Are the Ten Commandments really the basis for our laws?

By Phil Plait | June 8, 2010 7:00 am

As we ramp up to the mid-term elections in November 2010 — sure to be just a warmup to the insanity that will be the Presidential election in 2012 — you can bet your bottom shekel that we’ll be hearing from a lot of "family values" politicians decrying our lack of morality. That’s de rigeur for any election, but every cycle it seems to get worse.

heston_10commandmentsA lot of these claim that the United States is either a Christian nation — a ridiculous and easily-disprovable notion — or that it was founded on Judeo-Christian principles (the "Judeo" part is a giveaway that these politicians are Leviticans: they seem to keep their noses buried more in the fiery wrath of the Old Testament than in the actually gentle, politically-correct teachings of Jesus… more on this later, promise). Specifically, they claim quite often that our laws are based on the Ten Commandments.

I was thinking about this recently. People seem to accept that our laws are based on the morals of the Old Testament laid out in the Commandments, but as a proper skeptic, I decided to take a look myself. Why not go over the Commandments, said I to myself, and compare them to our actual laws, as well as the Constitution, the legal document framed by the Founding Fathers, and upon which our laws are actually based?

So I did*.

For those of you not familiar with the Bible — which includes many politicians most willing to thump it, it seems — what follows is the relevant passage from Exodus 20 in the King James Version. I found it online at the University of Michigan’s Digital Library, which matches other online versions I found. Note: apparently, God said some other stuff interspersed among the Commandments, a sort of legal commentary to stress the aspects He felt important. I have highlighted the actual Commandments below.

Let’s take a look:

[1] And God spake all these words, saying,
[2] I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
[3] Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
[4] Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
[5] Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
[6] And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
[7] Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
[8] Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
[9] Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
[10] But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
[11] For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
[12] Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
[13] Thou shalt not kill.
[14] Thou shalt not commit adultery.
[15] Thou shalt not steal.
[16] Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
[17] Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

So let’s take these one at a time, and see how many points of U.S. law that overlap the Ten Commandments shalt rack up.


1) I am the LORD thy God… Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

OK, that’s clear enough. Obviously, God is saying He’s the only one, and all other religions that have other gods, or other versions of The One God, are wrong.

So let’s take a look at the Constitution, specifically the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

Right away, we have a problem. That’s the very first thing laid out in the Bill of Rights, and I mean the very first sentence. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

What this says to me, and is pretty clear about it, is that we cannot make laws saying this god or that god is The God. Not only that, if you want to worship a god, any god, you have the legal right to do so.

Clearly, this very First Right of all Americans is in direct contradiction to the very first Commandment sent down by God. So people saying our laws are based on the Ten Commandments must never have even gotten to the first one of the ten. I guess they got to Exodus 19 and stopped.

Points: 0

Running total: 0


2) Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

Obviously, we have no laws governing this. As I understand it, this is a point of contention between many different sub-sections of Christianity, which is understandable. If you have a statue of, say Jesus, and you worship it, does it break this Commandment? Maybe you can claim it only represents God. I suppose transubstantiation is also something to consider here. But I wonder; sometimes people leave little offerings to statues and such, like when a statue of the Virgin Mary is seen to bleed, or when a religious icon appears in an overpass or a window. Is that a violation of this Commandment?

These sorts of arguments are interesting to me, but I’m not a religious scholar, so I’ll leave it for others to decide. The point is, no laws are on the books or in the Constitution to prevent that, and again the First Amendment says it’s OK to worship whomever you want.

So…

Points: 0

Running total: 0


3) Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain

Ah, another easy one. The very second phrase in the First Amendment states:

[Congress shall make no law] abridging the freedom of speech

There’s no codicil that says, "…except for taking the Lord’s name in vain", so I have to conclude the Constitution not only is not based on this Commandment, but directly contradicts it as well.

Points: 0

Running total: 0


4) Remember the sabbath day

Well, we do have Blue Laws in the US, restricting things like business practices (notably liquor sales) on Sunday. Of course, the Jews say the sabbath is from Friday night to Saturday night, and don’t see Sunday as being the sabbath at all, so interpreting this Commandment is a bit up in the air. But even ignoring that, most of these Blue Laws have — correctly — been repealed. Not only that, but I suspect that a lot of these politicians making claims about the Ten Commandments themselves work on Sundays (or even Saturdays).

Since we do in fact have laws based on this Commandment — even if they are unconstitutional — I’ll give this one half credit.

Points: 0.5

Running total: 0.5


5) Honour thy father and thy mother

This is good advice, certainly, and at the very least worth keeping in mind and even attempting in daily life. But is this the basis for any legal precedent? Children disrespect their parents all the time — I might even accept that as a definition of childhood. Of course, before they’re 18 we can’t toss a kid in jail for saying their dad is a poopyhead, but after they come into the majority… but then adult offspring still do all sorts of disrespectful things to their parents. Again, think as I might on this, I can’t come up with any laws (or any Constitutional statements) specifically saying you can’t be disrespectful. Sure, you can’t slander your parents, or libel them, or beat them up, or any number of other awful things. But you can’t do that to anyone, and those are illegal for other reasons, and don’t count.

Points: 0

Running total: 0.5


Intermission

So here we are, halfway through the Ten Commandments, and there is not yet one single thing they say that actually has legal precedent. Mind you, if I were God, I’d put the most important rules first, so I think even at this midway point we can safely say our laws are not based on the Ten Commandments. But it’s worth going through them all, and besides, I promised. I don’t want to be accused of bearing false witness.


6) Thou shalt not kill.

Now we’re getting somewhere. This action forbidden by God actually is illegal!

Now, I can argue that this particular action was objectionable long before the Ten Commandments were etched in stone. Heck, even some other primates apparently can grieve over the loss of other primates. So I don’t think we can actually state that our laws are based on this Commandment; it’s more like they have a common ancestor. Note too that the code of Ur-Nammu, which predates Moses by centuries, expressly forbad murder.

Also, people kill all the time, and it’s not necessarily illegal. Soldiers, for example, or killing in self defense. Some people say that the Commandment actually translates to "murder", which would then exclude my two examples. Fair enough. But either way, the Commandments can’t really claim first rights to this one.

However, I can’t rule out that our law is based on this Commandment; even if other civilizations had their own rules, ours may have a different pedigree. From what I’ve read, much of the rules laid out in the Constitution were taken from British law, and that itself may have roots traceable back to the Commandments.

Given all this, I can be generous, and give this one a full point.

Points: 1.0

Running total: 1.5


7) Thou shalt not commit adultery.

Well, we do have some laws dealing with this as well — though they are seldom enforced, and vary wildly from state to state. To be honest, I think these laws are silly, and I’m glad they’re not taken too seriously. If someone chooses to have adulterous relations outside their marriage, that’s up to them. If they have a contract — legal or emotional or personal — to someone else, and betray them in this way, then yeah, that’s pretty awful, and immoral. We’ve evolved to be mostly monogamous creatures, and we feel pretty bad when our mate goes off with someone else. But we do have the capability to exceed our evolutionary limitations. And what if both people in the relationship mutually agree to bring in a third party? Isn’t that up to them, and not some Senator who peeps into their bedroom window to decide?

Something like this, I suspect, should be taken on a case-by-case basis, and not have blanket laws thrown over everything. In this sense (and more things listed below), my feelings would fall under the purview of libertarianism. Mind you, there are some things that may be bad behavior but aren’t necessarily illegal. If you disagree with this, think about some bad behavior you personally might have, and ask yourself if they should be illegal. Bear in mind marijuana is illegal, but tobacco and alcohol aren’t. Hmmm.

Since few of these laws even exist, and those are on the wane — and not enforced — even half credit would be a stretch.

Points: 0

Running total: 1.5


8) Thou shalt not steal.

Well, sure. No quarrel here. And since a lot of the arguments behind this follow those of #6 above, I’ll have to give this a full point.

Still, something here bugs me. After all, this one’s a bit specific, don’t you think? I mean, if God went out of His way to start mentioning specific acts to be bad, why this one? Why not other ones that are generally considered to be more important? Sure, stealing is bad, but I’d rather someone steals a loaf of bread than rapes someone, for example. I would put rape much higher on the list even than adultery, too. What kind of legal or moral code would leave that act off its list of "Thou shalt nots"? I’ll note that the above-mentioned Code of Ur-Nammu made rape a capital crime.

Since we do have laws about this, and given #6, I’ll grant this a full point.

Points: 1.0

Running total: 2.5


9) Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

Of all the Commandments, this is the one I like the best. Why? For one thing, as a skeptic and scientist, I think it’s incredibly important to be honest.

But another reason is schadenfreude. So many people who interpret the Bible literally seem to ignore this Commandment, like, for example, here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here. Say.

However, the strict interpretation of this Commandment is not simply lying. Bearing false witness is a phrase that implies you are lying in some sort of official capacity; for example, in front of a local judge or magistrate. In that case, it’s perjury, and illegal. Again, these rules are more ancient than the Commandments, but with #6 and #8 above, I’ll have to give this a full point.

Points: 1.0

Running total: 3.5


10) Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

I’m not a big fan of coveting. It’s more than simple jealousy, it’s the actual inordinate desire to possess something owned by or associated with someone else. It can be an ugly emotion, to be sure, but making it illegal would, I think, be overstepping the bounds of the legal system.

I’m also not so big on outlawing an emotion. Coveting is uncool, but there is a whole laundry list of negative emotions, many of which are ugly indeed. We don’t have laws against those, but it’s odd to me that the one emotion listed in the Commandments is coveting. Either way, this certainly argues against the idea that we’re basing our laws on the Commandments.

Flipping this around, there’s also a huge list of immoral actions that are illegal, but not mentioned in the Ten Commandments. Torture, for one. Waging false war would be up there pretty high on my list. Nepotism is a good one, too. I bet you can think of others.

Anyway, since we don’t have actual laws against coveting this one gets no credit.

Points: 0

Running total: 3.5


Conclusion

GRAND TOTAL: 3.5

Hmph. So at the very best — and I think I was generous — not even half the Commandments translate into law, and those that do have a suspicious pedigree. Moreover, the first four Commandments, and the ones that most pertain to religion and Judeo-Christianity specifically, are expressly forbidden by our Constitution (and the fifth is arguably unconstitutional as well). If the Founding Fathers really wanted our country’s system of laws to be based on the Commandments, then this is not an auspicious way to do it.

One might even think they were trying on purpose, very hard, to prevent such a thing.

Now, some people say that it’s not really our laws, but our morality that’s based on the Ten Commandments. I think that’s a silly claim as well, for many of the same reasons outlined above. Remember too that many civilizations had codes of ethics and legal systems that had similar ideas long before Moses climbed Mt. Sinai.

Moreover, reading through the teachings of Jesus, I see a lot of things like (paraphrasing a bit) "Be nice to each other", "Forgive one another", "Look at your own failings before sniping at someone else", and others. Not only are these not in the Ten Commandments, most of them aren’t even hinted at. Sure, not coveting and stealing your neighbor’s possessions is a good place to start for morality, but I think those could both be encompassed by saying "Your neighbor’s a person too, and you should respect that."

I might even claim that rule to be golden. Say.

So the Ten Commandments are clearly neither the moral nor legal basis of the United States of America. At best, you can say that 2 (rounding up) overlap our laws, but they are a hardly a basis for laws. And they fall far, far short of being a basis of morality. I would think a lot of the things (but not all of them!) in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount would be in a better position for claims of our moral basis, but I don’t see anyone saying a transcript of that speech should be hung in a courtroom.

And it would be illegal in many cases to do so anyway.

Of course, nearly all politicians making claims about moral issues based on the Bible are themselves going against a whole lot of the things Jesus was pretty specific about. Go ahead and read the Sermon on the Mount, and ask yourself if the politicians so fond of bringing up that old-time religion are really following in the footsteps of the One they claim to follow.



* I’m not a lawyer, so any actions you take based on my interpretations hereunder — committing adultery, coveting thy neighbor’s ass, or any combination thereof — is your own fault.



I will ignore the list that is made in Deuteronomy 5, which is slightly divergent from the one in Exodus 20, or the Ritual Decalogue in Exodus 34 which is way, way different from what most people consider to be THE Ten Commandments. I’d include them as well, but that would be very inerrant of me.


Further reading:

- We are not a Christian nation
- I strongly urge you to read John Scalzi’s post Leviticans
- My policy about posts on religion and politics
- After writing this post — honestly, after I was done! — I decided to see what others had to say on this topic and found this article on atheist.about.com. It parallels what I have to say here in weirdly congruent ways, even mentioning halfway through the Commandments that none so far had matched our laws! They are slightly less generous than I am, giving the Commandments a score of 3 out of 10, but I take our two similar arguments as an indication that the evidence all points to the same conclusion.

Comments (347)

  1. Luke

    Can you please stick to etc. etc. and not etc. etc.? I used to come here to read blahblahblah, not blahblahblah. It makes me uncomfortable and defensive to read the opinions of others. Blah blah snark about politics, blahblahblah.

  2. Kevin F.

    I get annoyed each time one of my fellow Christians talks about making this a Christian nation. It’s not, never was. And a few of them REALLY don’t like it when I talk about how glad I am that we live in a country which permits us all to worship as we please.

  3. Pryopizm

    I may have missed half a point being added somewhere. By my calculation the final tally should’ve been 3.5 points.

  4. Stacy L Mason

    Little math goof in there man. Your total should be 3.5

  5. Rich Cook

    I am slightly confused by your math Phil. Your arguement goes into Intermission with a Running total of .05, however after establishing that Murder was worth one full point, we are now are left with a running total of 2.0. Shouldn’t the running total be 1.5 instead?

  6. Mr. Paul

    Good logic. Weak math.

  7. Jono

    1.0 + 0.5 == 2.0?

  8. Very nice. But shouldn’t the count be 3.5? In #6 you add 1.0 to the previous total of 0.5 and get 2.0.

  9. Chris

    Hey Phil did you add right?

  10. pumpkinpie24

    Shouldn’t that be 3.5? #4 was only 0.5 and 7-9 were 1 each.

  11. Bruce

    Um, Phil….0.5 + 1.0 = 1.5, not 2.0 (see your move from #5 to #6). :-) .

  12. Umm… How does 0.5 (question 5) plus 1 (question 6) equal 2.0? The total should be 3.5, not 4.0. Edit: Okay, so others beat me to it. But they didn’t show up until after I submitted mine.

    Besides, there are really 613 commandments.

    http://www.jewfaq.org/613.htm
    http://www.jewfaq.org/10.htm

  13. Matt

    your anti-religious fervor is off-putting.

  14. Moose

    Heh. Did anybody point out the math fail yet?

  15. SkepGeek

    Isn’t it 3.5?

  16. JMW

    Math error, Phil.

    After commandment number 5, your running total is 0.5. After commandment #6, which you give 1.0 point, you list the running total as 2.0. It should be 1.5, in which case your final total should be 3.5 instead of 4.0.

    Great analysis, though.

  17. Brian

    I pray for an ugly neighbor, lest I covet his ass.

  18. Helioprogenus

    Actually, the extra half point in there was BA’s way of injecting doG into the equation. At some point, a virtual 0.5 popped into existence and refused to pop right out. It went from virtual to actual, and thus, we have an extra 0.5 addition.

    If you thought all that was silly, well, now you know what us atheists thing about religious belief. Silly and unlike my little fantasy there, dangerous. The fact that some people may convince themselves that their personal faiths are just sublime, without extremism; the ultimate little nagging seed of truth is that it’s still fantasy. A fantasy that’s difficult to discard because of indoctrination, compartmentalization, fear of the inexistence of a benign entity looking over one’s life, anxiety over breaking the chains of faith, etc. It’s rather like a Stockholm syndrome of the brain. It’s been hijacked by a meme that has ingratiated its manipulative self into the consciousness of otherwise intelligent beings.

  19. ben

    I quite enjoyed reading this, thanks.

  20. Matt (#8): What “anti-religious fervor”? Pointing out that our laws aren’t based on a passage from the Old Testament is “anti-religious”? Check every post on this blog, and you’ll see that BA’s stance is that you are free the believe in whatever religion you want. Just don’t force those religious beliefs on others, and don’t make laws based on your particular religious beliefs.

  21. You will never convince those who believe that we base our laws on the Bible. They believe that Adam and Eve were kicked out of paradise for eating from the tree of knowledge.

    Knowledge is evil.

    Ignorance is divine.

    If it doesn’t make sense, that is proof that it is true.

    All you have to do is believe.

    Any brand of religion works – as long as it matches the one of the person making the laws.

    And you have to tithe – you don’t expect religion for free, besides 10% of everything is a nice haul.

    And most important of all, we need to get rid of that darned secular Constitution!

  22. It’s because he took an intermission.

  23. idahogie

    We’re talking about a realm where 1+1+1=1, so perhaps a half-point discrepancy isn’t all that significant.

  24. GB

    “Sometimes, Phil. Sometimes they are two. Sometimes they are 1.5. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”

    With apologies to Mr. Orwell.

  25. Messier Tidy Upper

    4.5 or nearly but not quite half would be my take on your Ten Commandmants Vs US law” tally there based on you NOT adding the1/2 to the full mark at point 6.

