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It may look like another of David Letterman’s Top 10 lists, but the Ten Commandments are no laughing matter. They are seen as the foundation upon which morality is based, and there are numerous places in the United States where the commandments are prominently displayed, even here in La Crosse.

But the Ten Commandments should not be the yardstick upon which we judge the morality of others. There are a number of flaws with the commandments and, as a result, we should consider a new set of commandments, one that fits in with today’s diverse society.

One of the big problems is that the Ten Commandments are a list of “thou-shalt-nots.” As a parent, telling a child not to do something is nowhere near as effective as telling that child what to do. This is backed up by most parenting books. We also saw how well this worked in Genesis.

The first few commandments look specifically at worshiping God. While understandable in the process of setting up a very homogeneous nation of the ancient world, that’s not the case today. Not only is the United States rather diverse religion-wise, but the rest of the world is as well. Therefore, these three or four commandments — different religions have variations on the numbering of the commandments themselves — strike an us-against-them chord that is at odds with having a peaceful world.

In fact, many of these Ten Commandment monuments were erected during the Cold War, at a time of great discord when the United States was against anyone who might appear to be sympathetic to communism, even going so far as to say that atheists were a threat. This was not a time of peace. It was a time when differences were considered a threat, and one of those differences had to do with which god one did or did not worship.

Honor thy mother and thy father. Why the focus on them? Why not honor those who are older and wiser? Why not honor those in authority? Were mother and father chosen for a particular reason? Was God’s own failure in Genesis to get his children to honor him by not eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil the reason behind this particular commandment?

Thou shalt not kill. Why isn’t this the first commandment? This should be the most important commandment in any society. Not only that, let’s expand it to include respect for the Earth and for other living things in order to leave our planet a better place. As a species with the ability to change and affect our environment, this should be one of our highest responsibilities.

Thou shalt not commit adultery. I remember asking about this when learning about the Ten Commandments while attending Catholic school. My mother quickly said this was a grown-up thing and not to worry about it. While cheating can cause great pain in a relationship and a family unit, it’s something that, as a moral benchmark, has become largely ignored. Plus, the burden of the commandment itself was typically placed on women, which was horribly unfair.

Finally, we have stealing, lying and coveting. While there are laws for the first two, there’s enough of it going on inside the letter of the law that it has me thinking that many people don’t consider them commandments anymore, especially during election season.

And I have never understood the prohibition around coveting. Why is it bad to covet? Even God talks about being a jealous god. If humans are made in his image, then jealousy — and therefore coveting — would be natural human traits. I can understand why it would be bad if the coveting led to stealing, adultery or murder, but beyond that, coveting is almost necessary. In fact, it’s how our economy thrives.

Some people say morality comes from God, but I have a difficult time going along with commandments that focus primarily on worshiping a jealous deity and others that people find easy to get around. In order to have a better world and to get along better as humans, we need new commandments, or at the very least some amendments, that people of all beliefs can agree and follow for the betterment of humankind.

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Janeen White is a member of the La Crosse Area Freethought Society.

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(40) comments

Mentat

OldSarg:

Your comments are what is called an ad hominem argument. It means that one takes the uncouth approach of attacking the person rather than the comments that person has made. It is a sign of an emotionally immature, intellectually deficient person.

OldSarg

Folks, consider the source. In this case I am speaking of the author of this article, Janeen White. Take a look a her picture in the upper right. In writing this article, what was her point? Jane wants you to see the ten Commandments as she does and you may but why would she want that? She is clearly looking for justification on why another sin, gluttony should be set aside as well. As she continues on this path to self-destruction diabetes will ravage her body, she will no longer be able to work as her body breaks down. Soon she will no longer be able to live independently and will become a burden on those around her, her community and the state. If you don't agree with her now, when she becomes that burden, you won't be able to accept the cost to your community. She needs you acceptance of her over-indulgence more than you need to be able to feed your own family.

patssy70

The statement that religion with the times or they do not survive. Not an accurate observation. Take a good look at the Orthodox religion.

patssy70

What is the fact that 'religion is dying'. In your own mind probably.

