Commandments for America

God Bless America. A small-town Independence Day float. Photo by Callen Harty.

God Bless America. A small-town Independence Day float. Photo by Callen Harty.

Lately I’ve been reading how newly approved Texas textbooks would have us believe that the founding fathers of the United States were all devout Christians who intended this to be a Christian nation based on the influence and law of Moses. Of course, the Old Testament tells us that Moses was the man who brought us the Ten Commandments after seeing a vision of God in a burning bush atop Mount Sinai.

Let’s pretend for now that the Texas State Board of Education is right and that the founding fathers were all Christians who believed we should follow the law of Moses as a nation. Let’s pretend there were no Deists among them and that none of them believed in science or “The Age of Reason”. Pretend further that they believed that a particular set of religious beliefs–namely Christian–should be the religion of the land and that church and state should be one. We have to pretend these things because they’re not true, but let’s use our imaginations as wildly as the Texas State Board of Education for a moment and take a look at the Ten Commandments and how they should apply to our national government.

The first problem with this is that there are multiple versions of both the Bible and the Ten Commandments, so we have to select which one we might imagine will work for our government. One has to wonder how there can be so many versions if they were written by the hand (or finger) of God, but let’s continue pretending. According to an article in Wikipedia there are at least seven versions of the commandments:

  • Septuagint, for Orthodox Christians
  • Philo, with a couple of the commandments reversed
  • Talmud, in the Jewish tradition
  • Augustine
  • Catechism of the Catholic Church
  • Luther’s Large Catechism, for Lutheran followers
  • Institutes of the Christian Religion, for reformed Christians

Now, there are many other Christian denominations and sects than the handful listed here, so it seems likely that there are other variations out there that Wikipedia doesn’t take note of. While the differences among each of the above are not hugely significant there are differences. In my mind this has long been one of the issues with the Bible. It has been translated from Aramaic to Greek to Latin to English and other languages and then retranslated into multiple versions. Where the word of God begins and the hand of man ends is pretty much impossible to distinguish. With that in mind let’s take a look at the commandments from the New International Version of the Bible.

  • I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. This is not really a good start for us. Clearly what we have right now in America is a plutocracy, where corporations rule and money is worshipped above all else. As a nation we have broken the first commandment and are making it worse each day. If this were to become a law all the banks and large corporations in the country would be in jail. I don’t know how they’d fit, but according to the U. S. Supreme Court they are people so there has to be a way to put them there and feed them something other than money.
  • You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. Well, so much for the arts. Take a look at that first sentence. We need to destroy Mount Rushmore, the Washington Monument, Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, and statues in every city across the county. Art museums with their portraits and sculptures must be closed immediately and the work within them burned. Our currency must be destroyed due to the graven images on our coins and the portraits on our bills. And of course every artist would be imprisoned. As a side note I must say I also have issues with a monotheistic God being jealous of other gods, when they don’t really exist anyway. Talk about a controlling relationship. And punishing children for the sins of the parents? That would certainly keep our profit-making prison system going for a few more generations.
  • You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuse his name. God damn, this is scary. Pretty much anyone I’ve ever known would be in prison if this law were adopted by the U. S. Congress. It wouldn’t just be my friends either. Take a listen to the Nixon tapes. Nixon’s vocabulary alone would have put him in prison when the entire Watergate scandal could not.
  • Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servants, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Here again there is a difference in when the Sabbath is celebrated. In the Jewish tradition it is from Friday to Saturday evening and in the Christian tradition it is observed on Sunday. According to Texas the nation is Christian so we can just ignore the Jewish tradition regarding this commandment. Obviously the laws need to change to get rid of the weekend. Saturday and Sunday are not both allowed off of work according to the commandment. We can probably get Wisconsin’s new Congressperson Glenn Grothman to sponsor this bill as he has already been adamant that the weekend should face the axe. This also means that all major retailers and others can no longer do any business on Sunday, so everything must close all day Sunday.  It also means no police, firefighters, or others can work, so we have to be careful not to fall victim to crime or start any fires on Sundays. Personally I’m very disappointed in servants not being able to work on Sundays. I don’t have any, but one of these days I expect I will be wealthy enough to do so.
  • Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord God is giving you. This is very simple. Anyone who doesn’t honor their parents deserves punishment from the government. There are no distinctions for those parents who may try to kill their children, sexually or physically abuse them, or in any other way hurt them. Those children must still love and honor their parents or face the penalties.
  • You shall not murder. This commandment we did adopt into law, although so has every country on earth, whether they are primarily Christian, Buddhist, Moslem, Jewish, or other. It is a universally understood prohibition without which the entire world would devolve into chaos.
  • You shall not commit adultery. To be in compliance with the commandments this needs to become a national law. Currently adultery is illegal and treated as a misdemeanor in about 20 states. In at least two states–Wisconsin and Michigan–it is considered a felony. Once adultery becomes illegal through national legislation then friends and neighbors need to start turning in all of those they know who have cheated on their partners.
  • You shall not steal. This is the other one where the nation followed the commandments and made thievery illegal a long time ago. Surprisingly many non-Christian nations have also made it illegal to steal.
  • You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. If lying were illegal every one of us would be in prison, and the first there would be the politicians.
  • You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. Although jealousy can be difficult to prove, we need to pass legislation outlawing it as it is the final commandment.

Clearly if our nation was founded upon the Ten Commandments we have done a poor job of honoring the Christian god who gave the commandments to Moses. Only two of the commandments have been enacted as laws nationwide (murder and stealing) and the other eight have languished for the entire duration of our history. If, as the Texas State Board of Education and its textbooks suggest, we are a Christian nation and the founding fathers intended for us to live under the law of Moses, then we have failed. I certainly hope that their textbooks reflect those shortcomings.

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About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Both are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he has been an actor, writer, and director since 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events.
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