    Of course, shellfish eating, cutting your hair and playing fotball (touching a pigskin) are all Biblical laws from Leviticus that we basically ignore.

    See : http://www.devildance.com/letter_to_dr_laura.htm

    Which is perhaps the best argument against Biblical literalism and “eternal inerrant Biblical truth” I’ve ever encountered. ;-)

  26. OtherRob

    Well, according to the Bible pi is equal to exactly 3 so Phil’s math must be Biblically inspired. ;)

  27. Vaccination Dalek

    Our law owes much, much more to Pagan Rome than it ever will to the Bible. The Romans had a proper legal system for a very long time, one that separated disputes between individuals and crimes that involved the state, with judges and properly written laws on a variety of topics. I’m sure if one looked at English Common Law, you would see even more resemblance to our current system. There are even several separate versions of the 10 Commandments in the Bible… for example one of them separates out coveting a neighbors wife, and coveting a neighbors possessions.
    Religious injunctions should not and cannot be the basis for common law, for the simple reason that one cannot change or adjust these laws. Finding the death penalty increasingly unappealing? Sorry, its written in stone by god. Laws need to be changeable to reflect the current thought. People used to be put to death for any type of crime, or put in jail for a crimes designated as such by immoral laws. Slavery is mandated by the bible, and yet, we don’t use it today. Good for us.

    INOCULATE!

  28. @Matt,

    Where in this post is Phil being anti-religious. He’s not passing judgment against religious followers for following any of these commandments. He’s merely saying that our Constitution (including the Bill of Rights) doesn’t include most of the Ten Commandments. And where the Constitution actively opposes the Ten Commandments, it doesn’t make it illegal to follow those commandments but rather makes it illegal for the government to enforce following them. I see nothing anti-religious in his post.

  29. I get a kick out of:

    “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.”

    It draws a connection between being good to your folks and a long life. I didn’t know the two were related. I could understand the link better if it was spelled out:

    “Be nice to your parents, so they don’t kill you before your time.”

  30. 8) Thou shalt not steal.

    Stealing does not just apply to physical theft. The stealing described in the commandments can be applied to a number of things. Now, they sound like a stretch, but there are a number of things that “stealing” can be applied to. Some obvious ones include; stealing life, stealing the truth (IE: lying), stealing prosperity from someone (for example, pushing someone down to gain benefits over them), stealing happiness (being mean), etc.

    @Rogue Medic
    Yes, the Bible asks that you tithe, if you are able to. It does not say that in order to get in to Heaven, you must give 10% of your money away. You are supposed to do what you can to help your Brothers and Sisters in Christ.

  31. Our plumbing also owes much more to pagan Rome than the benighted Christian Europe from which the pilgrims arrived.

    Plumbing, togas, olives, togas, wine, togas – yup, Romans – a much better legacy for a nation.

  32. Mark:

    “Be nice to your parents, so they don’t kill you before your time.”

    I decided a long time ago, that that’s the real reason why babies are so cute. It’s the only reason parents put up with them.

    Another example of evolution in action. Those genetic lines that produced ugly offspring died out long ago for just this reason. :-)

  33. Number 6

    I think Phil is being far too generous with #6 and #7, and maybe #8. Murder and adultery are not federal crimes, and theft mostly is not (interstate fraud and theft from the government are obvious exceptions). The feds did not get Al Capone for murder (or adultery).

    The graven image thing I thought was pretty well settled as part of the first amendment: art is protected speech, though local statutes can illegalize obscenity.

    Re: honor thy mother and father, I might give 0.25 points. I certainly can’t go before the town’s men at the city gates and affirm that my child is a drunken lout and disrepectful, and see him stoned to death.

    #9 is the only clear-cut case FOR.

    I get a much smaller total.

  34. Peter Laws

    Way, way too generous. The Constitution is the codification of the principles the country was founded on. Nothing in there about killing or stealing – those are state laws generally.

  35. Mind you, if I were G-d, I’d put the most important rules first

    Actually, the first 5 deal with the relation between Man and G-d, while the second 5 deal with the relation between Man and Man. No one commandment is “more important” than any other.

    Oh, and the two tablets that Moses got from Mt. Sinai are not called “commandments” in the Old Testament. Rather, they are “statements”, or “declarations”.

  36. Richard Wolford

    Yup, that’s right Matt @ #8, any examination of any religious assertion is absolutely anti-religious, because your most sacred belief is not to question. Must be nice to be a sheep, never having to think for yourself, just do as you’re told. I, however, have a brain that I use and I have found religion to be nothing but BS which has lead to wars (Inquisition, Crusades, Iraq), disease (AIDS in Africa), and of course flat-out murder (honor killings and such). So while this post was absolutely in no way anti-religious, and Phil is clearly not anti-religious, I’ll do you a favor and state clearly that I am fully anti-religious. We will know peace when there is no religion.

  37. BTW, Phil as to why Commandments are in that order, it’s not an order of importance so much as it is a grouping of rules of Man Relating To God and of Man Relating To Man.

    For example, not having any other gods besides God deals with Man’s relationship with God. Meanwhile, not stealing is in the second group because it deals with person-to-person interactions.

  38. cerberus40

    Christopher Hitchens’ take on the 10 commandments; his lecture at the Royal Ontario Museum entitled “The Three New Commandments” in conjunction with the exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

    From TVO’s “Big Ideas” series.

  39. I think Phil has demonstrated why astronomy hasn’t found all the answers.

    To the layman, 0.5 + 1.0 = 1.5 but in astronomy it’s equal to 2.

  40. @Ken B,

    Not only did you steal a reply I was going to make (babies cuteness is a survival mechanism) but you also got your Man-God/Man-Man reply posted faster than me! Are you reading my mind?!!! ;-)

    Oh and babies’ cuteness is definitely a survival mechanism. When it’s 2am, you’ve slept for a total of 4 hours over the past 3 days and your baby is crying up a storm for no good reason, that cute face negates any thoughts you might have of going back to sleep and ignoring the cries. Such a cute little creature is crying and you’re compelled to assist even if you have no idea how to do so and are exhausted past any previous exhaustion point you’ve ever known existed.

  41. Plutonian

    A lot of these claim that the United States is either a Christian nation — a ridiculous and easily-disprovable notion— or that it was founded on Judeo-Christian principles

    In fairness (& I am NOT a Christian or Jew myself), I think this is actually a correct claim in that the mainstream culture and majority of the US does hold – &, mostly, always has held – Judaeo-Christian beliefs and come from that religio-cultural background.

    There are exceptions of course but they are just that exceptions.

    Like it or not, (& I gather the BA doesn’t) fact is that Christianity is the majority religion in the United States, it has permeated the US culture which is indeed heavily affected by and holds in high regard Christian values and Christianity is deeply significant to most Americans. This is simple fact.

    It is true however as the BA pointed out that the US legal system is NOT based on the Ten Commandments.

  42. mouse

    Does anyone read the other comments before they comment themselves? Just curious.

  43. dumb guy

    In case you hadn’t noticed, the total should be 3.5 :)

  44. Bob

    I am God – and I approve this message.

  45. @Richard Wolford,

    And your comment is further proof that the Constitution isn’t based on the Ten Commandments. If it was, your comment would be heresy and illegal. However, your comment is clearly not illegal. While I might disagree with you (my opinion which I have a right to as well), I wouldn’t think of trying to force you to stifle your opinion because it might conflict with my religious views.

    The people who seem to want to make the US a theocracy always seem to think that the “theocratic US” would be based off of their religious views, but who is to say what sub-division of radical Christianity it would be based on? Just like how when they say they want prayer in the schools they mean prayer from *their* prayer books, not a Wiccan prayer or a Muslim prayer.

  46. Chris

    I think “no other gods before me” doesn’t mean no other gods, just no other gods before him. This makes sense if I correctly remember a documentary from long ago that said that the early Jews were polytheistic and YHWY was the god of the gods, vs. the god of the rivers or the god of the ironsmiths or the god of your inlaw’s faith. Obviously the god of the god is the most powerful so people gravitated toward it.

  47. @TechyDad
    I reckon they are in order of importance from the god’s point of view. Remember it says it is a jealous god.

    @Geran Smith
    “Stealing does not just apply to physical theft…”
    You know this how? It just says “Thou shalt not steal.”

    @Matt
    your religious fervor is off-putting.

    I added it up 2 times and got 4 as well. Then I realised I’d added in the running total once. Me math fail too.

  48. Gary Ansorge

    Fantasy is a useful attribute of the human critter but like all such attributes it can be misused. I’m thinking specifically of the Santa Claus myth. Here we have a telepathic snoop, who knows when you’ve been naughty and nice and is keeping a list. Unlike the God fantasy, it’s a meme no adult entertains seriously for themselves, yet many adults try to instill this fantasy in children, until the child finally asks “Dad. Is Santa REAL?”

    When my five year old son asked that question I tried to exercise spin control by saying Santa was an idea that some people try to practice. He just looked at me as though I was nuts,,,

    Ah, the insight of children.

    I expect our code of laws has its origin in the Code of Hammurabi, the first(AFAIK) written code of law. Before Hammurabi, law was determined on a case by case basis at the whim of an individual authority figure. Hammurabi apparently decided everyone should know up front what they were getting into by joining his city/state so government could be more transparent. Which is a cool idea in and of itself.

    If people could just accept the notion that God was an ideal that might or might not exist, we might get past all the histrionics of whose ideal was the best,,,or, knowing humans as I do, maybe not,,,

    Gary 7

  49. @mouse
    No.
    D’oh.

  50. Phil,

    Actually, I don’t think the Judeo part is a giveaway that they prefer the fiery Old Testament to the nice New Testament. If anything, it’s a ruse. (Or, to be geekier: [Ackbar]It’s a trap![/Ackbar]) I’ve found that many of these fundamentalist Christian groups believe that, as one condition for Christ to return, Jews need to be converted to Christianity. The reluctance of Jews in converting keeps their god from returning. (Never knew we had that much power. ;-) )

    They’ve changed tactics through the years from confronting Jews and saying “you killed our god now convert so he can return” (strangely ineffective) to a “kinder, gentler approach.” A full discussion of this “kinder, gentler approach” is off-topic, but suffice it to say that “Judeo-Christian” (when used by groups like the ones that say we’re a Christian nation) really just means “Christian but we’ll include the Jews so they feel closer to us and might convert.”

    Were they to get their wildest dreams to come true and have the Theocratic States of America, I can guarantee you that Christ-worship would be required and there wouldn’t be any exemption granted for Jews. They would drop the “Judeo” as quickly as possible.

  51. Plutonian:

    That we may be a nation of Christians (in the majority), does not now or ever make us a Christian nation.

    @ Chris:

    You are correct about the “other gods before me.” The Isrealites were not strictly monotheistic until quite late in their history, after the ascension of the priestly culture of Jerusalem came to dominate. The old Yahweh lived moderately peacefully among the other gods of Canaan. The new, improved Yahweh was a bit of a piker.

    @ Gary Ansorge:

    The law code of Hammurabi is not necessarily the first written code. It is just the first one we have a record of. Chances are, it did not appear out of a vacuum, but following a long tradition of laws passed down orally and on other, equally less permanent media.

    @ Dr. BA:

    A couple of things:

    The “thou shalt not kill” commandment is frequently interpreted more closely to “thou shalt not murder. Subtle difference. And, if you read the Bible, you’ll note it’s one of the most frequently broken commandments. It’s quite easy to make the interpretation that “thou shalt not kill” really meant, “thou shalt not kill (another Isrealite).” The chosen ones had no trouble slaughtering Canaanites, or anyone else who pissed off Yahweh.

    Taking the Lord’s name in vain isn’t a commandment about cussing, dag nabbit! To take the lord’s name in vain means you go back on an oath that you’ve sworn in his name, e.g. “I swear on the Lord’s holy sandals I’ll smite your noggin’, you uncircumcised barbarian!” Basically, it’s a commandment to honor your contracts.

  52. Zealot

    As for rape, in the old testament it is often actually encouraged if done to slaves or girls of a conquered nation.

    See for example Deuteronomy 20:16-17 how you handle the women after a successful war.
    Leviticus 19:20-21 handles the punishment whenever you rape someone who is engaged to be married (it is not allowed, but the punishment is, uhm, minimal)

  53. SleepNeed

    Since so many have already commented on the math error, I’ll say that the .5 shouldn’t be counted if you ask me. Blue laws are state law, not federal.

  54. I think Phil is being too generous with “thou shall not kill.” It doesn’t say “though shall not kill… unless the your life or the life of someone else is imminently threatened; unless you are engaged in the defense of your nation; unless a jury and judge has decided upon capital punishment…” etc. The ten commandments are remarkably lacking on “unlesses.” I think it’s worth half or even three quarters of a point, but not a whole one.

    That lack of unless should knock a quarter off stealing too, because it’s accepted and encouraged for reporters whistleblowers to “steal” documentation that exposes a company or person of power of wrongdoing. In fact, under our laws a warranted search and seizure isn’t stealing, but without an unless, it’s still taking property that doesn’t belong to you.

    In short, I completely agree that the ten commandments almost completely contradict our constitution, and more people need to figure that out.

  55. I remember the following cartoon: Moses is up on Mt. Sinai, tablets in hand, looking up at the sky. He says “Let me get this straight. You want us to cut the ends of our dicks off?”

    Let’s face it: if some sect practiced ritual body modification on children, it would be banned and those doing it would be put in jail. But if it has a Judeo-Christian basis, it is OK.

    Shouldn’t the sceptics, the atheists, the ACLU etc campaign to make circumcision (and pierced ears) illegal for all people under 18?

  56. One thing is clear: through the Gulf oil leak God is punishing us for loving shrimp.

  57. Samsam

    Phil’s math is entirely correct. Astronomy frequently deals with approximate values that may have no more than one significant digit.

    The Honor Mom and Dad thing, however, he gets wrong. There are a number of cases where adult offspring have been held liable for parent’s nursing home costs; even in cases where there has been no contact between parent and offspring for decades, and offspring did not sign any documents agreeing to be responsible for costs.

  58. Gary

    Phil, nice job in setting up a straw man to knock down. You’ll generate lots of foaming at the mouth on both sides of the issue with very little effort and hard thinking on your part. A pedantic parsing of words without thorough cultural and historical context and a distinction between the making and following of law is hardly proof of your thesis.

    FWIW, Jesus was hardly politically-correct. He annoyed the rulers of his people and scared their Roman masters enough to cause them to execute him. He did this by claiming to be God and King. An honest examination of him means taking the hard sayings with the soft ones — including the one where he says he fulfilled the whole Law (the Commandments and additional cultural regulations) perfectly.

  59. Rae

    Whenever a discussion like this comes up, it always makes me think of one of my favorite clips from The West Wing (you know, the show with the “one true president”)…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSXJzybEeJM

  60. Ray

    You seem to work awful hard to “prove” things that are of little consequence. Sometimes I think you doth protest too much.

  61. Gary Ansorge

    32. mouse

    When I started to write MY post, there were only 13 showing and I had read all of them. By the time my two bits were completed, it was posted as number 38.

    Just saying, an interesting/contentious article generates a lot of input too fast to keep up with. But I try.

    Gary 7

  62. WJM

    Phil is correct in his math, rounding up.

  63. TheMetalChick

    It really should be 4.5

    #3, taking the lords name in vain, you point to freedom of speech. However, there have been plenty of laws and regulations and such regarding cursing and taking the lords name in vain. The score could be a 4.5- you could give a half a point because freedom of speech is not absolute. We have plenty of laws regarding what can and cannot be said, including allegedly cursing in gods name and all that. Case in point: I bet I could not even post “god damnit” on many blogs we read all the time.

    But it could also be argued that, since we have people swear on bibles and if they lie after doing so they have broken the law, since we hold ones word after swearing on the bible to a higher level than someone simply stating their word, that we are upholding commandment #3 to the point of giving it a full point!

    However- if we change it to 4.5 or even 5, your overall point is still quite valid.

  64. ND

    Grendel,

    “Plumbing, togas, olives, togas, wine, togas – yup, Romans – a much better legacy for a nation.”

    Doesn’t seem to be doing Greece any good. Maybe they should bring back togas. That may improve things. Authentic Greek togas. There’s an export market right for the taking and improving the nation’s economy.

  65. Jason A.

    If something as completely innocuous as this post can be described as ‘anti-religious fervor’, then there really is no point even trying to play nice with religion. Matt considers the very existence of people who don’t think like him to be off putting. Shut up and stay in the corner, he says.

  66. Paul from VA

    First, I agree with several of the above posters that it’s important to distinguish between federal law and all law, as most of the “laws based on commandments” fall under state law.

    Assuming that state laws count, I think #7 (adultery) may be worth half a point. While adultery itself is not illegal in most jurisdictions, it is universally regarded as grounds for a divorce, in particular the more painful at-fault variation. Divorce falls under civil law, since marriage is not generally regarded as a criminal act, but it is still under the law nonetheless. So one could argue half-credit for #7.

