the most need in our day in my estimation.
First of all, politicians spin everything these days. The idea of informing the electorate so informed citizens can make informed decisions for themselves is sneered at and flatly ridiculed. It is all spin to make the official’s position look as good as possible. The facts be damned. You know this is how it works.
Then we have journalists—the purveyors of the “news.” It is all slanted. (I won’t say left or right), but it is slanted, even prejudiced in its presentation. Whatever happened to objectivity? That got killed in J-School. Objectivity has no place in the modern newsroom. Instead, there is the notion of presenting both sides, but you know brilliance is presented as the journalist’s (newsroom’s) side with all deference given and idiocy with mal-content undertones gets the other side. They call this fair. I call it prejudiced in the extreme.
I could go on through plenty of professions: Lawyers, accountants, ministers (yes, ministers), teachers (don’t get me started on education)! But you get the idea. Theory is law, opinion is fact, certain facts are ignored. Other facts are highlighted in a way that isn’t consummate with reality. It stands right beside propaganda even if you don’t want to use that term. It seems you can fool all of the people some of the time. It also seems to me some of the people are being fooled (made fools of) all of the time.
But now, what about the rest of us? One word: Gossip.
Have you ever passed on information about anyone without verifying first? Of course, we do it all the time without thinking. We absorb the magazines, especially the supermarket kind. And we use gossip in many ways and in many forms to manipulate and get our way no matter what people or organizations (including churches, yes, churches) are destroyed.
That’s the catch-22 in our society. If you say you have never passed on a shred of gossip, you are an unique individual. If you say you have never received or heard any gossip and wondered in your heart, you are lying. False testimony and lying; and the attitude of the heart is what matters. What a different world this would be if all of our hearts were clean.
So how is your wanter these days? Still broken? Mine too. There are things in this world that I want and I am willing to devote an inordinate amount of time and energy to obtaining them. Am I guilty? Yes. Are you?
Do not covet your neighbor’s house, wife, male or female servants, ox or donkey or anything else that is your neighbor’s
This last commandment has to do with your neighbor, but only in the sense that everyone is your neighbor. It is not specifically speaking about the person who lives next door. How could it when there commandments were delivered to a people moving around in tents? Trouble with your neighbor? Move your tent. Back then, they understood that everyone was your neighbor or potentially so.
Actually, it is just a way of personalizing don’t covet what does not belong to you. And we all do that at one time or another. Especially in this consumer society. Show me one person who has never been enticed—who has never wanted something they could not (immediately) have and I will show you someone deaf, dumb, blind and born and raised in a cave.
Quite beyond the commandment not to steal, this commandment strikes at the heart. Don’t even want it in the first place. Look at the lilies and the birds of the air. God knows what we need. Our place is to work, contribute and help our neighbor in his or her need, not go after the things that moth and rust will corrupt. We are to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before our God. Trusting. God will provide if we pursue what he calls us to pursue.
But in this world and in this society, our wanters are all broken. You want to live permanently stressed out? Focus on and strive for the intangibles: power, status, fame. You want to live a depressed life? Focus on and strive for money. You want to never be satisfied? Focus on and strive for the tangibles: that house, that dress, that ring, that car, that latest bit of technological wonder. Boy! There’s a recipe for dissatisfaction.
You want to be satisfied, content, at peace? Focus on and strive for God…
Now, having covered the 10 commandments and hopefully you have seen how every human being alive has broken all ten (how we have all sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God). AND, hopefully you have discovered that the cure is Jesus and repentance and forgiveness of our sins. AND (finally) I hope you have come to see that forgiveness doesn’t let us off the hook learning to do better and trying to walk in his commandments (they are his ways). So now we are done? No, there is one more thing to do:
10 commandments for atheists.
Why it matters for everyone.
I don’t know if any agnostics or atheists will read this post. I hope they will because it is imperative for everyone (certainly every American) to understand why the 10 commandments make sense—regardless of what you believe.
I could make a case that some variation of these ideas have been at the foundation of every religion and every civilized society since the beginning of time. It would actually be an easy case to make. By this I could show that any argument against these concepts is an argument against all of humanity throughout all of history. But I won’t.
I could make a case with countless present day examples where these ideas have proved efficacious and positive in every sense for the betterment of all. But I am sure you could dredge up some obscure cases or think up some hypothetical cases to argue the point, so I won’t even open that can of worms.
I could appeal to your heart in these matters because all 10 commandments really (bottom line) speak of the attitude of the heart, but that might be like spitting into the wind. I don’t know your heart. It may be calloused. Who can say?
So instead, I will appeal to reason—the same cold reason by which you claim there is no God.
