I was drawing in the park this morning when a curious young guy stopped to look with his companion. Chatting, we segued from drawing into religion and my eyes finally drifted down to their Jews for Jesus t-shirts. They asked me if I was Jewish and I said no. A bit later, the question came up: what did I think of the Ten Commandments? As it happens, having gone through the Christian mill, I’ve thought about them-there Commandments quite a bit, so I had a ready answer.
Hear ye! The Ten Commandments were conceived for a world quite different to this part of our world. Also, on a personal level, I shudder at that word Commandments. So you can be sure that, though I’ve thought about them, I don’t think very much of them. Commandments don’t win me over. We are no longer living in the Bronze Age, not all of us. I’d prefer a world where we are responsible for our own behaviour (Yeah, and we’d be right back in mayhem! But idealisticize for a little minute, please.). To that end, I’ve whittled it down to Three Suggestions for myself and anybody who cares to listen: judge ye not, be ye not a hypocrite nor be ye an enslaver. Enslaver’s melodramatic, but try as I may, I can’t come up with a better word. That empires and states, corporations and religions are used to enslave is clear enough. That families and spouses and so-called friends enslave is less obvious but can’t be denied—how, and whether consciously or unconsciously, I’ll leave you to decide. Put it like this, anything that diminishes another life rather than uplifts it is a version of enslavement. (Incidentally, if three suggestions aren’t enough for you, I can always dream up a few more. I can’t even keep this three.)
Anyway, the J for J’s and me listened to each other, sort-of, you know, and parted very amicably. It’s a bit of an ego trip, telling the Old Testament where it gets off, in’t it? But, in a free world, it is important to have lots of heretics questioning everything, even if they end up entirely orthodox. If we don’t question, how can we find anything out? If we don’t question, maybe our ‘belief’ is not very sincere or stupidly blind, and we hand power to the ones who are eager for dupes and unquestioning followers.
I recently stumbled upon mention of the extinct Moche civilization of South America, perhaps the most loathsome culture of ritual torture and murder I’ve ever stumbled upon. Their practices included: bleeding out their victims for several weeks or as long as possible, sacrificing groups of people together, excarnation, maybe cannibalism… “Images of captive sex-slaves with gaping orifices and leaking fluids portray extreme exposure, humiliation, and a loss of power”—the list goes on—all to curry favour with their repugnant God and ensure the year’s crops.
Bertrand Russell called this behaviour the religion of Moloch, after the middle-eastern deity who expected similar ferocious devotion. In a creative and courageous act, the heretic Abraham (who had also asked mercy for the ‘righteous’ of Gomorrah and the other place), refuses to kill his son in that era when child-sacrifice to appease cruel and jealous gods is commonplace. And Moloch—for it was surely he who demanded the tribute and he whom Abraham rejected—was still not dead 500 years later when Moses collected his tablets off of Sinai. The Ten Commandments, seen in this context, are an enlightened reform of the murderous rituals of the Molochs. Jehovah, though, still exhibits a dark side, smiting violators of his laws, but at least he does his own smiting now, a very big step for his followers. It will be an even bigger step when all followers of all persuasions turn it on its head: their gods do not create them, they create their gods. I should better say imagine: they imagine their gods. As for humans, we are all cut from the very same cloth.
Pss! In 1633, the year of Galileo’s trial, I wouldn’t have said any of this.