    One could also make an argument for #5 (honor thy father and mother) since congress passed a law designating Mother’s Day. Bit of a stretch though. Perhaps a quarter point?

    Nonethless, the main thrust of this article is correct. Most of the laws in the US are not based on the Commandments. Heck, you could also argue negative points on commandment #1, since the constitution specifically allows other gods.

  67. @ ND:

    (Warning! Greconerd alert!)

    Greeks never wore togas! That was a Roman invention, one that could only be worn by Roman citizens. (So, okay, Greeks who were Roman citizens wore them, but they were an outside fashion!)

    Greeks were fond of simple tunics, wrapped around the body and clipped at the shoulder. Oh, and the Athenians were fairly notorious for wearing stinky wool underwear!

  68. mouse

    @Gary

    Point taken (and I did think of it myself, I promise). Some of the other timestamps made me wonder in those specific cases, however.

    @Shane

    You’re hilarious. =)

    @Jason A. (52)

    My thought exactly.

  69. Elohim

    You are right, Chris. Yahweh was originally the Canaanite sky god El. In other words he belonged to the same pantheon as Marduk, Baal and Anat. The name El still survives in words like Israel (Isra-El). So the commandment “no other gods before me” refers to the pact the Israelites made with El to worship him as their main god. Back in the early days the Israelites still believed other gods existed, but none of those gods could provide for them as well as El did. It even looks like it was fine to worship these other gods, as long as El was acknowledged as the foremost god. At some point this mutated into only worshipping El, and as the other gods became irrelevant and increasingly forgotten it became possible to think in terms of there being only one God.

  70. Jason A.

    Phil, nice job in setting up a straw man to knock down.

    Quoting the words directly, with links to see it in context. Do you even know what a strawman argument is?

    A pedantic parsing of words without thorough cultural and historical context and a distinction between the making and following of law is hardly proof of your thesis.

    Is this some variant of the Courtier’s Reply? Perhaps hybridized with the old ‘if you don’t know, I’m not going to tell you’…

  71. Ooo! Discovery dot com is going to rack up the ad revenues on this one!

  72. Sorry about the math problem there, folks. I had changed the post at the last second after being convinced to change one of the credits, and missed the half-point problem.

  73. ND

    kuhnigget,

    You’re a party poopah with your inconvenient facts, and stuff.

    Well if the Romans wore togas and they were successful, then logic dictates that togas may help Greeks. So there.

    Edit:
    “Authentic Greek togas.” That claim is not a problem if you have a good sales and marketing department ;)

  74. QuietDesperation

    Quick! We need a few dozen more people to point out the math error! (eyeroll)

    clips from The West Wing (you know, the show with the “one true president”)…

    It’s easy to be a good president when your writers can script the outcomes.

  75. @Gary
    “He did this by claiming to be God and King. ”

    Even if this fellow called Jesus ever actually existed just because he claimed to be a god and king doesn’t make it so. If a person claims divinity you should really be suspicious of their sanity. Of course any evidence of said divinity would be compelling…

  76. Douglas

    These are not the ten commandments. These are the Laws of Moses. This list is not written on the stone tablets nor broken and put in the Ark.
    Look later in the same book of the Bible you will see an entirely different list that the bible itself calls the ten commandments.

  77. GR

    The sabbath one actually shouldn’t be a half-point either. The laws against booze on Sunday aren’t because of the sabbath. They were originally created by factory owners in the 1800s who didn’t want their employees coming in drunk/hung over on Monday! Since then people have applied a religious angle to them but they were purely about profit, not god.

  78. Thameron

    @Richard Wolford

    “We will know peace when there is no religion.”

    That is a bald-faced, unsupported assertion. There is absolutely no reason to believe that a planet full of atheists would be peaceful. People find plenty of excuses to kill and do harm without bringing their deity into it (politics and money don’t require a god, but serve just fine as excuses to kill). Religion and the violence that it has spawned is a symptom it is not the disease. The disease is human nature. When human nature changes to eschew violence then there will be peace, and those peaceful people may or may not be subject to magical thinking, but peace and religion are really unrelated.

  79. Gary Ansorge

    74. Shane

    Anyone can claim to be God and still be quite sane. Example:

    1) definition of God as an infinite intelligence
    2) infinite includes me
    3) therefore I am God

    See how easy that was?

    Just don’t ask for evidence. It is, after all, just logic.

    Gary 7

  80. TSFrost

    I can’t believe nobody’s mentioned George Carlin’s take on the Ten Commandments.

  81. 76. Gary Ansorge
    LOL.

    “Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and promptly disappears in a puff of logic.
    - Douglas Adams

  82. Randy

    George Carlin breaks down the Ten Commandments:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YzEs2nj7iZM
    Winds up with a condensed version… (the Two Commandments) .

  83. Phil,

    I think you’re a bit too generous with regard to #4. Blue Laws are a state-by-state thing. I wouldn’t really count those as the basis for our country. Instead, the comparison should be with the Constitution, as the supreme law of the land and the foundation for our government.

  84. Michelle R

    @TSFrost: Yea! Someone has to post the video to it!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YzEs2nj7iZM

    There. :P

  85. Gary Ansorge

    78. Shane

    I forget what story it was but it went, more or less, like this:

    A mathematician found God in his equations and God then said “Oh, goody. You found me. Now it’s YOUR turn to hide. I’ll give you a million year head start.”

    LOL!

    Gary 7

  86. Phil,
    Thanks for the link to Leviticans. Its a great article too.

    Those commandments that are included in our law structure (barring blue laws and laws about swearing) are just common sense rules for creating a safe and peaceful community. You could make an argument that adultery laws are there to preserve the peace. Although, I agree that this is a personal choice and should not involve the community at large.

    Further, the writers of the old testament, were trying to achieve a community of peace under a structure of religion. Not particularly coincidentally, they identified similar rules. Those similar rules are found world wide in most ancient and current civilizations. The Jews didn’t come up with anything really innovative there. Just common sense and common agreement.

  87. Plutonian

    @51. kuhnigget Says:

    Plutonian: That we may be a nation of Christians (in the majority), does not now or ever make us a Christian nation.

    Really? Why not?

    What *do* you call a nation that has a majority of Christians and a mostly Christian culture if not a “Christian nation” pray tell? ;-)

    (Playing “devils advocate” here to some extent – as noted neither Christian nor Jewish but agnostic personally.)

    @79. Gary Ansorge : Ever read Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land : “Thou art God!” Grok it? ;-)

  88. Plutonian:

    You know what I mean. :/

    The U.S. population may be largely Christian, but the nation itself, its institutions, its laws, its government, are by design secular.

  89. Plutonian

    Really? But if the nation’s *people* themselves are mostly Christians ..?

    Care to expand on that?

    And I ask again – what *would* you call the US if not a Christian nation

  90. gss_000

    Read Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America.”

  91. Eric TF Bat

    Pssst, @Gary (#58): being snobbish isn’t the same as being grown up. In fact, they’re pretty much opposites. Tip for young players.

    And as for JC being politically incorrect because he said he was God? I recommend checking your facts, perhaps by reading a little book I call The Bible. You’ll notice that JC, if he existed, if he said any of the things that a bunch of men who’d never met him attributed to him half a century later, never claimed to be God. He was executed in a standard fashion by the government of the day because he claimed to be King, which is the only significant no-no in polytheistic Roman Palestine. People claiming to be God didn’t bother them, but people whipping up support for a popular revolution did.

  92. Matt T

    @ Plutonian
    I would call it a nation made up of people, the majority of which are Christian. To say it is a Christian nation specifically implies that we structred our nation after Christianity, which is obviously the reason for this article.
    Plutonian, why do you insist that the nation be associated with anything at all? Why not just call it a nation? Oh…I know…how about it’s a Free Nation – that satisfies your fetish for adjectives. Or if you are saying that the adjective has to reflect something about the majority, how about an Adult Nation? Equally as abstract and meaningless, since it has no bearing on our laws or culture.

  93. Albert Bakker

    It is relatively easy to show how utterly wrong and anti-human the OT is. But to equate the teachings of “Jesus” (the historicity of the Jesus character is suspect) with political correctness, even in the historical context let alone at present, is very weird. Or one has to at least completely separate “Jesus” teachings as worded by Paul, from that of Jesus’ first and second hand “recorded” words, because he manages to out-hate Leviticus on the homosexuality thing and specifically (Romans 1:26) hates even lesbians doing what they like to do best. (What kind of religion does that? One unworthy of taking seriously by men that’s what.) In the same chapter he just about condemns everybody to death (Romans 1:32) but himself and perhaps a handful of very unsettling characters closely resembling him. Of course if you read the New Testament carefully it’s all bloody hell and eternal suffering, occasionally punctuated by an attempt at higher Egyptian ethics. But if you are a pathological sadist then as a Christian in the New Testament you are repeatedly promised a good view on a bloody holocaust without parallel just for your amusement. You’ll see people burn and die from horrible diseases and plagues and what not and you’ll see saints and holy men turn into vampires (Revelation 16.6) and on and on. It will be such great fun if you happen to be approved as a spectator and of course if you like that sort of stuff. Great fun perhaps, but to call it politically correct is perhaps not entirely accurate.

    But “Jesus” himself isn’t exactly the progressive peaceloving hippie more liberal minded religionists like to project. “Matthew” (10: 34-37) at least doesn’t seem to share that image. He’s seems to be a bit of a cultist warmonger in the mind and pen of this particular Evangelist. Not really much of a big supporter of family values either.

  94. Doran

    Not sure why Pendantic Gary wants to add cultural and historical understanding of the 10 Commandments, if we do you really have to drop the “Thou Shalt Not Kill” law, as back when it was written it really meant “Thou shalt not kill your fellow tribesmen, but please feel free to kill anyone else, in fact if they believe in some other god, please kill them”

  95. @ 41 Plutonian,

    Like it or not, (& I gather the BA doesn’t) fact is that Christianity is the majority religion in the United States, it has permeated the US culture which is indeed heavily affected by and holds in high regard Christian values and Christianity is deeply significant to most Americans. This is simple fact.

    Then clearly, we are a nation of Democrats, while we were most definitely a nation of Republicans for 8 years prior to that, and the most sincere nation of Democrats for 8 years prior to that, and . . . .

    However, the laws of the land are secular laws.

    The authors of the Bill of Rights chose to avoid any official religion.

  96. kuhnigget (#51):

    The “thou shalt not kill” commandment is frequently interpreted more closely to “thou shalt not murder. Subtle difference. And, if you read the Bible, you’ll note it’s one of the most frequently broken commandments. It’s quite easy to make the interpretation that “thou shalt not kill” really meant, “thou shalt not kill (another Isrealite).” The chosen ones had no trouble slaughtering Canaanites, or anyone else who pissed off Yahweh.

    Well, G-d commanded them to be killed.

    Deuteronomy 20:16-17

    But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy G-d doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth: but thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Per’izzites, the Hivites, and the Jeb’usites; as the LORD thy G-d hath commanded thee:

  97. I guess Plutonian would say we are a white nation too. Interesting.

    I know you’ve said you’re playing devil’s advocate here Plutonian, and that’s just peachy. So what’s your point?

  98. mike burkhart

    Phil , Frist the Catholic Church divides the comandmets diferently,second wile we don’t throw people in jail for adultery it can be used in court as grounds for divorce. third these laws are for Christans and and if they were in the law of the U.S. they would be uneforceable as proabition was (I meen the ones that are not the basis of the law ,I mean how could we tell if a person took the lords name in vain or not? or that someone did not attend church?)

  99. ND

    I agree with Thameron. I’m not a fan of organized religion (it’s another form of power over others). But holding up religion as the biggest source of problems is red herring and ignores the underlying human natures. People will find one reason or another to back up their dislikes, hatreds and selfishness with anything that makes twisted logical sense.

    This goes for the gov’t vs free enterprise arguments. They’re both areas where people can abuse, take advantage of others and use for self-advancement.

  100. @ Plutonian:

    Pretty much what Matt T said, and what I clearly stated earlier.

    Our laws are not Christian. Our constitution, upon which our laws are based, are not Christian. Our government is not Christian. Our military is not supposed to be Christian, although there seems to be some trouble with that. None of the official organizations or establishments are Christian.

    We are not a Christian nation. We, as a majority, might be a Christian people, but those are two very different things.

    @ Eric TF Bat:

    Props for the Python reference! Take it away, Eric the Orchestra Leader!

    @ Ken B:

    Yeah, well, Yahweh doesn’t take his own commandments very seriously, does he?

  101. @Plutonian

    Matt T nailed it. We are clearly an Adult Nation, since the majority of citizens are adults. Then again, we might be an Omnivorous Nation. Or perhaps an Automotive Nation.

    Or why stop at Christianity, if you’re sticking to religion? Why not go with Protestant Nation, since the majority are Protestants? That’ll sit well with the Catholics, Mormons, JWs and other Christian sects.

  102. BTW, anyone notice how “they” say “Judeo-Christian”, and not “Judeo-Christian-Muslim”?

    Forgive me if I’m totally wrong (though please correct me if so), but isn’t Islam based on the Old Testament, plus the New Testament, plus the Qur’an?

  103. Anton P. Nym

    @Plutonian (89): “And I ask again – what *would* you call the US if not a Christian nation”

    And I suppose Japan is a Shinto nation, and China a Confucian nation? I suppose Britain is expressly a Christian nation, with an established church (CoE, aka “Anglican”) that the US lacks, but I’d have trouble categorically stating that it was so in the sense that American dogmatics seem to intend. Indeed, a lot of English Common Law draws upon pre-Christian practices of the Angles and Saxons with a soupcon of pagan Norse/Danish, in addition to the Frankish/Norman/nominally-Christian practices introduced later.

    Describing a nation by its religion is rather one-dimensional, and insisting upon treating that single dimension as paramount is short-sighted in the extreme. Were it not, then one would expect France’s government to be a lot more Catholic than it is in actuality.

    (Besides, were I to sum up with one adjective the nation envisioned by these semi-divine Founders so adored by the American yet-more-right wing, I’d say it was an Enlightenment nation. Maybe even a Liberal nation, if I’m aiming to shock.)

    — Steve

  104. Mike Burkhart (#97):

    third these laws are for Christans(sic)

    They are? (Assuming we’re talking about “the ten commandments”.) Last I checked, they applied to the Jews, and were not binding to any non-Jew.

  105. @ 58. Gary,

    Phil, nice job in setting up a straw man to knock down.

    I think you mean a straw Bible.

    This is an argument that has not been created by BA to knock down. This is an argument that is regularly repeated by the holier than thous as if it were a fact. Just look at Plutonian’s comments.

    I agree with those who point out that federal law has very little to do with the Bible, except for the part that states -

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

    Not exactly a Bible-thumping phrase, but the whole post is about a nonsensical claim by politicians (religious or not) trying to appeal for votes.

    Secular laws governing people who worship hundreds of gods. The idea that all Christians worship the same law suggests that they do not kill each other over their different Christian gods. It is less common than it used to be, but that has nothing to do with whether their gods are the same.

  106. @ 97. mike burkhart,

    I mean how could we tell if a person took the lords name in vain or not? or that someone did not attend church?

    Witnesses?

    I am not a lawyer, but I have heard rumors of this method being used for centuries.

  107. @Rogue Medic

    Indeed. In fact, looking at the writings of some of the founders and framers of the Constitution and our early government reveals that the U.S. is expressly not intended to be a religious nation. A decent book discussing this is Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers.

  108. @TheMetalChick

    “I bet I could not even post ‘god damnit’ on many blogs we read all the time.”

    What you can post on a blog and what the government deems is illegal are two different things. Think of a blog as a person’s house. I might invite you over to my house but say “I have small children around so please don’t curse.” Now, if you come into my house and start cursing like a hockey player (according to my wife, they curse far more than sailors), I’m under no First Amendment restriction. I can ask you to leave and if you refuse to I can call the police to get you forcibly ejected. At no point am I infringing on your First Amendment rights by not letting you curse in my house in front of my children. Similarly, a blog owner can decide that they don’t want cursing on their blog and can boot people who curse without fears of First Amendment lawsuits. First Amendment applies to the government, not individuals.

  109. Utakata

    Good read…

    …thouhg I think after 30 million’th post about it though, Phil would of noticed the math error…so need for needless spamming of his mistake (which he had corrected in time) when two posts about should of suffice.

    As for “…you can bet your bottom shekel that we’ll be hearing from a lot of ‘family values’ politicians decrying our lack of morality.” The question should be what has “family values” ever done for science or poverty or polution or war? Politicians should stick to real issues that effect us all, not some jaded, archaic Puritan values that really has no meaning in our lives…unless one has a thing for beating kids (which in many jurisdictions is illegal).

  110. Utakata:

    The question should be what has “family values” ever done for science or poverty or polution or war?

    Well, that and “what, exactly, do you mean by ‘family values’?”

  111. @ND,

    I’m reminded of a quote from Farscape when Bobby, a young human, is interviewing Noranti, an older, mystic-type alien woman (with three eyes).