Ms L

Coveting always puzzled me until 2011 when I became a "have" according to Walker. I am Lutheran so bear with me my free thinking friends. Luther's definition of not coveting your neighbors house is that we may not craftily seek to get our neighbor's inheritance or house and obtain it by a show of justice and right. Walker's actions caused half of the state to covet what I have and craftily seek to get it from me. For my fellow Christians saying you are a Christian doesn't make you one. Your beliefs should be easily visible by your actions. Also, non-Christians have the same capacity for good and evil actions as we have.

Michael Welch

When discussing this let's remember THIS is the God of the Jews and they have had a very lengthy and difficult experience with "Him" to say the least. (There's a "Talmud" that parses the myriad rules and regulations of the Torah, which includes such ten and dozens more, more so than Bill Clinton ever did "is.")

They who believe or are identified as such have developed a sense of irony and a certain acceptance of dread. After two millennia of Christians certainly "doing unto" them as they WOULDN'T want done, "the golden rule" implies no superiority and once having a "state" with power they tend to "do unto others BEFORE it's done to them"! Tough God leads to a tough life so ya gotta have a sense of humor?...

crank

The Ten Commandments were laws given to the Israelites. In the context of their faith, all of these laws were appropriate. Even outside of that specific faith, 5 - 10 are still good guideposts for society. 1-4 deal with the Israelites religious dogma and were appropriate as most professed to be of one mind/religion. Ignore 1-4, if it suits you but it's hard to successfully argue the other six have no value.

Honor your parents. Let's assume they are worthy of honor. Consider this... Are we better off socially if children do or do not honor their parents?

Don't kill/murder another person.
Don't cheat on your spouse or with the spouse of another.
Don't steal from others.
Don't lie/gossip about others.
Don't covet what others have.

That last one... Coveting can lead them to be discontented, resentful, hateful, angry and frustrated and act in accordance with those feelings. Marcus Aurelius observed, "The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts."

Deadwood subscriber

Oh, the "cheating" commandment isn't a good one. Humans aren't trumpeter swans, i.e., we don't tend toward monogamy. It's not in our evolutionary make-up.

crank

Perhaps... Trumpeter Swans don't have marriage licenses, wedding vows, etc.

Humans who make the choice to marry also make a vow to each other (or God) and enter a legal agreement with their spouse. Even when one is in an unmarried relationship with another, if one is stepping out while the other is under the impression their relationship is exclusive, that betrayal (whether you agree or not) suggests behavior which is the root of conflict which has societal impact.

crank

Though not recorded in scripture, another powerful 'commandment' was offered up by the same philosopher, Marcus Aurelius: "Waste no more time arguing about what a good [person] should be. Be one."

Perhaps the Freethought folks might consider this one next time they feel like writing up another sermon to appear in the Sunday newspaper (or Christmas and Easter).


Deadwood subscriber

What about writing a "sermon" for publication on a religious holiday is not being a good person?

crank

You decide.

Redwall

Ms. White's pool is a bit shallow.

saltydogscientist

Good article Janeen! As one looks at each of these 10; wow, those people who say they are religious really ignore most of them!

neandros

Excellent article, Janeen. Good to see another freethinker point of view. Hope you write further articles in the future.

easy

Buggs said:
Since we know he liked the smell of roasting meat, it's a safe assumption he grilled out frequently.
* * *
Actually, he left the meat for the grillmaster. He liked the fat, which was all his, it was the "sweet savour" that was apparently able to make the move from one world to another. Maybe he could smell but not chew.

From the King James version, Leviticus 3:16:
And the priest shall burn them upon the altar: it is the food of the offering made by fire for a sweet savour: all the fat is the LORD'S.
* * *

Bill O'Rights

Excellent column, Janeen. You managed to take a very broad topic and condense it down to just a few well reasoned paragraphs. I'm looking forward to reading your next column.

choker

We were not made in the image and likeness of God but God was made in the image and likeness of us....and that ain't very pretty.

Monteee

Yahweh was made in the image of a MAN.

Tribal patriarchs made god in their own image....and if you disobeyed, you were killed.

Deadwood subscriber

I subscribe to the Frank Zappa school of god/man likeness:

God knows what he's doin'
He wrote this book here
An' the book says:
He made us all to be just like him,
So...
If we're dumb...
Then God is dumb...
(an' maybe even a little ugly on the side)

oz

George Carlin had a good take on this, taking all the redundancies and boiling them down to one or two commandments.

