PART III: Commandments

Or "The Top Ten Reasons You Are Going to Hell"

There is a lot of moral ambiguity in the Bible on specific subjects. People looking to have every aspect of their lives be based on scripture often run into the age-old problem of which commandments to follow. A good guideline might be to start with the ones that are actually commanded in the Bible. That is not to say that everything in the Bible is necessarily infallible, only that its commandments are meant to be comprehensive, and there's really no need for you to add your own. The problem with doing that is that once it becomes a "tradition" for a group of people, they tend to assume that it has genuine moral or religious basis.

For example, in Orthodox Jewish tradition, you are not allowed to combine meat and dairy in a dish. Some Jews or people who know about Judaism assume that this is one of the basic tenets of Judaism. Actually, this completely insane practice is not commanded anywhere in the Bible. The justification that is usually given is that in Exodus it says, "You shall not boil a goat in his mother's milk." By that commandment, cheeseburgers are perfectly kosher. Although I am not always sure of the relationship of the cow the meat is made from to the cow whose milk was used to make the cheese, the fact remains that hamburgers are usually not made out of goat, nor are they boiled. Some say that this commandment was not meant to be taken literally. I say that's a load of crap. With all of the painstakingly specific dietary regulations in the Bible, why are we supposed to assume that this one was a metaphor? Or was the one about not eating bat also a metaphor? I hope so, because I could really go for some bat.

I am often surprised by how many people think that there are only ten commandments in the Bible. Actually, there are about 613 in the first five books alone. They tend to be very specific about what you can and cannot do. The "Ten Commandments" refer to the first ten delivered at Mt. Sinai - supposedly the only ones delivered directly by God to the Israelites. It was never explained exactly why God didn't give all of his commandments directly to the Israelites. Maybe he thought that they wouldn't have the memory or attention span to sit through 613 commandments in a row. Maybe there really only were ten commandments, but the people who wrote the Bible claimed that the rest of them were commanded by God just so nobody would question these specious commandments. Of course, this is a cynical (though entirely valid) view of the Bible. However, regardless of the reasoning, it's clear that God thought that these first ten were the most important for his followers to know, and probably merit the most examination.

1. I am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.

This one is pretty straightforward. The main purpose is establishing the credibility of the rest of the commandments. After all, it would be pointless to have all of these commandments if the people think it's okay to follow someone else whose commandments supercede them.

One common misinterpretation is that this commandment means that there is only one god. Actually, the implication is just the opposite. The Torah does not exactly deny the existence of other deities, it only forbids you from worshipping them. In fact, if there weren't any other gods, that would make this commandment unnecessary, because it would have been stated more along the lines of, "There are no other gods, so do not believe in their existence," rather than, "Don't worship any other god more than you worship me."

It always makes me nervous when priests preach about "Jesus!" more than God, and follow the New Testament to the exclusion of the Old. It should be noted that God didn't say, "You shall have no other gods before me, except for my son." Even accepting Josh's divinity, worshipping him and his name more than God's is in clear violation of this commandment and is just asking for trouble.

As a side note, when Pope Gregory included "envy" as one of the seven deadly sins (a misnomer, as they are basic human qualities, not sins), I wonder if he was aware that in Exodus it says, "... you shall not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God," and that he was pretty much accusing God of being sinful by his very nature.

2. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them."

This one is very straightforawrd - you don't make any image to worship or serve. I like this one from a philosophical standpoint - there isn't any single image that can encapsulate basic morality, so it is useless to worship anything terrestrial, even if that thing is a representation of the divine. I would think that this commandment would be very easy to follow, and yet it seems to be broken constantly, especially by modern Christians. Once again, God did not say, "You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth, except for my son." Idols and likenesses include necklaces with graven images of Josh on the cross and portraits of Josh hung over mantelplaces. It's very nice that you want to express your devotion to your God, but in doing so, you're breaking his second commandment. I think he's going to be a bit more pissed off about that than he is about homosexuality (which didn't make it into his top ten) or abortion (which didn't make it into any of the commandments at all).