    Bobby: “Do religions hate each other where you come from?”
    Noranti: “Ohh! Good heavens, no. Religions are grand, lofty ideals. Religious followers… now that’s a different story.”
    Bobby: “Wars?”
    Noranti: “Unspeakable.”
    Bobby: “So we’re not so different.”
    Noranti: “Hmm. That’s nothing to be proud of.”

  112. David Goldreich

    Here’s what I think about the 10 commandments

    http://calamitiesofnature.com/archive/?c=325

  113. @Ken B,

    When a politician says he’s for “family values”, it’s political shorthand for “I’m pretending to be in favor for whatever you value even if I’m saying this at the same time to multiple people with conflicting definitions of ‘family values.’ Please vote for me and give my campaign money.”

  114. Messier Tidy Upper

    Of course, shellfish eating, cutting your hair and playing football (touching a pigskin) are all Biblical laws from Leviticus that we basically ignore.

    That’s NOT eating shellfish, cutting your hair etc .. Natch. In the unlikely event that my meaning was unclear. ;-)

    See :

    http://www.godhatesshrimp.com/

    for another satirical take on this. ;-)

    @ 110. TechyDad : Great quote & so very true. :-)

  115. Plutonian

    @92. Matt T Says:

    Plutonian, why do you insist that the nation be associated with anything at all? Why not just call it a nation? Oh…I know…how about it’s a Free Nation – that satisfies your fetish for adjectives.

    Free nation sounds good to me! ;-)

    Libertarian nation ..? Well we’re not there yet.

    Still I do think we need to acknowledge that most Americans (not all but most) are indeed Christians and mostly have been throughout the USA’s history and that does need to be borne in mind.

  116. Thomas

    I might point out that there is a second set of ten commandments in Exodus 34. They ought to be the same, but for some reason they are not. This second set is even less relevant to any laws of today. Anyone celebrate the feast of unleavened bread?

    As for why rape isn’t on the list. Read the story of Lot and what he did to prove himself a righteous man to be saved from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. When a crowd gathered outside his door to attack the angels visiting him, he offered them his daughters instead. Women were property, and rape was only a crime if it infringed upon the rights of the father or husband.

  117. 112. Plutonian and Matt T

    Free nation? Run by a patriarchal oligarchy where the women and children are second class citizens. And what about the poor minorities and down trodden who have limited freedoms…
    ;-)

  118. 42. mouse Says:
    June 8th, 2010 at 8:19 am

    Does anyone read the other comments before they comment themselves? Just curious.

    ———————————–

    Sue us. It was low-hanging fruit and some of us can’t overcome our genetic predisposition to go for it.

  119. An interesting current (and, I think, whacko) anecdote about the adultery thing… http://www.democratandchronicle.com/article/20100608/NEWS01/6080335/1003/Batavia-woman-charged-with-adultery I’m not really into the government legislating morality, so the article headline really got my goat, so to speak. The article itself even more so.

  120. Noah

    While I certainly agree with the premise of your article (our secular laws generally have little basis in the religious books of the Christian Bible), many of your interpretations of the commandments are quite incorrect (at least from a Jewish perspective, I cannot speak for the Christian perspective). Just a few examples, more for interest sake to be honest, as I am also a skeptic but like to learn a bit about everything is possible. However, an argument could be made that Talmudic discourse has had a strong influence on Western laws (as it discusses issues from manslaughter, to torts to building codes).

    Firstly, the idea of 10 commandments being more important than all others is not correct. In fact the 10 commandments were removed from Jewish prayer services over a thousand years ago due to the fear that some people would think just that.

    #6) “Thou shal not kill” is a very incorrect translation. A closer translation is “thou shal not murder.” The Talmud talks at length about what kind of killing is allowed and what kind is murder (and this is a complex matter). For example, if someone breaks into your house at night, he is considered to have forfeited his live (and can be killed) since he does so knowing you must be home and is therefore likely prepared to kill you if attacked.

    #7) “Thou shal not steal” is more correctly interpreted as “Thou shal not kidnap.” Stealing in this case refers to stealing of people (see Rashi’s commentary on the matter). Which certainly is a big one that needs to be addressed (as you allude to in your comment on #7, i.e. why not rape).

    There are many more examples of this in your article but these are the two easiest to explain. Again, the general premise of the article is, I believe, correct but if you are going to interpret a very complex, document in its translated form it is important to know a fair bit rather than do it from the seat of your pants. After all that is what we skeptics accuse others of doing all the time and no disclaimer should excuse shoddy research.

    Keep writing, love your blogs and books,
    Noah

  121. John Paradox

    21. Rogue Medic Says:

    You will never convince those who believe that we base our laws on the Bible. They believe that Adam and Eve were kicked out of paradise for eating from the tree of knowledge.

    That’s one of the most ironic claims by ‘believers’, since they don’t read the rest of the story, where the Elhoim are afraid of Man becoming immortal:
    22And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:

    32. Ken B Says:

    Mark:

    “Be nice to your parents, so they don’t kill you before your time.”

    I decided a long time ago, that that’s the real reason why babies are so cute. It’s the only reason parents put up with them. (and further comment by TechyDad)

    JibJab had a Mother’s Day video that gives another reason why parents don’t immediately kill their children (snark warning):
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZp3xA4gSCY

    45. TechyDad Says:

    The people who seem to want to make the US a theocracy always seem to think that the “theocratic US” would be based off of their religious views, but who is to say what sub-division of radical Christianity it would be based on? Just like how when they say they want prayer in the schools they mean prayer from *their* prayer books, not a Wiccan prayer or a Muslim prayer.

    There’s a classic cartoon about that:

    Plus, no one (as of the time I write this) has noted there is a direct contradiction between the Constitution and the ‘God’ Commandments:
    but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

    J/P=?

  122. 78. Thameron Says:
    June 8th, 2010 at 9:24 am

    @Richard Wolford

    “We will know peace when there is no religion.”

    That is a bald-faced, unsupported assertion. There is absolutely no reason to believe that a planet full of atheists would be peaceful. People find plenty of excuses to kill and do harm without bringing their deity into it (politics and money don’t require a god, but serve just fine as excuses to kill). Religion and the violence that it has spawned is a symptom it is not the disease. The disease is human nature. When human nature changes to eschew violence then there will be peace, and those peaceful people may or may not be subject to magical thinking, but peace and religion are really unrelated.

    ====================================

    I fully agree with this. We hear all the time from atheists who say that one of the fundamental problems with religion is all the wars in religions’ name.

    I have long contended that rulers and leaders use religion as a tool. They don’t want to take responsibility for wanting to kill hordes of others so they put the blame on religion.

    Frankly, I think most people who claim to be religious really don’t believe much of what’s in the bible or that there’s even a god who gives a damn what they do.

    They say they believe in god because it’s the path of least resistance in society. They don’t want to be shunned or whatever.

    I’ve been an atheist since I can remember. Even when I was five it all sounded like nonsense and nobody could answer any of my questions other than saying (in other words of course), “It’s magic!”

    But it wasn’t until my very late teens that I came out of the closet so to speak.

    When I look around at all these religious types, most of them don’t even make the smallest attempt to live by the religion they claim to hold dear. And I’m even talking about the easy stuff like lying and cheating. How hard is it to just be honest?

    Look at all the extremist right-wingers who can’t even remain faithful. Seriously, it’s not that hard to not have an affair.

    So anyway, my personal belief is that a good 75% or more of “religious” people really aren’t.

  123. el jefe

    Excellent write up! I have a relative who tried to convince me this past weekend that the “commandments” are the only source for our laws. I pointed out the whole thing about the first amendment negating the first three (and the fourth if you want to get technical). He doesn’t like me as much now.

  124. Paul

    A question for the constitutional scholars:

    Was the First Amendment intended to respect any religion (Scientology, Wiccan, Jedi, Pastafarian, etc.) or to avoid official endorsement one specific sect or subsect of Christianity (avoiding things like the persecution of the Pilgrims)?

  125. RMcbride

    You did a much more thourough job than I would have Phil. I would have left it at a brief description. The ten commandments start with “I am the lord thy god and thou shall have no other gods before me” while the bill of rights say that government is restricted from making any laws pertaining to religion. CASE CLOSED.

    Then again I might have also mentioned that 10 is an arbitrary number of comandments and that a greater number than that have been discarded.

  126. Anybody know where I can find a good science blog?

    Kidding!

  127. DataJack

    @Plutonian 90: The US is a secular nation whose citizens are mostly Christian.

  128. Here’s what I really don’t get. Mostly because I ask the most hardcore Christians I know and they practically spin their heads off their necks rationalizing their interpretation of the bible all the while saying it’s not up for interpretation.

    So here’s the question. Since the bible is clearly a collection of approved myths, legends, anecdotes and camp fire tales, how can anyone claim it’s the word of god?

    How can anyone claim the book is even holy when it’s basically nothing more than a lot of contradictory short stories?

    So that’s my first question. What makes the bible holy exactly and how can anyone claim it’s the word of god?

    Next, why is this god who is claimed to be all-knowing and perfect be such a schizophrenic psychopath?

    I mean if you lived with anyone who behaved like he does you’d call him an abusive spouse and probably call the cops multiple times before you got out of the relationship. “Love me or else!” Umm… sure daddy.

    And here’s the one that nobody can explain…. I have free will but god knows everything including what I’m going to do and everything into the infinite future.

    So because god created me, I’m doing exactly what he wants me to do and nobody has anything to say about it. I’m exactly what he wanted.

    How does a perfect being have any needs at all? For example, if he were perfect why would he have a need to create anything?

    Personally, I’d have a lot better chance of believing there is a god if the assumption were that he is imperfect and this universe is just a hobby of his. In fact, he may be a low-ranking god with about the same power over this universe as we have over earth. He didn’t create it – someone higher up than he did. But he gets to play around with it but only after he got his degree in universe management and did a long internship.

  129. Matt T

    @Plutonian:
    “Still I do think we need to acknowledge that most Americans (not all but most) are indeed Christians and mostly have been throughout the USA’s history and that does need to be borne in mind.”

    You claim you want to acknowledge the assertion (I avoid the word “fact” because I’m not convinced it is a fact) that the majority of American citizens are Christian. What possible utility does that serve?

    A hypothetical:
    You log onto wikipedia, and you discover a new nation has formed in Europe. Information on this new nation is sparse, but you find the term “Zoroastrian Nation” in the description. What is your first deduction from this description? Is it A) This nation is made up mostly of Zoroastrians. Or B) Zoroastrianism is a basis for this nation, its laws, culture, and people.

    By calling the US a Christian Nation, you DO NOT imply a majority/minority distinction in religious preferences. You DO imply a societal thread, which is precisely what the founding fathers wanted to avoid.

    There are other ways of acknowledging the number of Christians in the US. One way is “The US population has a lot of Christians. Oh, and it has a lot of everything else, too.” Saying the the US is a Christian Nation is disingenuous at best.

  130. Sean H

    I’d say adultery would be another 0.5 as it usually voids a prenup and is grounds for a discharge in the military.

  131. Another Adam

    @46 Chris, Isaiah and Jeremiah would disagree. It may be that Jews were practicing polytheism but the books of the prohets make clear this was counter to God’s law.

    @55 Phillip, that cartoon is in error. God commanded Abraham to circumcise the males to seal the covenant between God and Abraham’s family. As for the rest of your statement are you claiming a ritual that started thousands of years ago is wrong?

  132. I can’t help but notice these commandments are all geared towards adults. Nothing about protecting and respecting children. Nor is there anything slavery.

    Late Bronze Age ethics — can’t live with ‘em, can’t seem to get over ‘em.

  133. Chip

    And now a bit of comic relief:

    Moses descends from Mt. Sinai laboriously lugging four large stone tablets.

    Moses: “Hear me people, the Lord hath given us these Twenty Commandments…”

    (Moses loses his grip and two of the tablets fall, shattering on the rocks below.)

    Moses: “Umm, er…the Lord hath given us these Ten Commandments…”

  134. Andrew Wilson

    Shouldn’t you give -ve points for laws in direct contradiction with the commandments? :-)

  135. ND

    TechyDad,

    Gotta love witty dialog that sum up so much so briefly :)

  136. If we are going to be using the majority to determine what kind of nation we are, wouldn’t that make us a “Nation of Women?”

  137. OtherRob

    @Matt T, #93

    how about an Adult Nation? Equally as abstract and meaningless, since it has no bearing on our laws or culture.

    Considering how childishly most people act, I don’t think we can be declared an adult nation.

    @TechyDad, #112

    Great Farscape shoutout. :)

    @DataJack, #129

    @Plutonian 90: The US is a secular nation whose citizens are mostly Christian.

    How about, “The US is a secular nation, the majority of whose citizens use the freedom guaranteed by its secular Constitution to worship in the Christian tradition.”

  138. @Paul

    Was the First Amendment intended to respect any religion (Scientology, Wiccan, Jedi, Pastafarian, etc.) or to avoid official endorsement one specific sect or subsect of Christianity (avoiding things like the persecution of the Pilgrims)?

    Not a Constitutional scholar, but my understanding is that it is a little of both. Some of the writings/letters surrounding the First Amendment talk about respecting other, non-Christian faiths (e.g., Islam was specifically mentioned, IIRC) as well as to avoid endorsing one religion/sect over another. There were some anti-people-who-believe-differently-than-us sentiments at the time (go figure!), and it appears that some of the framers of the Constitution/Bill of Rights wanted to keep government out of that quagmire.

    My understanding of this issue comes from the book I mentioned earlier, so people who have studied the original documents, please correct me if I’m wrong.

  139. Oh Phil. Please leave the amateur bible studies to others.

    You totally lost me on your ridiculous note: “Note: apparently, God said some other stuff interspersed among the Commandments, a sort of legal commentary to stress the aspects He felt important. I have highlighted the actual Commandments below.”

    There’s no consistent agreement on exactly what the 10 Commandments are exactly because it’s not a clear David Letterman Top Ten List. Throw in translation, etc. and I expect you’re about as qualified for this task as a psychedelic shaman is qualified to discuss cosmology by looking at false color images of galaxies. Or a blogger to go head-to-head with a couple centuries of religious lawyers.

    I’m an atheist skeptic, and my skeptical position is that you shouldn’t go wading into that mess unless you actually have studied what you’re blathering about. And even if you have studied it, one hopes you’d have the sense to keep out.

    Now I’m off to read the rest of the post after that silly note. And do my best to keep from reading the comments.

    roymeo

  140. ND

    If Plutonian is the same person as Plutonium is from Pluto, then good luck explaining definitions to him (her?). People are explaining the difference between majority-religion and legally-established-religion when it comes to the term “Christian nation” and he insists on conflating the two. This individual does not understand critical nuances.

    Nowhere in the US constitution nor the declaration of independence are statements asserting the country be a Christian nation. The only mention is the term “Creator”, no “God” nor “Jesus Christ” nor the “Holy Ghost” (correct me if I’m wrong). Heck the founders where white. As someone else pointed out, is this a white nation?

  141. @ Another Adam:

    Chris, Isaiah and Jeremiah would disagree. It may be that Jews were practicing polytheism but the books of the prohets make clear this was counter to God’s law.

    It is more accurate to say it was counter to the will of Yahweh as it was interpreted by the priest culture of Jerusalem, which was then in ascendancy after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel.

    The error comes from assuming the region now known as Israel was a monoculture, all worshipping in the same fashion. This is not supported by the historical evidence.

  142. TheMetalChick

    109. TechyDad: That is of course true… would it be preferable if I used the ol “screaming fire in the movie theater” example? :) Im just saying we do not have absolute free speech- not that its a bad thing, but we dont. There are laws which limit what we can and cannot say. Another example- if I stood up in front of the president and yelled, “Thank you” I might be escorted away and told Im being too loud. If I screamed for him to go GD F himself, I might be arrested.

    Im just not fond of the way people refer to freedom of speech as if it is absolute, that all.

  143. TheBlackCat

    avoiding things like the persecution of the Pilgrims

    I think they were actually more concerned with persecution by the pilgrims, who treated other religious groups far worse than they were ever treated.

  144. Genesius

    @Chip (#135)

    If you’re going to steal from Mel Brooks’ “History of the World, Part I”, at least get the number of commandments right. It’s 3 tablets with 15, then drop 1 tablet to make 10 commandments.
    ;-)

  145. Thoushalt

    [2] – [4]: If you look at those, they actually acknowledge the existence of other gods, just saying that YHWH is the Hebrews’ special one and the only one they should worship. This is called monolatry in the trade. True monotheism only entered the Hebrew religion on its way toward becoming Judaism around and after the time of the Babylonian Exile (6th cy BCE).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monolatrism

  146. Anyone who says that our laws are based on the Ten Commandments has clearly never read either one.

  147. Levi in NY

    The political irrelevancy of God’s commandments in the Old Testament becomes even clearer if you bother to read a little bit past the Ten Commandments, to other commandments that virtually no modern Christians are willing to defend. In the very next chapter (Exodus 21), God sets out his rules for slavery (which is already implied to be acceptable in two of the Ten Commandments; you’re not supposed to let your slaves work on the Sabbath, or covet your neighbor’s slaves). Now imagine if some politician told us we needed to base our laws on Exodus 21, including such gems as:

    It’s okay to sell your daughter into slavery, and if you’re a female slave, you’re not even entitled to the same rights as male slaves (Exodus 21:7): “And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.”