And trolls who ridicule the appearance of the messenger do so because they have nothing of substance to offer, so they trot out hate and ignorance instead.

Buggs Raplin

Excellent, now take a look at Carlin on the global warming hoax...

saltydogscientist

Here is the link for George Carlin's take on the 10: https://youtu.be/CE8ooMBIyC8

saltydogscientist

here is the link for George Carlin's take on the 10: https://youtu.be/CE8ooMBIyC8

wishsciencerules

Nice to read this, especially liked your paragraph about expansion of "thou shalt not kill" and coveting, that may well be the reason many of us get out of bed in the morning. We hope you do more writing! . ,

HonestAbe

Is that haircut and your eating habits a good moral guideposts?

Leave it alone, to each their own.

Atheist and free.

smerc

A personal attack is your response to a well-written thoughtful article?
How pathetic.

HonestAbe

“Men to Boys” (Season 2):
After a female associate takes offense to an inappropriate comment: “I’ve often found that it’s the chubby girls who offend most easily.”

lol

Bill O'Rights

Abe--You have just done an excellent job of letting regular readers and bloggers know just how badly you think.

Deadwood subscriber

Abe's a racist (see his comments about the recent murder).

Abe's a misogynist (see above).

Abe's willfully ignorant (see his factually incorrect assertion about pitbulls being a breed of dog).

Abe's a misanthrope (see his comments regarding bicyclists).

Basically, Abe is a troll who should be ignored.

If only the Trib had reasonable commenting software where posts could be downvoted, we could heighten the discourse on here!

HonestAbe

deadwood seems upset, u mad brah? lol

it's the breed it's the breed it's the breed
ban pit bulls today

dogsbite.org

HonestAbe

"Boston Legal: Head Cases (#1.1)" (2004)
Denny Crane: Don't waste your time trying to get into my head. There's nothing there.

jharrimjr

HonestApe, you weren't REALLY going where i thought you were with your first sentence, were you? If so, take down your little avatar and let us see YOUR Adonnis face and figure.

HonestAbe

Frankly, I didn't read the article when I commented ... I thought she was preaching and judging.
Still, short hair on large women makes them look larger :)

Can't delete comments *shrug*

HonestAbe

Today, religion is something to brag about, put on a resume, go 3 times a week to make yourself look better than the Joness.
I know people that go to church 3 times a week, still fornicate outside of marriage, still steal, don't understand or care to understand things, and to top it off they're judgmental as all get out.

This is why religion is dying today, only the fakes are left trying to run it, we're down to the profiteers ... as well, people are too smart today to believe in some grand father-figure in the sky. If he's almighty, why do horrible things happen in the first place?

Come on, Al Sharpton is a reverend, my niece is a reverend, she went online and took the pledge and paid for her fancy diploma and all, she took the only oath necessary.

I'll read fully first next time, :)

descheneaux

Well written, historically valid premise, and very timely article. Religious beliefs are founded in time and environs. They change with time or do not survive. The 10 Commandments, as traditionally held, are no longer relevant to the world we live in.

Clarification

Unraveling humanity, one thread at a time.

Monteee

The ancient Hebrews' Ten Commandments were far more about obedience than about morality. Obedience to patriarchal authority and tribal customs.

Killing other people was just fine and dandy, as long as the dead were from another tribe, or Hebrews who violated their own laws. Enslaving others, raping unmarried (virginal) girls, and other immoral acts were not a big deal.

Morality? Not in the ancient Middle East.

patssy70

You don't see anyone walking around in public exposing themselves do you?

Buggs Raplin

Good article; thanks. The God of the Old Testament was such a loser. He obviously had an insecurity complex what with the jealously thing. He also got tuckered out, and needed a day off every week. Since we know he liked the smell of roasting meat, it's a safe assumption he grilled out frequently. Of course, he was a hypocritical old fool telling us not to kill, after wiping out most of humanity in a flood. And, relating specifically to his commandments, he was a bit redundant as he made the mistake of being too wordy. Jesus pretty much said it quite succinctly-treat others as you would like to be treated. You know, the Golden Rule. Now that's something I wouldn't object to having in a public park or emblazoned in the halls of Congress or on the entrance to the White House.

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