1. No other Gods but God You may choose to limit reality to what you can perceive (and perhaps allow others to define their own reality based on what they perceive—very gracious of you). You may or may not also include what science has “proved” to be true—if you believe what you read. You may even insist that everyone deep down defines his or her own reality as you have, whether they realize it or not. Personally, I find that an incredibly small and closed system (universe), sort of like reducing the grandeur of the universe in order to live in your own bubble, but I won’t argue since it is your choice. You go ahead and believe whatever you want. You want to believe that you are the sole arbiter of your reality. You do not want to believe in God. Be my guest. I ask only one thing:
Please don’t make a god of yourself.
You may limit or isolate reality to your own perceptions, but unless you live in a cave and have cut yourself off from all human contact, real or not, life is lived in relationship. The 10 commandments are very much about establishing rules for relationships. You may be the Captain of your soul and the Master of your fate, but leave the god stuff alone.
If what is real for you is what you decide at the moment (what is true, right or good for you) it is hard to see how that, at times, will not impact others negatively. You may be crafty enough to avoid criminal prosecution, but people have defined that degree of self-orientation as “insane.” After a time of others being hurt, the people around you may recommend the asylum, or at least enough drugs to keep you sedated.
Please don’t take the cynic’s suggestion and return the favor—making God in your image. It isn’t healthy for relationships to make the world drink your kool-aid, just ask the followers of Jim Jones. And please don’t make a god of anything else, either.
2. Make no graven images into god either. Money, for example. Greed injures others. We all know this. And is it wise to lavish our time and energy on the car, the house, our hobby, our entertainment, our work rather than on our spouse and children? No. Every “scientific” study says this is a bad idea for the spouse, the children and ultimately for ourselves.
Graven images might not even be tangible things—you know like striving after power, success, fame, status, prestige, oh, so many possibilities. Please, remember that life is relationships. Please don’t make gods of things. Look: you claim there is no God. Fine, then be smart enough and sensible enough to mean it. Make no self-god and make no “thing”-god either, Okay?
3. No God vanity. This is the underline. Even if you choose not to believe in God, you understand the concept (unless you are a complete ignoramus). So don’t let vanity or pride get to you (self-god, mostly). Again, look: I know this means you have to keep enough of an open mind to allow others space and to allow that you may be wrong here and there. I also know this is anathema for Atheists: to allow for the idea that you may be wrong about ANYTHING. Define reality any way you choose, only remember that in life, relationships happen as surely as “**it” happens…
4. The Sabbath God suggests one day a week off to rest and make “holy.” You know, it is not a bad idea. Take one day to rest. We all should for our mental and physical health. And then do something with that day to contribute to others in some way. Again, not a bad idea. You know, that relationship thing again. You may think “holy” is a fools concept, but on a practical level, feed the poor, house the homeless, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, encourage the fainthearted, heal the sick. You got a problem with this once a week?
5. Honor your Father and Mother. We might add: respect your elders, give deference to those over you such as employers, be fair to those under you such as employees. Respect the teachers who teach you and train you and be a mentor in turn to those who follow after and look up to you. All of these are positive, relational ideas and worthy of consideration by all people.
More than that, this commandment specifically talks about family as the foundational unit in a stable society. Yes, the definition of what exactly constitutes a family is debatable, but the principal is good. Honor (respect) in relationships is a good idea even for atheists. It is what holds society together and keeps us all from tumbling off the precipice into abject anarchy.
Here, in the Sabbath rest and in the Honor of Mother and Father we have the ground for civilization. Maybe you don’t care about civilization… I don’t know your heart.
6. Don’t murder. 7. Don’t f**k around. 8. Don’t steal 9. Don’t lie about people.
These are so basic to society they hardly need to be mentioned. The home, community, state, nation, civilization cannot stand that allows people to kill whom they please, take what isn’t theirs, and lie about each other, especially in public where it damages most. Lying in public is malicious, manipulative, and wicked which everyone knows who has ever been on the receiving end. As for f**king around, after murder it is no doubt the biggest and most hurtful relationship breaker of them all. Reason says these things mater in any society. Reason also says the principal is what matters. States cannot legislate for every instance, nor should we encourage that sort of tyranny.
10. Don’t covet. And this last; it gets to the heart of the matter. Jealousy, envy, wanting things that are not ours, striving after stupid stuff, letting our desires rule over us. You may not want a God in the universe. You may not like the idea of letting some imaginary being rule over you. That’s fine, only don’t let your whims and desires (base desires) take God’s place either. To do so is only to ask for trouble, as the saying goes. And it may end up with others deciding you need drugs to keep you sedated…
I don’t know who may read this post. But if anyone of an agnostic or atheist bent has read to this point, I hope you can see how important these concepts are for all people in all times. Truly, life is lived in relationships and these are merely the foundation for keeping them positive and secure. You may not believe in God, but don’t let that blind you to these ideas. They are good and have been good throughout history for all human beings, even those who choose to live in a little reality bubble all alone.