    It’s okay to beat your slaves as long as they take at least three days to die (Exodus 21:20-21): “And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.”

    If your slave has a family who are also your slaves, and he doesn’t want to leave his family when he’s done being your slave, you’re supposed to mark him as your permanent property by boring an awl through his ear on a door post (Exodus 21:5-6): “And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.”

    I haven’t ever met a Christian who’s at all familiar with these passages, even though they literally come immediately after the Ten Commandments. I just don’t understand the mindset of people who claim to have a holy book that was written or inspired by the all-knowing creator of the universe, full of specific rules about the morality we should follow to avoid everlasting punishment, and who don’t even bother to read through the thing and familiarize themselves with its commandments.

  148. @ 108. Todd W.,

    @Rogue Medic
    Indeed. In fact, looking at the writings of some of the founders and framers of the Constitution and our early government reveals that the U.S. is expressly not intended to be a religious nation. A decent book discussing this is Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers.

    I will have to keep a look out for that book.

  149. Jake

    Stick to astronomy, Phil.

  150. Charles

    @TechyDad 50: Most evangelical Christians respect Jews and consider them “on the same team” because the Bible explicitly states that the Jews are the chosen people. Thus if you are a Bible literalist, you have to accept Jews as being God’s people. I have never heard the “they are easy to convert” thing.

  151. Levi in NY

    Don’t just stick to astronomy, Phil. You’re a leading figure in the skeptical movement. We need you, and for more than telling us the moon landings weren’t faked. Keep thinking (and blogging) critically, about whatever you feel like.

  152. Roy Crawford

    In #1, I note that it says “…no other gods before me,” which tells me that the Christian god acknowledges the existence of other gods. Interestingly, it doesn’t say to not believe that any other gods exist, just that the Christian god comes first. Hmm, and all the Christians I know say there is just one god. Talk about not being able to count. At least I covet stuff of people other than my neighbors; that one leaves a lot of wide open territory.

  153. I don’t believe the Ten Commandments really are the basis for our laws. But I do believe they derive from the teachings of Charlton Heston.

  154. Jeremy

    Good article Phil, but you need to get yourself a better translation of the Bible. The KJV is something of a trainwreck if you look at the history and accuracy of the translation, may I suggest picking up a copy of the New Oxford Annotated Bible? It’s by far the best researched, most level-headed look at Christian scripture you’re ever likely to find, and makes one hell of a handy reference both historically, literarily, and when dealing with religious kooks.

  155. Daffy

    Levi,

    You left out the lovely Psalm 137:9 that expressly says it is OK to slaughter babies by smashing their heads against rocks.

    Or in Leviticus where it says wearing a garment of 2 different fabrics is an abomination (better get rid of those cotton/polyester blend shirts, Christians, before someone stones you to death, Praise the Lord).

  156. I wonder why people feel that unless Phil gets a degree in theological philosophy (or whatever the appropriate training is) he cannot be qualified to do an opinion piece on this subject. I guarantee he knows at least as much or more as the politicians who make the claim that our legal system is based on the 10 commandments.

    It was an opinion, based on a published book. If the passage needs so much heavy interpreting, I’m surprised they let just anyone read it. Goodness, the reader might misunderstand some of it. Because certainly, the vast majority of those who read the passage are not steeped in historical and theological knowledge. If there is so much disagreement, why not listen to another view point. Apparently there is not just one acceptable view.

    Further to tell Phil what he should and should not write about on his own blog is a bit cheeky. If you don’t appreciate his subject matter, there are literally hundreds of thousands of blogs to choose from. Find another.

  157. @ Daffy:

    The whacko fundies, always quick to set aside their literalism when it ceases to serve their needs, claim that the last line of Psalm 137 refers to the Christian Church, i.e. “the rock”, and that by bashing their kids’ heads against it they really mean converting them to Christianity.

    Nothing like a little verbal pretzel-making to stay on top of the heathens.

    I dunno about the cotton-poly garment thing, tho. Seems like the Mormons get around that with their shiny magic underwear. :)

  158. @ 116 Plutonian,

    Still I do think we need to acknowledge that most Americans (not all but most) are indeed Christians and mostly have been throughout the USA’s history and that does need to be borne in mind.

    As may have been borne in mind during the writing of the Bill of Rights, particularly the part that states -

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

    And as was written in Federalist 10 -

    By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

    The majority is not to be trusted to treat others fairly.

    This is one reason the US is not a democracy.

    In a democracy, minorities are at the mercy of the majority.

    The Constitution protects the minorities from the majority, no matter how they define that majority. In this case – Christian, Muslim, Pagan, or whatever.

    For these Christians to claim that they are the majority and their religion was going to be the law of the land was going to be just as effective as if they said, My God is going to smite you!

  159. Remember the days when Philsy was a good science writer?

  160. Thoushalt

    > New Oxford Annotated Bible

    For the OT, The Jewish Study Bible is also highly recommended. For a down-and-dirty but somewhat popular exposition of modern OT scholarship, see How to Read the Bible by James Kugel.

  161. ‘I wonder why people feel that unless Phil gets a degree in theological philosophy (or whatever the appropriate training is) he cannot be qualified to do an opinion piece on this subject. I guarantee he knows at least as much or more as the politicians who make the claim that our legal system is based on the 10 commandments.”

    Because Phil makes his blogging bacon by criticizing anyone who doesn’t have his more than modest achievements in science… when the shoe is on the other foot suddenly his zombies cry foul. He should stick to what he is good at, but until Discover sends editorial notes his way… we are stuck with a half bottomed science blog.

  162. TheBlackCat

    @ Charles: Really? I was under the impression that most fundies think all Jews will be slaughtered during the End Times in order to make way for the coming of God’s kingdom on Earth. I thought that was the whole reason they are so supportive of Israel, the return of a Jewish state in the Holy Land was one of the necessary steps towards the Second Coming. Of course the fact that everyone living there will die is no problem for them.

    @ Jeremy: The issue is that most of the fundies pushing the position Phil is arguing against are also strongly supportive of the KJV as the one true version of the Bible. All the mistranslations and errors and omissions were just to bring the earlier flawed Bibles in line with God’s true will.

  163. Utakata

    Ken B @ 111 Says:

    “Utakata:

    The question should be what has “family values” ever done for science or poverty or polution or war?

    Well, that and ‘what, exactly, do you mean by ‘family values’?’”

    Good point. :)

  164. TheBlackCat

    Because Phil makes his blogging bacon by criticizing anyone who doesn’t have his more than modest achievements in science…

    Examples please. I don’t recall Phil ever using his background as a basis for denigrating anyone. It may have happened, but I don’t think it is anywhere near common, not to mention how “he makes his blogging bacon”.

    but until Discover sends editorial notes his way…

    The contents of this blog have not changed substantially since it first started, not to mention since before Discover Magazine picked it up. They knew full well what they were getting when they brought his blog on board.

  165. Jim

    To those criticizing Phil’s choice of translation or choice of the Ten Commandments as being representative of “Old Testament Law,” he’s working with what he has been given by people who hold the opinion he’s arguing against. If someone attempts to support their point of view with a weak argument, you can’t penalize the person rebutting the argument for that initial weakness.

  166. @ 163. The Arquette Sisters,

    If you are too ignorant to realize that this is not a post about astronomy, on a blog that is not exclusively about astronomy, maybe you are not the audience Discover is interested in. Maybe Discover is aiming at a more sensible audience.

  167. 31. Grendel Says: “Our plumbing also owes much more to pagan Rome than the benighted Christian Europe from which the pilgrims arrived.”

    “So what have the Romans ever done for us?” – John Cleese as leader of the JPF

    - Jack

  168. KC

    “[4] Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth…”

    Oceanographers & Geologists: DOOMED!! Go straight to hell, do *not* collect $200!.

  169. JC

    It’s absolutely amazing how defensive some people get.

    Phil wasn’t dissing religion or religious belief, but rather the idea that US law is somehow based on the 10 commandments (or, at least, the popular perception of the 10 commandments amongst Americans), but we still see all kinds of HURRR DURRR STICK TO ASTRONOMY DURPDURPDURP.

    Wow.

  170. 35. Ken B Says: “Oh, and the two tablets that Moses got from Mt. Sinai are not called ‘commandments’ in the Old Testament.”

    “I bring you these 15…” [slip, CRASH], (“Oy!”), “These 10 Commandments!” – Mel Brooks, HotW Part II

    - Jack

  171. vel

    Hmm, when did the commandments end after the first 10? Ooh yes, when some Christians wanted to force them on everyone but not bother with the more inconvenient ones like owning slaves (hey, it’s alright to beat them to death if they don’t die immediately!) or selling your daughters or eating shrimp. I am very very happy that the primitive laws of the bible have little to do with anything we have today and those that do have any similarity are common in any modern nation. These claims that the “10 Commandments” are somehow the basis of US laws are just more evidence for the usual liars for Christ we always see. and, Phil, Jesus being gentle??? The fictional character that says those who don’t accept me as “king” should be brought before me and killed (parable of the 10 minas in Luke if you don’t know)???

  172. Calli Arcale

    I would argue that our laws really are descended from the laws of Moses’ time — but not really in the way the fundies claim. They’d probably be horrified to realize this, but the earliest codification of these laws was not actually Hebrew scripture. It was Babylonian (yeah, the guys who enslaved the Hebrews). The Code of Hammurabi is the direct ancestor of most modern law, and it has a great deal in common with Mosaic law (not just the fabled 10 Commandments but the whole ball of wax). This shouldn’t be too surprising, as the Hebrews mixed a lot with the Babylonians before settling down and eventually putting their oral history into written form. A lot of it is pretty outdated, but other bits are more progressive (by our standards) than laws common in 18th Century Europe. (For instance, women could hold property, even while married, and it would stay theirs.) And a lot of it will look awfully familiar if you’ve read Leviticus.

    (Note: it is definitely not the same as Leviticus, and the Mosaic law contradicts Hammurabi on many important points. But there has to have been some influence between the two.)

  173. @Levi in NY,

    That’s a big reason why there’s a tradition in Judaism of interpreting the laws. Laws like those are declared to not be applicable anymore for one reason or another and the meanings behind other laws are shifted. Yes, it makes for religion changing over time, but I’d prefer that to a religion trying to hold itself to a past standard that makes absolutely no sense anymore.

    @Charles,

    I was mainly thinking of some of the Southern Baptist groups who seem to think it’s their mission in life to convert Jews to Christianity.

  174. Jon Lindsay

    I did my own calculations using much more specific values for each case and got a final total of 3.14159. Now, where have I seen …

  175. @Calli Arcale

    I also wonder how much of our (or British) law is based on druidic laws.

  176. TheBlackCat Says — good point about the Pilgrims, the ultimate buzz killers of their time and place.

  177. Adam

    While I myself am a Christian, and “The great commission” calls us as christians to go into all the world and preach the good news… Well, people do it wrong.

    You see, the best thing about Christianity is choice. To preach the good news is to (in my opinion) lay out my beliefs and point of view and let the other person make a choice as to what they want to do. Is this country a “Christian” country? no, not by any means.

    Are there Christians in this country who actually realize that you don’t have to force religion down people’s throats? absolutely!

    If you know me, my beliefs, my morals and values but don’t chose to believe the same things I do… that’s fine, your choice.

    All I ask is that when I respect you, you respect me.

  178. John Paradox

    Of course, some of the most rabid of those pushing the TC’s don’t even know them, as demonstrated on The Colbert Report

    J/P=?

  179. JJ

    I liked this post, good analysis, sure beats the whole separation of church and state debate we often see on The Intersection blog. Can you imagine if we were all forced to live “under God”? Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, as long as God didn’t make a ruckus or got a flood from a leaky pipe, but he’d probably part the waters to spare damage to my apartment. :-P

    Anyone remember those religious nut bag a-holes that protested at funerals of fallen soldiers? They believe God kills soldiers because he’s opposed to homosexuality…morons. How about the guy that refused to treat his diabetic daughter and instead prayed for God to make her better? When you take a look at the history of religion, pretty much nothing good has come of it. It’s been the driving force behind wars and dissent in societies to this day. Granted, some people are good religious folks; it’s when people of high stature use religion as a means to motivate polarizing causes that brings about problems. A good reason to be a free thinker.

  180. Brandon M

    Overall I like your list. However, I would argue that the 10th commandment, if enforced (i.e., let’s say coveting needed to be proved, so we would say there needed to be action behind the desire) would cover things like rape which you earlier say was not discussed.

    For someone to proceed to rape, or theft (which is already covered), it would need to be desired beforehand and to such an extent that they acted on it. If we banned coveting, not just desire, but coveting, than the Greedy wall street people, the rapist, and a whole slew of other actions would be covered. All in one simple rule. As a matter of fact, no Coveting, no False Witness, and no Murder is all we need.

  181. @ Adam:

    All I ask is that when I respect you, you respect me.

    And presumably, if they don’t, you “turn to them the other cheek?” ‘Cause that’s the part that most “Christians” don’t get.

  182. Tom

    (the comments were too long – didn’t read them all so sorry if this was covered before).
    I will say that in context of the times in which the bible was written, sex outside of marriage was adultery (or so I was taught) and therefore it covers rape as well as merely cheating. As it also covers sex while dating, I’d say it’s worth another .5. Also, coveting has arguably meant more than it does today and therefore may be worth another .5 as it may be interpreted as causing malicious harm to gain said coveted property (aka defrauding people). 4.5 is still not half way and as you’ve pointed out that’s being very generous.

  183. TheBlackCat

    Overall I like your list. However, I would argue that the 10th commandment, if enforced (i.e., let’s say coveting needed to be proved, so we would say there needed to be action behind the desire) would cover things like rape which you earlier say was not discussed.

    The difference is between actions and thoughts. Thought can never be a crime. Acting on thoughts can be. The ten commandments makes thoughts illegal, even though by definition thoughts can never hurt anyone besides the person doing the thinking, but in many cases does NOT make acting on those thoughts illegal. Add to that the fact that only certain thoughts are illegal . For instance you are not allowed to covet your neighbor’s wife, so does that mean raping unmarried women or children is alright? Well, I guess if you go by the old testament it is, so at least they are consistent in that regard I guess.

  184. The Professors’s clever little word play can be easily defeated. Most of the founding Fathers were honorable men — knowledgeable about the Holy Bible and the Teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ who is God. I know that the Professor is not going to argue that the United States was founded upon lies, deceptions, immorality, and chaos. The United States was founded upon prayer, divine wisdom, property rights – which the Bible Stress, liberty – which the Bible stress, and our laws clearly reflect Biblical concepts, including the 10 commandments. America is a Christian Nation that is not allowed to operate as such by Communist, Socialist, Progressive Marxist Democrats in the Government, especially the Courts (look at Kagan who Obama put up for the Supreme Court – another Leftist), Entertainment, News Media, and Public Education. The American Intelligensia is coveting America’s wealth thru taxes that they plan give to their friends – Marxists, Muslims, the United Nations, Europe, Ivy League Colleges, and of course, Wall Street, with out whom none of this would have been possible. The Majority of people in Islamic country are Muslims. In America, the Majority of People are Christian deal with it.

  185. Hector

    Screw the three Abrahamic desert cults.
    They’re a telephone game gone horribly wrong.

  186. Joe R

    @185 TheBlackCat

    Sadly I would say the US government has made thoughts a crime in the form of hate crime legislation, since the difference in degree of punishment doesn’t hinge on the action taken, but on the motivation (i.e. thoughts) behind that action.

  187. @ Joe R:

    I was about to post the same thing. So-called “hate crime” laws seem mind-bogglingly unconstitutional.

    @ bunson honeydew:

    You left out the Tri-Lateral Commission.

    Paranoia ‘ll destroy ya. BTW, if you want to promote your website, it would be best if you checked the url in your name for typos. Should be a “dot” not a “comma.” You’re welcome.

  188. oops. double post.

  189. the Ritual Decalogue in Exodus 34 which is way, way different from what most people consider to be THE Ten Commandments.

    My only quibble with your reasoning is that Exodus 34 is the only set of laws which is actually called the Ten Commandments in the text.

  190. Cory

    The basis of the American Constitution and most of our laws is found in British common law, which is primarily derived from the Roman and Germanic traditions (i.e., non-Christian origins).

  191. Mike Mullen

    One more Commandments joke:

    Moses descends from the mountain carrying the tablets and announces:
    “The good news is I’ve gotten him down to TEN. The bad news is adultery is still in.”

  192. LCS

    It makes me happy that you mentioned a few of Christ’s teaching. If anything, if Christ were alive today he’d probably be more Democratic than Republican. Why can’t politicians be more like Jesus? He was chill.

  193. Levi in NY

    @TechyDad: Yes, I’m aware there is a tradition of intellectuals who actually read the Bible finding excuses for why they aren’t subject to those commandments they don’t like. And it’s certainly preferable to a fundamentalism that tolerates slavery. But I still think it’s ridiculous to worship any being who ever condoned slavery, or to call that being morally infallible the way most Bible-believers do.