3. You shall not take the name of God in vain.

This one is fairly ambiguous. I know that lots of Jews get offended when you say, "Oh my God!" or "Jesus Motherfucking Christ!" but that's not really what the commandment forbids. Some people say that this commandment is forbidding referring to God when you are not directly addressing him, but actually, it only forbids it "in vain," where here "vain" refers to meaningless or deceitful speech. The most basic interpretation of this would be that if you're going to lie, you should leave God out of it. For instance, if you say, "I swear to God" and follow or precede that with something untrue, you are committing a sin. Also, if you lie under oath, you are committing a sin in the same vein. Telling someone to do something because God told you is definitely sinful.

This commandment does not actually forbid swearing by or to God. Saying "Oh my God!" or "By God" or "I swear to God" is not meaningless speech. In fact, it's just the opposite, because it gives your statement emphasis, making it more meaningful.

Also, the semantics of this commandment are interesting, especially how it says "the name of God." Is it really only blasphemous if you use God's name? This may surprise you, but God isn't really a name. It's an English term used to describe any deity or higher spiritual power. That's why it bothers me when people are offended by someone saying, "Oh my God!" because it assumes that his God is the same as their God. In fact, they could be two different gods. Also, there isn't really anything blasphemous about "Jesus Motherfucking Christ!" Jesus wasn't a name used in the time of Joshua of Nazareth, and probably wouldn't be something he would answer to; Christ is a title or description rather than a name; and regardless of philology or religious belief, the Christian messiah's middle name was certainly not Motherfucking. God's name as used in the Bible could be transliterated as "Jhvh," and is sometimes pronounced "Jehova" or "Yahweh." It is sometimes written as "Yhwh," but I prefer "Jhvh," because, although yud is closer phonetically to Y, names beginning with Yud are translated into English with a J (as in Jacob or Joshua or John); and the vav is pronounced as "v" unless otherwise notated. When vav is used as a vowel, it is generally transliterated as "o" or "oo," which is phonetically similar to w, but that means that the name could also be written as "Yhooh," which I think makes Yahoo! the most blasphemous portal site. Also the programming language Java and the Star Wars creature the jawa are definitely blasphemous. Regardless, "Jhvh" is hard to use in vain or really any kind of speech, as it has no vowels. However, if you remember, it says that "[God's] name is Jealous." So, if you ever hear someone say, "I am so jealous!" you have every right to be offended by that blasphemy.

4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.

Interestingly enough, which day you're supposed to take off is not specified. I suppose that so long as it's one day every week, it doesn't much matter. Otherwise, the people who observe the Sabbath on Sunday are pretty much damned, because at the time this was commanded, people didn't observe the Sabbath on Sunday.

I have heard many times about people finding interesting ways to get around this commandment - from goys who volunteer to do work for Jews on the Sabbath to trained monkeys who help out on Saturdays. These little tricks would be pretty clever if it didn't specify in the actual commandment that not only are you not allowed to work that day, but neither are your children or anybody working for you or any animals that you have around. I guess it's just too much to expect that people will read the entire commandment.

Some people say that the Sabbath doesn't count unless you go to church. That's not true. The justification given in the Bible for the Sabbath is that "in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day." Although the Bible doesn't specify how God spent his day off, I think it's safe to assume that he didn't go to a church and pray to himself. The reason why God took a day off - and why he thinks it's important for everyone else to do the same - is that you'll wear yourself out by working every day. It's as simple as that. It has nothing to do with ego on God's part, nor is it meant to vastly inconvenience people.