    Chapters like Exodus 21 utterly demolish the idea that modern people ought to derive their morality from the Old Testament; if we’re going to reject the outrageous passages that call for slavery and genocide and misogyny, and only embrace the passages we still like in the 21st century, then clearly we’re using some external, non-Biblical basis for making moral judgments. This is usually a combination of common sense and a sense of empathy for the feelings of others. We would be much better off to stick to those principles without the intermediary of a book which contains all sorts of seriously unethical commandments that a subset of readers are bound to take seriously. Every church and synagogue which distributes this book unedited and calls it holy is doing damage, whether or not its particular theology has excuses for why modern people exempt from the primitive (im)morality it preaches.

  194. 74. QuietDesperation Says:
    June 8th, 2010 at 9:04 am

    “Quick! We need a few dozen more people to point out the math error! (eyeroll)

    clips from The West Wing (you know, the show with the “one true president”)…

    It’s easy to be a good president when your writers can script the outcomes.”

    You don’t believe the outcomes are scripted in real life? What do you think goes on at the Bohemian Grove, the Bildeberger meetings, not to mention the role the secret Shadow Government plays…? ;)

  195. Ah, athiesm.about.com. That was the site that set me on my way to being an athiest and general critical thinker. I love it.

  196. Jeffersonian

    Phil,
    I don’t think it would be inerrant at all.
    If you keep reading Exodus, Moses smashes the commandments you list, and they are therefore ignored. God commands Moses to START OVER, and gives the different set.
    (Those found in Exodus 34; 17-26)
    This is the set that yahweh specifically refers to as THE Ten Commandments (the decalogue).

    The ten reappear in
    Deuteronomy 5
    at which point they have been altered.

    So you would logically reference the set from Exodus 34 – unless you argue that the Deuteronomy set supercede them – but the set you referenced, from Exodus 20, are disowned by the book itself. Why use the set that god himself doesn’t choose and Moses loses?

    If the point is not to be accurate to the Torah itself, then it’s also worth pointing out that none of the texts match when you compare a Torah scroll version, to a King James, to a Catholic bible.
    (Those differences are compared here : englishatheist.org/whichten.shtml )
    ————–
    The sabbath is definitely Friday dusk to Saturday dusk. This is the “sabbath” that the bible specifically refers to. Nowhere does the bible say otherwise (course nowhere does it say that gentiles need observe it, either). The punishment for not observing it on Saturday is death! Heed!!

  197. Kimpatsu

    We’ve evolved to be mostly monogamous creatures…
    I don’t know where you get that idea from, Phil. If it were true, there wouldn’t be so much philandering in the world. Rather, women have evolved to be hard-to-get, and men have evolved to be promiscuous, and the tension between the two creates the balance point (pace John Nash of “A Beautiful Mind”) to optimise healthy reproduction. (Men want to have sex with anything in sight, and women will withold their favours while searching for a good provider whose handsomeness implies good genes.) This, in turn, plugs into the overall ESS Evolutionarily Stable Strategy”, or balance point for optimal reproduction of the species, as described by the late John Maynard Smith.
    Your monogamy to Mrs. BA is a consequence of social programming, which encourages you to translate the feelings you have for her into loyalty to her alone. It is not an evolutionary construct; rather, it is a social construct that magnifies an evolutionary basis. Its purpose is to ensure you only raise children who are your own, and not squander your resources raising offspring who do not share your genes.
    HTH.

  198. Brian Waddington

    Hi, a day or two ago you ran a blog about how life had not been found on Titan. You criticized some for the misleading headlines and others for not understanding the actual paper.

    I feel justified in critiquing you in the same fashion.

    You seem unable to distinguish between something being ‘based’ on a previous concept and being a literal adaptation of it.

    To save bandwidth let me only briefly address three points you have made;

    (1) The first commandment deals as much with treaties as it does with the uniqueness of God. Any treaty the people of God made had to be absolutely in their favour. No other God could even witness it. Notice please that there is no mention or indication of a belief in ‘only one God’. The commandment simply states that they are to have no other Gods in a greater place of honour than their God.

    I would argue that America has rarely if ever made a treaty that was equal for both sides. I would also argue that the god referred to in the first commandment for America is the God of capitalism and democracy. Certainly there has been an evangelical passion to export these beliefs to the rest of the world.

    (2) Thou shalt not kill is much better translated as thou shalt not ‘murder’.

    The fact that you went to the King James bible rather than any number of superior translations is a fair indicator just how far into American culture that brand of Christianity has inserted itself.

    It is also a good indication that while you may be a patriotic American and a reasonable astronomer you are lacking the academic expertise needed to critique Christianity and its place in our world.

    (3) The message of Jesus may be politically correct now (though I doubt it) but at the time he was a prophet that was proclaiming the needed return to God’s ways and that was not a politically correct message.

    In all openness I must state that I am a Canadian and a Buddhist so I really don’t have a dog in this fight but I do believe that you are woefully ignorant re your own countries history and how it has been affected by the bible.
    Brian

  199. Mena

    @189s
    A crime still has to be committed. No one is going to prosecute anyone for fantasizing about beating up a gay man and leaving him in a field to die or for dragging a black man for several miles down the road. Do that to your heart’s content- just don’t actually commit the crime. If you do, you’ll get more than the slap on the wrist that usually occurs in a lot of the places where that stuff still happens on an alarmingly regular basis. Why is that so hard for the uptighty-righties to understand?

  200. TheBlackCat

    I don’t know where you get that idea from, Phil. If it were true, there wouldn’t be so much philandering in the world. Rather, women have evolved to be hard-to-get, and men have evolved to be promiscuous, and the tension between the two creates the balance point (pace John Nash of “A Beautiful Mind”) to optimise healthy reproduction. (Men want to have sex with anything in sight, and women will withold their favours while searching for a good provider whose handsomeness implies good genes.) This, in turn, plugs into the overall ESS Evolutionarily Stable Strategy”, or balance point for optimal reproduction of the species, as described by the late John Maynard Smith.

    We are far more monogamous than our nearest ancestors (chimpanzees and gorillas), and there is evidence (although still controversial) that this first appeared fairly soon after we first diverged from chimpanzees. We are not as monogamous as many other species, but we are certainly more monogamous than other great apes and this does seem to have appeared well before what we would consider culture in the modern human sense. Not all cultures are strictly monogamous, but a disproportionately large number of diverse cultures with little or no contact with each other and little else in common have been monogamous.

  201. The thing is, we base crimes on our morals and what is right and wrong. If the ten commandments list wrongs, then why should it matter. If it’s wrong, it’s a crime.

  202. Rob Jase

    As Douglas said, the ten commandments you’ve quoted aren’t even the ones Yahweh finally settled on after the first tablets were broken.

    http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.bbc.co.uk%2Fdna%2Fh2g2%2FA31699308&sa=D&usg=AFQjCNEAvJudMKIqHIBjK13q0xSgIRy1gA

    Cooking goats in their own mother’s milk is the cornerstone of our legal system.

  203. TheBlackCat

    The thing is, we base crimes on our morals and what is right and wrong. If the ten commandments list wrongs, then why should it matter. If it’s wrong, it’s a crime.

    Not everything that is wrong is necessarily wrong enough to be a crime, or wrong in the right way to be a crime. Certainly I don’t think worshipping a god other than the one worshipped by the majority of people in the country is wrong, certainly not wrong enough to be a crime, and the U.S. law reflects that even if some people in the country think it is wrong. Similarly a lot of people would say not mowing your lawn is wrong, but is it really wrong enough to be a crime? What about not dusting your house often enough? Making a mistake on a math test, people get punished for that so it must be wrong and I don’t think anyone would disagree with that, but is it really a crime? I think there are much subtler distinctions that can be made besides just wrong=crime.

    I also would not agree that everything listed as wrong in the commandments is wrong. Certainly breaking the first 4 are not wrong, and breaking number 5 depends largely on the parents in question. Number 10 is arguably the basis for our entire economic system.

  204. Andy

    For those saying that murder is only a state recognized crime you should take a look at 18 USC 1111. That is the federal criminal statute which outlines the requirements to have committed murder.

    However, that doesn’t change the fact that laws forbidding murder have existed long before the Ten Commandments so to say that our law originated from the Ten Commandments may be right, but also may be wrong. I would have given it a .5

  205. JupiterIsBig

    #40 @TechyDad and @Ken B,

    I agree totally !
    “Oh and babies’ cuteness is definitely a survival mechanism.”
    The ones that didn’t smile and look cute were sabretooth tiger breakfast !

  206. Eman

    If anybody hasn’t mentioned it yet (I dare not read through all of these comments), there are over 600 commandments, counting the so called “10 commandments”.

  207. TheBlackCat

    #40 @TechyDad and @Ken B,

    I agree totally !
    “Oh and babies’ cuteness is definitely a survival mechanism.”
    The ones that didn’t smile and look cute were sabretooth tiger breakfast !

    You could just as easily argue that it is the other way around, that parents that didn’t think their babies were cute didn’t have many offspring make it to adulthood. So maybe it is not so much that babies are cute, but that we define cuteness by the traits babies have.

    Certainly some of the traits we associate with “cuteness”, like big eyes, big heads relative to body size, and small limbs relative to body size are at least somewhat constrained physiologically.

    These two scenarios are also not mutually exclusive.

  208. Esteban

    What if anything does this article have to do with science?

  209. Esteban (211): It’s a scientific test to see how many people actually read what I wrote.

    I’ll just put you down for a “no”.

  210. keen eye

    I think we have to expand our scoring system here. Coveting is not only ignored by our legal system, it’s the foundation of our economy, Adam Smith’s Invisible hand of self-interest. I think we have to drop this one to a -1.

  211. In the words of Joy Davidman (later to become Mrs. C. S. Lewis), “When a man contemplates forcing his own convictions down another man’s throat, he is contemplating both an unchristian act and an act of treason to the United States.”

  212. Gary Ansorge

    212. Phil Plait

    So, Phil, do you speed read, or what?

    Classic!!!

    GAry 7

  213. Procyan

    THANK YOU PHIL! I am one of the lucky ones who excaped the mind glop of a christian upbringing because of honest thinkers like yourself. The only way out was by reading, listening and thinking. We all need to vocalize in favour of logic, reason and the intellect against the insanity of religion. MORE PLEASE, I WOULD LIKE MORE!

  214. Phil, I’m very sorry but as a skeptic and an atheist I must humbly disagree with the conclusions you have come up with here in your post, especially as they relate to the first 3 commandments. You see, you were simply comparing those commandments to the wrong set of laws. Please, open your mind and allow me to demonstrate.

    1) I am the LORD thy God… Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

    This is an establishment of ownership over ones Intellectual Property and Copyrights.

    2) Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image

    This is the 2000BC version of copying a CD/DVD, which is illegal under the DMCA and other copyright laws.

    3) Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain

    This is the 2000BC version of Trademark law.

  215. TheBlackCat

    213 reminded me, personally, whenever I do the calculation I base it on this system:

    +1 for anything explicitly enforced under U.S. law
    0 for anything ignored by U.S. law or is protected in some situations but enforced in others
    -1 for anything explicitly protected under U.S. law.

    So in my calculations it goes like this:

    1: protected, -1
    2: protected, -1
    3: protected, -1
    4. protected, but used by government agencies, so I will give it 0
    5. ignored or contradictory, depending on how you look at it: 0
    6. enforced: 1 since I’ll go with the proper translation of “murder”, otherwise it would be 0
    7. not illegal but a common term of a civil contract so allowed if both parties to the contract agree, but I’ll be generous and say 1 (I really think it should be .5 at best)
    8. enforced: 1
    9. depends on interpretation of the commandment, but I’ll be generous and use Phil’s: 1
    10. protected and encouraged: -1

    So if we run a total we end up with, and even with me being very generous in several of these:
    -1*4 + 0*2 + 1*4 = 0

    So it is even more bleak if you differentiate things that explicitly go against the ten commandments from things that simply ignore them.

  216. TheVirginian

    Two points that, as far as I can tell have not been noted (I haven’t had time to read all the comments, so I’m sorry if I’m duplicating someone else’s points):
    Our legal system is based upon the laws and legal principles that the Angles and Saxons brought to England from the continent. Whereas the Bible’s laws are rooted in the “lex talionis” concept (an eye for eye, tooth for a tooth) and require the death penalty in dozens of instances, such as working on the Sabbath or adultery, Anglo-Saxon laws and principles were based upon the payment of fines. Adulters and Sabbath-breakers paid a fine. The death penalty was very limited.
    The significance of this is that the Angles and Saxons were PAGANS! They did not convert to Christianity (and conversion often was involuntary) until many decades after the A-S had taken over England. Christian ideas were retroactively inserted into the law, but the basic principles of the A-S, which are the basis of English common law and U.S. law, were paganic Germanic ideas.
    Second, the 10th Religious Expression is more than just a legal nullity. It says women are property and condones slavery (historically, the “manservant” and “maidservant” were translated as slaves; antebellum slavery defenders routinely invokved this commandment.) We forbid slavery and make women legal equals of men, not property. So the 10th Religious Expression is not just a nullity, it condones two crimes and is also immoral.

  217. Paul

    BlackCat @145

    Vagueness by brevity. I’ll retry

    avoiding things like the persecution experienced by the Pilgrims in Europe

    An attempt to avoid persecution of some by others (as experienced by the Euro-Pils) and as attempted by some on others (as performed by the Ameri-Pils).

    Me? I’m going to the ‘fridge for a Czech Pils.

  218. Lobsang

    This is interesting:

    10) Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

    As you can see, there’s nothing against coveting my neighbor’s wife’s ass (just the ass or the wife, but not her ass). Mind you, ass as in donkey, of course, yeah?

  219. jcm

    “gentle, politically-correct teachings of Jesus”?

    Here are some chery-picked (and who doesn’t?) things you’re supposed to do if you are a follower of Jesus:

    “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. ”

    Matthew 10:33-37

    Concerning slavery:

    But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.

    Luke 12:45-48

    Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.

    Ephesians 6:5-6

    Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.

    1 Timothy 6:1

    Concerning the fifth commandment: how children are supposed to treat their parents:

    If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

    Luke 14:26

    Now, if their was a law based on the Tenth commandment capitalism (free enterprise) would be nonexistent since (arguably) it is based on wanting more and more (coveting).

  220. mwaters5

    This author is an idiot. He compares the 10 commandments (A few versus of the entire bible) as a basis for arguing no Christian background for the countries laws.

    The christian background of this country cannot be denied. It is very simple if the vast majority of our founding fathers were Christian and Jews then by simple logic that would have influenced their decisions and actions when they set the country up.

    This is nothing more undeniable than this simple fact. If our founding father were all atheist you can bet your bottom dollar that the freedom of religion clause would be quite different.

    You would also see many different basic laws founding our country if our founder were Atheists.

    Their is lots of more evidence of this but the writer of this article doesn’t want to hear them he is as biased as the right wing christian movement is to the conspiracy of the atheists against them.

    To say that Christianity and Judaism had no effect on the legal basis of the founding of this country is just deliberately putting on blinders by the author.

    Now to turn around and say that every aspect of the us government was taken from the bible and jewish manuscripts is also equally self deceptive.

    The truth is our country was established on about 50% Christian and Jewish values and 50% a through an complete understanding of history and how government worked for the Romans and other ancient civilizations.

    They based our government largely on the Ancient Roman Government with their own special twists and changes that are quite simply spectacular. Now with all that being said how can anyone deny that their Christian and Jewish beliefs did not find their way into our lawbooks.

    Atheists and Christians need to mellow out and get along. This petty bickering of the atheists saying our country has no Christian roots and the Christians feeling attacked by the atheists has got to end.

    Both of these facts can be true and we can still acknowledge what a wonderful country we have cant we? Do we have to deny all Christian influence in the founding of our country to feel good about being Americans? Do we have to feel like the founding fathers hated atheists to feel right about it for ourselves?

    FACT: One of the first acts of the continental congress was to buy a printing press upon which to print law books.

    FACT: Congress had bibles printed with the government printing presses

    Those are historical facts recorded in the library of congress. The declaration of independence itself says that our rights are given to us by our creator.

    “If, to displease the people we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterward defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair. The event is in the hand of god.” George Washington

  221. KC

    In answer to your question, yes. It was done to keep the demons and goblins out of the courts. And false gods. http://www.killercop.com/Pages/playas/matz/goblins.htm

    http://www.killercop.com/perv/_God.htm

  222. robert

    The declaration of independence states that our rights flow from our creator. How much more Christian can you get?

  223. Listrade

    Just to clarify, it’s ok to have a slave as long as I give him Sunday off and don’t covet my neighbour’s slave (but his wife is kinda hot, but that’s not really coveting).

    Not sure if it’s been pointed out either, but the actual list of commandments varies from bible version to bible version, catholic to protestant and of course it’s also different in Judasim.

  224. Pi-needles

    @55. Phillip Helbig:

    I think the joke goes like this:

    Moses and God have finished talking on Mt Sinai and Moses starts heading down the Mountain before he pauses and looks back at God and says:

    “So lemme get this straight, the Arabs get all the oil and we have to cut the ends off our what!” ;-)

  225. Troy

    One thing not mentioned is that at a fundamental level the Bible favors the monarchy type of government. The constitution at its core is all about separation of powers to avoid problems with monarchy. The BA is too generous I’d give a 0.0. as all societies have restrictions on lying, stealing, and murder. Furthermore there is no proof that the point given commandments have some sort of pedigree in which they inspired the constitution. It can also be noted that words such as republic and democracy of which the spirit does appear in the constitution were from Latin and Greek origins. The Greeks themselves were quite adventurous in trying different forms of government to avoid corruption. Along with European political philosophers of the 1700s you can see where the constitution really comes from and it has nothing to do with the spirit or letter of the Bible.
    As an aside another issue is that coveting is the engine of our capitalist economic system (perhaps a NEGATIVE point there!)

  226. #221 jcm

    In the New Testament only the Gospels represent the teachings of Christ. The rest is down to commentators, mainly Paul.

  227. Hatter of Honolulu

    Drivel! Try again!

    The author read the Levites wrong, though it IS novel the author knows of them at all. I am not Christian, but YES the USA was made up of adopted Abrahamic laws. (Why are we surprised? “Religion” was only created to fill the void made by animals becoming self-aware and fearful of one another.)

    1) Only US Federated Republic is your government. Check.
    2) ONLY fed. gov. can use fed. gov. seals. Check.
    3) ONLY fed. gov. can make decrees. (ie “Immigration”, “currency”, “taxes”, or “trade”) Check.
    4) Federal Holidays. Check.
    5) 2-party system. Check.
    6) Murder = Bad. Check.
    7) Adultery = Free Divorce. Check.
    8) No Stealing. Check.
    9) No Perjury. Check.
    10) Coveting… Well, Capitalism needs that, but on the other hand the “pursuit of happiness” is a driving factor of the US. I go with half-check?

  228. “In that case, it’s perjury, and illegal. ”

    Bearing false witness is based largely on the idea of not having an innocent until guilty standard. So the accusation of a crime made a person guilty until such time as they could prove that they were innocent. So if I accused you of stealing my cow. I hereby accuse you of stealing my cow. You would be asked to prove your innocence or die. If you could prove your innocents, then I would die.

  229. @ ND (waaaaaay back down the comment sheet) Ahhh, but Greece got out of the togas and kept just the wine and olives – fatal flaw in a Mediterranean economic climate!

  230. Soren

    I saw a (christian) bible scholar once claim that you cannot understand christianity if you do not understand aramaic and ancient greek.

    this was in response to another bible scholar, this one an atheist, who didn’t read aramaic, only ancient greek and latin (and more modern languages i suppose).

    My conclusion from that little statement is that most christians do not understand christianity, and anything they say on that point can be ignored.

  231. Blaidd Drwg

    Proposed new rule:

    If you are a member of one of the religious sects that claims that Catholics are not Christian, then you don’t get to count Catholics when you are claiming that this nation is 90% Christian.

  232. Just me

    Holy Crap! (Am I allowed to say that???) Nothing stirs the pot like a commentary on religion. Everyone loves pretty pictures of nebulas (nebulae? Yes, those too!) or galaxies, or the amazing transmissions from Cassini. But say something, anything about religion—especially Christianity, and boy, the knives come out! Whew!
    There was a time in the history of Western civilization when science and religion got along quite well, but apparently, at some point, there was some horrible betrayal (don’t remember who cast the first stone, if you will), but now, it seems like faith & reason; science & religion are arch enemies.

    So now it’s:
    Atheists/skeptics: Well, they’re stupid and ignorant and bigoted. They have no intellectual curiosity. They’re brainwashed and will believe whatever they’re told to believe. They’re so naively focused this “God” person they’ve made up that they can’t (or aren’t willing to) see how awesome and complex and beautiful this world is!!!
    Christians (I’m only familiar with Christianity, so I don’t really think it’s right for me to speak on behalf of any other religion): Well, they hate God, and they’re mean to me because I have faith. Also, they’re naive and lacking in imagination to insist that that which can be tested/proved empirically is all there is to reality. Also, they want to turn us all into lesbian wiccans and get pregnant just so they can have recreational abortions! And I think I heard somewhere that they eat babies too!

    Kinda sad, I think.

    Had to get that off my chest. Now I’ll go back and read the actual post, and perhaps I’ll respond… :D

  233. Just me

    Okay, I just read your actual post, and hey, I have no quarrel with it! :D Not even with your supposed math error, which appears to have been corrected, as I suck at math, which why I’m not a scientist. Sigh.

    One question though: Why choose the King James Version of the Bible, when there are literally dozens of more readable translations? In fact, modern Biblical scholarship contends that there were some errors in the KJV translation.

    Just as new scientific discoveries shed new light on old theories, sometimes requiring that they be revised, or even possibly discarded altogether, modern biblical scholarship, and new archaeological discoveries shed new light on our understanding of people who lived in biblical times, which can provide new insights into the contexts in which the texts were written.

  234. Jeep-Eep

    No. It’s just that the friendly relationship would not, and could not last. Religions have to be watered down to the point of meaninglessness to get along with science and science, to avoid treading on religion’s multitudinous and sensitive toes would have to be rendered incapable of actually doing it’s job beyond a certain point.

  235. Just me, check out this site, http://yourenothelping.wordpress.com they bring up some good points on the whole atheist/religion dog-fight. By no means are they infallible, but really, who is?

  236. Steven

    The only thing that I would like to point out is that you are in error that the Law never even “hinted” at things like loving your neighbor as yourself. As a matter of fact, when Jesus said that, he was quoting from Leviticus 19:18. Jesus did not change the law, but rather magnified the law, as it was prophesied that he would in Isaiah 42:21.

  237. CafeenMan (#130):

    And here’s the one that nobody can explain…. I have free will but god knows everything including what I’m going to do and everything into the infinite future.

    How about this attempt?

    G-d created you with free will. You will choose what you choose, and you are free to choose whatever you want. But, G-d knows what you will choose before you choose it. That doesn’t negate your free will. You can change your mind, too. (And G-d will know that you will change your mind, before you change it.)

    Okay, kind of lame, but I think it works.

  238. Roy Crawford (#154);

    In #1, I note that it says “…no other gods before me,” which tells me that the Christian god acknowledges the existence of other gods.

    Strange. I didn’t know that there were Christians when the Old Testament was being written. :-)

  239. Non-Believer (#158):

    If the passage needs so much heavy interpreting, I’m surprised they let just anyone read it. Goodness, the reader might misunderstand some of it.

    Ever seen those medieval churches with the pretty paintings all over the walls and ceilings? That’s because most people back then couldn’t read. So they put the passages they wanted to emphasize, the way they wanted to emphasize them, as a pretty picture story.

    “Spin” is not a modern concept.

  240. Rogue Medic (#160):

    the US is not a democracy

    For those who go “WTF?” to that statement, let me just quote a line from the Pledge of Allegiance:

    … and to the republic for which it stands …

  241. @ Just me:

    Just as new scientific discoveries shed new light on old theories, sometimes requiring that they be revised, or even possibly discarded altogether, modern biblical scholarship, and new archaeological discoveries shed new light on our understanding of people who lived in biblical times, which can provide new insights into the contexts in which the texts were written.

    Trouble is, the fundies in this country refuse to drop their biblical literalism — except of course when they don’t like a particular passage, in which case it has to be “interpreted” — and don’t care what archaeologists, linguists, or biblical scholars discover.

    Religious fundamentalism is about control, pure and simple. Having a holy book, writ in stone, unchangeable (except as needed…by the controllers), is just too convenient.

  242. Adam (#179):

    You see, the best thing about Christianity is choice. To preach the good news is to (in my opinion) lay out my beliefs and point of view and let the other person make a choice as to what they want to do. Is this country a “Christian” country? no, not by any means.

    [...]

    If you know me, my beliefs, my morals and values but don’t chose to believe the same things I do… that’s fine, your choice.

    All I ask is that when I respect you, you respect me.

    Let me publicly state that I respect anyone with the point of view you expressed here.

    It’s the “my belief is the only right belief, and I’m going to force you to follow my beliefs” attitude that I can’t respect. Nor will Phil sit idly by when people in charge (or trying to be in charge) follow that line.

  243. I believe that biblical tradition is a strain in our laws, in our sense of ethics.

    But just that. I think some Christians unfortunately covet authority over others. They are afraid of what might happen if they are not in control.

    But they never were in control. God is. Our job as human beings, I believe, is to get control of ourselves, and that is what religious law is about.

  244. TheBlackCat (#185):

    For instance you are not allowed to covet your neighbor’s wife, so does that mean raping unmarried women or children is alright? Well, I guess if you go by the old testament it is, so at least they are consistent in that regard I guess.

    Just remember that the so-called “Ten Commandments” is merely a list of statements allegedly given by G-d to Moses at Mount Sinai. The Old Testament actually contains 613 “commandments” according to Jewish tradition.

    http://www.jewfaq.org/613.htm

    For example, Deuteronomy 22:28-29 says

    If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.

    So, you can rape an unmarried virgin, as long as you pay her father 50 shekels of silver and marry her. (But, only if you’re caught.)

  245. Ken

    Phil, Phil, Phil,

    You note, correctly that many on the Right (& elsewhere) asser the US is a “Christian nation” (“…A lot of these claim that the United States is either a Christian nation …”). So far so good.

    If you’ve studied Christianity you’d know that Jesus (Christ) changed a numer of things — an “eye for an eye” was ok under Moses, but not anymore (this could be a major topic area). Thus, linking “Christian nation” and the 10 Commandments was fundamentally flawed–at least in a legalistic principle.

    Its curious to note that Jesus summed up the law & his values with the “Golden Rule” — do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. You can have a lot of fun with just that (not to mention that this divine summary was espoused by Buddha some 500 years earlier [irregarless if Buddha really exisited or is a mythic character, he’s recorded well before Christ…and by others earlier as well).

    And many Christians have used the “eye for an eye” value system (measured revenge), quoting the bible for that one while simultaneously asserting they are “Christians” — and thus contradicting a very specific premise made by Christ Jesus about measured revenge. This is a recurring contradiction-in-practice observed everywhere.

    Basically, you missed some ready opportunities…but then you could pursue this as an entire blog topic for a very very long time….

    For fun, you could stick to just the science-related themes — Galileo & Coperinicus & how their scientific observations clashed with religious dogma of the time…and now no longer do. Theres a number of Biblical passages that, if interpreted as others are (to support ID/Creationism) MUST lead to conclusions we know are false — thus, the method of interpretation is flawed. There’s science & logic opportunities galore there!

  246. @ Ken #248:

    Thus, linking “Christian nation” and the 10 Commandments was fundamentally flawed–at least in a legalistic principle.

    The good doctor’s linkage (ahem) is well-suited to the situation in this country. It is the fundy Christians themselves who push this line of “reasoning”. Witness the battles to display the 10 commandments in courtrooms, city halls, etc.

    Dr. BA’s posts are about the value of critical thinking. This one is no different.

  247. TheBlackCat

    Okay, I just read your actual post, and hey, I have no quarrel with it! :D Not even with your supposed math error, which appears to have been corrected, as I suck at math, which why I’m not a scientist. Sigh.

    So you commented on the post without bothering to read it?

    One question though: Why choose the King James Version of the Bible, when there are literally dozens of more readable translations? In fact, modern Biblical scholarship contends that there were some errors in the KJV translation.

    As a number of have said repeatedly, because that is the version usually used by fundies pushing the perspective Phil is arguing against. Yeah, there are better versions, but a lot of the people who we are arguing against don’t agree with that. There is nothing wrong with arguing using the materials used by the people you are arguing with.

  248. Joe R (#189), kihnigget (#190), on “thought crimes”.

    I guess the “hate crime” aspect skirts around the “thought crime” angle, since you still had to commit a crime. The “thought crime” aspect only affects the punishment for the “action crime” that was committed.

    Think of it as the difference between murder and manslaughter.

    However, I still don’t understand why “he attacked him because he’s black” should be a worse crime than “he attacked him because he has red hair”.

  249. LCS (#195):

    It makes me happy that you mentioned a few of Christ’s teaching. If anything, if Christ were alive today he’d probably be more Democratic than Republican. Why can’t politicians be more like Jesus? He was chill.

    Send him to Washington, DC, and replace the “Sermon on the Mount” with the “Sermon on the Hill”. :-)

    <ObPythonReference>”Blessed are the cheesemakers.”</ObPythonReference>

  250. TheBlackCat

    This author is an idiot. He compares the 10 commandments (A few versus of the entire bible) as a basis for arguing no Christian background for the countries laws.

    No, he doesn’t. Did you actually read his post?

    It is very simple if the vast majority of our founding fathers were Christian and Jews

    None were Jews, and yes many were self-identified Christians (although most Christians today would not agree with many of them since they had view radically different than mainstream Christians today), but many others were Deists. Some were vocally opposed to Christianity.

    then by simple logic that would have influenced their decisions and actions when they set the country up.

    Influence a little bit, yes, but that doesn’t imply that it was a major, or even the predominate, influence. It may have been for some, it was definitely not for others. They were not a homogoneous group with one set of views on any one issue, that is why they went to great lengths to make sure no one view would be able to force itself on everyone else. Everyone was afraid of everyone else gaining power and oppressing anyone with differing views, so they were very careful to make sure none of them did.

    This is nothing more undeniable than this simple fact. If our founding father were all atheist you can bet your bottom dollar that the freedom of religion clause would be quite different.

    First, the only people who are arguing they were all one thing are the Christians. But on what do you base this conclusion? How do you imagine a diverse group of people would write such a clause, and why should.

    Their is lots of more evidence of this but the writer of this article doesn’t want to hear them he is as biased as the right wing christian movement is to the conspiracy of the atheists against them.

    You are late to the party, we discussed the more general issue weeks ago.

    To say that Christianity and Judaism had no effect on the legal basis of the founding of this country is just deliberately putting on blinders by the author.

    Who here said anything remotely similar to this?

    Now to turn around and say that every aspect of the us government was taken from the bible and jewish manuscripts is also equally self deceptive.

    Except this is exactly what a lot of Christians in this country do say.

    The truth is our country was established on about 50% Christian and Jewish values and 50% a through an complete understanding of history and how government worked for the Romans and other ancient civilizations.

    What? Where did you get these numbers and how were they arrived at?

    Atheists and Christians need to mellow out and get along. This petty bickering of the atheists saying our country has no Christian roots and the Christians feeling attacked by the atheists has got to end.

    I have never heard any atheists claim anything remotely similar to this. And to paint this as atheists on the attack and Christians pushing back is a gross distortion of reality. What is really going on is some Christians trying to get their views enforced as the official views of the U.S. government and many other Christians and non-Christians of all sorts pushing back against this.

    Do we have to deny all Christian influence in the founding of our country to feel good about being Americans? Do we have to feel like the founding fathers hated atheists to feel right about it for ourselves?

    No, but then again no one is claiming this. Keep beating that strawman, it is almost dead.

    Those are historical facts recorded in the library of congress. The declaration of independence itself says that our rights are given to us by our creator.

    Wow, you really have no clue what you are talking about. Amongst the major founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, was by far the most anti-Christian. He was a Deist and an outspoken opponent of Christianity as a religion. He thought all of the stuff in the Bible about God, miracles, the virgin birth, the afterlife, and other supernatural events and ideas were all placed there by priests trying to expand their power. He thought Jesus was a purely secular moral teacher. To cite him or anything he wrote as support for anything about a connection between the U.S. and Christianity shows either a total ignorance of the founding fathers (which means your assessments of what they would have done have no merit whatsoever) or gross dishonesty (which leads to the same conclusion). His statements in the Declaration of Independence are purely of a Deist nature, not a Christian one.

    Now to care to address the arguments Phil actually made, as opposed to the ones you imagine he made?

  251. TheBlackCat

    Just remember that the so-called “Ten Commandments” is merely a list of statements allegedly given by G-d to Moses at Mount Sinai. The Old Testament actually contains 613 “commandments” according to Jewish tradition.

    …snip…

    So, you can rape an unmarried virgin, as long as you pay her father 50 shekels of silver and marry her. (But, only if you’re caught.)

    Yes, that was my point.

  252. Robert (#225):

    The declaration of independence states that our rights flow from our creator. How much more Christian can you get?

    I must have forgotten that non-Christians don’t believe in a “creator”. Oh, and the Declaration nether makes nor establishes any laws.

    I have two “creators” — my parents. That’s why “commandment” number 5 (honor your mother and father) appears in the Man/G-d tablet (1 through 5), rather than the Man/Man tablet (6 through 10).

  253. Pi-needles (#227):

    Moses and God have finished talking on Mt Sinai and Moses starts heading down the Mountain before he pauses and looks back at God and says:

    “So lemme get this straight, the Arabs get all the oil and we have to cut the ends off our what!” ;-)

    And people think that “G-d’s chosen people” is an arrogance about being better than others. Some consider it a curse, as all these “commandments” (along with many death-penalty crimes) are binding only upon Jews. Gentiles can kill, dishonor, covet, etc. all they want.