This is also a commandment that Orthodox Jews take way too far. For example, under their rules you are not allowed to turn on the lights during the Sabbath. This makes no sense at all. Turning on the lights takes very little effort and people customarily do it without thinking. Unless you make a living switching light switches on and off, that's not work. They try to justify this belief by saying that in olden times, you would have to chop down firewood and build a fire, and that took a lot of work. Even still, when God commanded you to rest, I doubt that he meant you had to be cold and hungry and in the dark all day. Making the Sabbath a wretched inconvenience hardly qualifies as "keeping it holy."

5. Honour your father and your mother.

This one is important when starting a religion, because the parents are the ones who are going to teach that religion to their children, so it's essential that those children have a moral imperative to trust them. That being said, honouring your father and mother really doesn't entail as much as most people think it does. Yes, you should love them and hold their opinions in higher regard than most, but the commandment is to "honour" them, not to "obey" them. After all, what would Judaism be if Abraham had followed his parents' religion? The commandment puts one's parents on a higher level than oneself, but they are not gods and they are not always right.

6. You shall not murder.

This one is often mistranslated as "Thou shalt not kill." Actually, the commandment is only against malicious, premeditated killings. There are many reasons for killing that are allowable according to the Bible. Killing someone in a war, for instance, is allowed. Also, it specifically says that although you may encounter legal penalties for accidentally killing someone, God would not hold you accountable. Killing may also be allowed for food or clothing. By this, I'm not suggesting that the Bible allows you to eat or wear people, only that the term "killing" is not confined to one species. It's quite possible that hunting for sport is in violation of this commandment. I don't know for sure whether by God's definition murder is an act committed by a human upon another human, but it's something to think about. Josh himself said, "That which you do to the least of my brethren, you do unto me." I wouldn't be surprised if he considered animals the least of his brethren. Of course, I'm not suggesting that Christianity mandates vegetarianism. After all, we know from the Last Supper that Josh was made of bread and eating him was perfectly fine.

7. You shall not commit adultery.

This might be the simplest of the ten. Once you are married, you don't get to fuck anyone else. People apply weird interpretations onto this one, though. This commandment does not ban premarital sex. If you're not married, it's not adultery. Also, this commandment does not forbid you from fantasizing about anyone else. Adultery is an action. Also, this commandment does not forbid divorce. Once you get a divorce, you are no longer married. If, when you got married, you promised to God that the two of you would be together until death parted you, then divorce would still be a sin, just not adultery.

8. You shall not steal.

This one is sort of interesting, because these commandments are meant to be absolute statements of basic morality, but this one sort of assumes that ownership is a universal idea. Maybe this one adapts to the mores regarding ownership for whatever society you are living in. For instance, in a communist society, it would be sinful to claim anything as your own.

9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

This is the commandment that doesn't actually mean, "Don't lie." While it's true that to "bear false witness" is basically a fancy way of saying "to lie," one thing that most people tend to overlook is the word "against." The Bible does not require absolute candor, so long as your lying is not against anyone. You are allowed to tell lies that don't harm anyone, like "Yes, I have read 'War and Peace,'" or "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." Also, you are allowed to lie in favour of someone else, like "My boyfriend is the greatest lover I have ever had," or "My friend Mike is made of delicious candy!"

10. You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife or his servant or his ox or his ass or anything that belongs to your neighbor."

Here's where I have trouble with interpreting commandments. Up until this one, all of the commandments were mandating specific behaviour that you know when you're doing and you have the ability to avoid. However, wanting other people's stuff is something that occurs in your mind, and is sort of a gray area. This commandment is not against all desire. After all, desire is a basic human impulse, and is essential to our very survival. On a basic level, we do not eat because we have logically and rationally decided that it is the wisest course of action, we eat because we want to. So it really has to become an obsession before it's "coveting." Still, how do you condmen someone for that? Is it not a sin until the obsession drives you to some sort of action, or is thinking about it enough? If it is just thought, how much can you actually control what you think about? Is putting forth some sort of effort to stop coveting enough to avoid damnation, even if it is not entirely successful? If someone ever meets God, could you ask him for me? This sort of bothers me.

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