  254. I wish people talked more about the 2nd commandment. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” You bolded the first part, about graven images, but like every christian church I know of, you glossed over the second part.

    It’s really clearly stated: representational art is forbidden by god. The muslims have a similar clause, but they actually adhere to it.

    As a visual artist, this fascinates me. Not just that it’s a commendment, but that it’s universally ignored. I’d be curious to know what a bible scholar has to say.

  255. Just me (#236):

    One question though: Why choose the King James Version of the Bible, when there are literally dozens of more readable translations? In fact, modern Biblical scholarship contends that there were some errors in the KJV translation.

    I believe somewhere up-thread the “why KJV” was answered.

    But, don’t fundamentalists usually argue that the Bible is “the word of G-d”, and therefore cannot contain “mistakes”? (As I bring up a picture of Michelangelo’s statue of Moses, just to make a point. :-) )

  256. JMW

    @48 Gary Ansorge Says:
    …the Santa Claus myth. Here we have a telepathic snoop, who knows when you’ve been naughty and nice and is keeping a list.

    I remember a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, in which Calvin is listening to a record player, playing “Santa Claus is Coming To Town”.

    The lyrics run, “He’s making a list, and checking it twice; Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.” Calvin turns off the record player, and rhetorically asks, “Santa Claus. Kindly old elf, or CIA spook?”

  257. Albert Bakker

    Ken, Ken, Ken (248) are you really trying to say the 10 Commandments aren’t important to Christians? You seem to suggest Christians don’t even consider them valid as “Jesus” made up new rules with which the old rules became obsolete. But “Matthew” (5:18-19) is very clear that according to him “Jesus” changed absolutely nothing, not even the most insignificant detail about the silliest thing.

    Even most Christians who aren’t all that passionate about the whole thing agree with him, let alone the taliban types, the reconstructionist dominionists or straight up Christian fascists.

    Also there isn’t anything about eye exchange rates in the entire argument.

  258. Also there isn’t anything about eye exchange rates in the entire argument.
    :D

    I think my feeble, lasik-enhanced, lens-dependent peepers would be a paltry exchange. Good teeth, though, so maybe they’d take a couple of those instead.

  259. ND

    “any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”

    Wait, what are the things that this sentence is refering to exactly? What in Christianity “is in the water under the earth”?

  260. OtherRob

    @robert, #225

    The declaration of independence states that our rights flow from our creator. How much more Christian can you get?

    Which Creator? The Declaration doesn’t seem to specify. And since the person most responsible for writing the Declaration was not a Christian, I guess that completely nullifies your argument.

  261. Hector

    Yahweh is a Canaanite volcano god. It’s so obvious if you read the bible as allegorical literature.
    Study comparative religion to realize that it’s all myth.
    We’re in the 21st century and yet many still believe in these desert cult myths.

  262. JT

    “Wait, what are the things that this sentence is refering to exactly? What in Christianity “is in the water under the earth”?”

    IIRC, according to the beliefs of the writers, the earth consisted of a land disk which was supported by the waters below, and which held pillars which supported the firmament which held back the waters above.

  263. Just me

    @244: kuhnigget
    Trouble is, the fundies in this country refuse to drop their biblical literalism

    So, can I assume that your beef is not with religion per se, but with religious fundamentalism (or what I prefer to call extremism)? If so, then I’m totally with you. And, I hope you and others here acknowledge that there’s a very wide variety of Christian expression. On one end is the self-proclaimed “fundamentalists” who claim the Bible to be the “inerrant” word of God, and then tap-dance around Biblical imperatives to stone adulterers, or how it’s okay to own slaves or whatever. And on the other end (which is were I put myself) are the “progressive/liberal” Christians who take a much more nuanced approach to the Bible and to faith, i.e. believing that the Bible is a collection of texts (letters, poems, stories, prayers, songs, etc.) that reflect the faith of a people who lived in a particular place and time, and were trying to sort out their lives and their sense of place in the world—just like many people do today. There are progressive Christians who don’t blindly follow whatever some preacher tells them to believe. There are progressive Christians who basically question every aspect of their faith, but choose not to reject it outright. There are progressive Christians who choose to believe the homosexuality is not a sin, and don’t choose to accept a “literal interpretation” (whatever that means) of the Bible’s supposed condemnation of it. And there are Christians all along the spectrum between the “progressives” and the “fundies”. There are even Christians who LOVE science!!! :D
    It’s just that the “fundies”are the most visible, because they get the airtime on TV and on the radio. The rest of us are too busy, you know, living our lives, doing our thing, trying to be good Christians. And, frankly, we’re just not that interested in playing the game of “who’s the real Christian?”
    Likewise with Muslims. I think most of us here would agree that not all Muslims are terrorists or supporters of terrorism. There are many flavours and expressions of Islam, it’s just that the extremists are the ones that get the media attention.

    I know that there’s a pretty broad spectrum of atheists, agnostics and skeptics as well.

  264. Terry

    I don’t want a nation governed by religion, but I also don’t want a nation that tries to eliminate my religion, which has shaped Western Culture for 2000 years, like it or not. Also, I thought that you believed in the primacy of research and logic. I’m going to try the same thing.

    Chimpanzees to Humans.

    Chimps have thumbs on their hands – 1
    And on their feet – 0
    They have Hair – 1
    Covering their bodies – 0
    They average 5.5 feet tall, a bit less than humans – 1
    But walk on their hands and feet – 0
    They reach puberty in 8 years – 0
    Chimps are primarily Polyandrous – 0
    Adult males do not grow any facial hair – 0
    They are extremely intelligence, but nowhere near human intelligence – 0.5

    Final result 3.5

    Now granted, I picked and chose my stats, but your argument that the end result isn’t like the start suggests that a lack of similarity implies lack of relation. It is based on a system that does not grow and change in time.

    Simply stated, early legal justifications in Common Law legal systems, such as the United States, were based on commonly accepted practices which were governed in Western Civilization for the last 2000 years by the complex interplay of traditions left over from the pre-Christian periods and Christian ideology.

    Now, you started your argument saying that people claim the U.S. Legal system (based on the Common Law legal system) is based on Christian Principles, but then only examined the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments aren’t even the majority of Christian principles, just the contract that believers have to make with God to be a believer.

    The whole of European jurisprudence is originally justified by biblical reference. All of jurisprudence came from an amalgam of customs, rulings of the nobility, and *cannon* law. One concept that is particularly interesting is the concept of presumption of innocence. Coming from the 13 century of Europe, though possibly also practiced in Rome and Greece, it was justified as part of the ordo iudiciarius, and was grounded in the part of Genesis where God asks Adam why he ate the Apple. Christian legal experts (err… I mean theologians, that’s what they called them at the time) point out that God already knew the answer, being omniscient, but had to prove the guilt of Adam before Adam could be punished.

    My point is that this post was not scientific. It wasn’t historically accurate. It was popularist, and not very worthy of a skeptic. I understand that anti-Christian sentiment is in vogue for political reasons, but 2.1 billion people on Earth sharing a certain degree of cultural identity HAS AN IMPACT on several societies and can’t be ignored.

  265. Andreea

    About point 8. Christianity is a male oriented religion. Rape is a crime against women. It’s just not important enough for God, ya know. Who cares if women suffer.

  266. Just me

    @250: TheBlackCat
    So you commented on the post without bothering to read it?

    Eh? I’m not sure what you’re objecting to or asking.

    In #235, I was merely observing that the BA’s religion posts draw a large volume of responses, and lamenting the general “you’re wrong!”/”no you’re wrong!!”/”well, you’re stupid!”/”well, you’re a poopyhead, and I don’t like you!” tone of many of these posts.

    In #236, I read BA’s post, and basically agreed with what he said!

  267. Chris

    Rather than pick then apart as you did ( and this is to the author) not the crowd. If you apply the teachings of them collectively and also not perverse the 1st Amendment. It was worded and placed with in to not allow the government to ever take away from. Seriously History explains it clearly that they fled Brit and the ruling King for he would punish and put to death those who worshiped God.. One can not compare as was done here (IMHO) without a total reading and understanding of the Bible.

    Now I respect others views and request the same in return. So again this post is for the author.

  268. @ Just me:

    So, can I assume that your beef is not with religion per se, but with religious fundamentalism

    I have no beef with religious fundamentalism, either, so long as it’s not confused with reality, and even then I only get miffed when that confusion is being foisted upon me or school kids in the name of Truth™.

    And on the other end (which is were I put myself) are the “progressive/liberal” Christians who take a much more nuanced approach to the Bible and to faith, i.e. believing that the Bible is a collection of texts (letters, poems, stories, prayers, songs, etc.) that reflect the faith of a people who lived in a particular place and time, and were trying to sort out their lives and their sense of place in the world—just like many people do today.

    And the only question I would have for these sorts of people is, Why? Why try to force-fit a mythologized take on the world, created by people who didn’t have any other way of viewing that world, into today’s modern society, in which we have lots of other tools for examining the world we live in and what makes it tick. Why place so much “faith” in this particular mythology? Why not another set of myths and legends, maybe one that doesn’t have to be redacted so much to edit out the parts that are, to our modern way of thinking, deeply offensive? Why pick and choose among the slim pickings of the Old Testament at all? Why not come up with your own philosophy of life that doesn’t have to bend over backwards to fit in with an ancient culture’s outmoded mindset?

    But again, back to your first point: I don’t really care what philosophy or religion you claim as your own…so long as it’s not forced upon others through legislation or intimidation.

  269. @ Terry:

    I don’t want a nation governed by religion, but I also don’t want a nation that tries to eliminate my religion

    Please give one example in which that has occurred in the U.S..

  270. TheBlackCat

    Now granted, I picked and chose my stats, but your argument that the end result isn’t like the start suggests that a lack of similarity implies lack of relation. It is based on a system that does not grow and change in time.

    Strawman. The people Phil was arguing with explicitly say that the ten commandments are the basis of our legal system, not that some parts of our legal system was based on a legal system that was based on a legal system that was based on a legal system that may have had some vague connection to Christianity at some point in the past.

    Phil is not using some arbitrary list cherry-picked to reach a certain conclusion, he is using the list they are using.

    Simply stated, early legal justifications in Common Law legal systems, such as the United States, were based on commonly accepted practices which were governed in Western Civilization for the last 2000 years by the complex interplay of traditions left over from the pre-Christian periods and Christian ideology.

    Most commonly-accepted practices that the U.S. legal system is based on either far predate Christianity or did not develop until less than 200 years before the U.S.

    Now, you started your argument saying that people claim the U.S. Legal system (based on the Common Law legal system) is based on Christian Principles, but then only examined the Ten Commandments.

    Also a strawman. You see those colored bits of text? Those are links, specifically links to the previous discussion on Phil had on those issues. He addressed the general issue there. The purpose of this post is specifically to look at the claim about the ten commandments. He never argued that because our legal system does not follow the ten commandments therefore it has no Christian influences, he argued that because our legal system does not follow the ten commandments therefore it is not based on the ten commandments.

    The whole of European jurisprudence is originally justified by biblical reference. All of jurisprudence came from an amalgam of customs, rulings of the nobility, and *cannon* law.

    Totally wrong, a lot of it predates Christianity period, and a lot of rest predates Christianity in the areas it came from. This has already been pointed out in earlier comments to this post.

    Christian legal experts (err… I mean theologians, that’s what they called them at the time) point out that God already knew the answer, being omniscient, but had to prove the guilt of Adam before Adam could be punished.

    The need for proof of guilt is found in the Code of Hammurabi, which predates Judaism, not to mention Christianity. The idea that this originated based on Biblical influences is ludicrous.

    My point is that this post was not scientific. It wasn’t historically accurate.

    Pot, meet kettle. Care to actually argue against the point was making as opposed to the point you imagine he was making?

    I understand that anti-Christian sentiment is in vogue for political reasons, but 2.1 billion people on Earth sharing a certain degree of cultural identity HAS AN IMPACT on several societies and can’t be ignored.

    Strawman again. No one has claimed otherwise, not Phil or anyone else here.

  271. Just me

    @13

    I assumed that Matt was joking, a la @1 Luke.

  272. TheBlackCat

    It’s just that the “fundies”are the most visible, because they get the airtime on TV and on the radio. The rest of us are too busy, you know, living our lives, doing our thing, trying to be good Christians. And, frankly, we’re just not that interested in playing the game of “who’s the real Christian?”

    The problem is that these people claim to speak for you, to speak for all Christians. They use that as justification for enforcing their views on others. Moderate Christians seem very disinclined to to stand up and condemn them for this, to proclaim that the fundamentalists do not speak for them and do not represent Christians and Christians as a whole do not support forcing their views on others. They are quick to decry Muslim fundamentalists, but largely silent when it comes to similar behavior in their own camp. The same way Christians criticize moderate muslims for not having the courage to stand up to the radical (or rather reactionary) elements in their midst moderate Christians don’t seem particularly interested in criticizing similar elements within Christianity. You may say it is just you going about your business, but your silence legitimizes the message being spread by the fundamentalists. If you don’t wish to be painted with the same brush, you must make that clear to the world.

    This is part of the reason many atheists have become so vocal lately. The message being spread about atheists were that they were evil criminals with no morals and/or unhappy people with no purpose in life and no emotions. The silence of atheists legitimized that message. It was only be speaking up that this perspective has been slowly and painfully changing.

  273. Buzz Parsec

    Richard @ 36, “it must be nice to be a sheep”…

    Yup, no worries, oh by the way, please walk through this beautifully decorated entrance way past the murals depicting Mediterranean scenes with soft music playing, and then into the rotating knives. Oh, sorry, I didn’t correctly divine your attitude towards your tenantsxxxxxxsheep.

  274. Leon

    This author is an idiot.

    [several exaggerations to make the author's arguments look more extreme than they really are]

    Atheists and Christians need to mellow out and get along. This petty bickering of the atheists….

    mwaters5, you don’t see any contradictions or unintended ironies in the above, do you?

  275. slugbug

    Here are a few to consider. “for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God”… yeah, but don’t YOU get jealous. Perhaps that’s why so may politicians get behind the big book. It’s full of “do as I say, not as I do” examples.

    Regarding stealing: This one I regard as universally important even outside the context of religion. You mentioned rape. I would consider rape as a type of theft. I mean something IS taken without permission. A severe example of theft sure, but theft all the same.

  276. Simon

    Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.

    -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814

  277. Daffy

    Some people just need to believe this stuff, I guess. If Emperor Constantine had never existed, I wonder what religion the current Christians would be following?

  278. Just me

    @276 TheBlackCat

    Whatever. Pat Robertson may claim to speak for me, but he doesn’t. He may claim to represent all of Christianity, but clearly, he doesn’t. Simply being on TV doesn’t make what he says true. If you want to believe him when he says that he represents all of Christianity, you can. If you want to paint me and other progressive Christians with the same brush as Pat Robertson, I can’t stop you. But, on the other hand, no one’s forcing you to lump us all together. That’s your choice.

    But I learned something a few years back—that each person is an individual. Even people in groups, who associate with like-minded people, are individuals. Because of that, I chose to stop lumping people together and assuming that they all think the same way. Because even like-minded people will have their own unique perspectives on things. Just like scientists can look at the same data and come up with different interpretations. Or two people can look at a piece of art—one person can be deeply moved, and another can just shrug and say “eh, whatever”.

    I choose not to believe those people who say that all atheists are evil, or unhappy people, or that they eat babies. I know some atheists who are very fun people to be around, and others who are very sad, depressed people. Same thing with Christians. And Muslims. And Hindus. I have gay friends who are in committed monogamous relationships, and gay friends who have dozens of sexual partners. Same thing with my heterosexual friends. You can lump people together—it’s certainly an easy thing to do—but, if you dare to get to know to each individual, you’ll find that they’re pretty unique and interesting.

    I was going to include a comment about moderate Muslims in my earlier post, and decided against it, but since you brought it up, I’ll give my very limited perspective. A thing that greatly saddens me is that I think Islam has been hijacked (pun intended) by extremists. Extremists with guns. As a result, many moderate Muslims are afraid to speak up against the extremists, because there is a very real possibility that they could actually be killed for doing so. So it’s not cowardice that keeps a lot of moderate Muslims from speaking up, it’s a very real, legitimate fear for their personal safety and the safety of their families. I personally have never heard any moderate/progressive Christians criticize moderate Muslims for not having the courage to speak up against Islamic extremists. I think there’s a pretty good understanding of the risks involved in doing so. I have heard of Christians who have supported underground movements in the Islamic world that have worked to educate girls and women when local mullahs forbade it, provide shelters for women to leave their abusive husbands, and so on.

    I do not agree with your contention that my going about my business somehow legitimates the fundamentalists. First of all, they have huge budgets (financed mostly through dirty deals, cheating, or conning people out of their money) to finance big studios and major TV productions. Me, personally, I don’t have that kind of budget. And most other progressives I know also don’t have that kind of budget—and we’re not going to steal or cheat to get it either. Working to help the poor, which is what a lot of us progressives do, will not make us rich—certainly not rich enough to meet the Pat Robertsons of the world head-on. So, as I said earlier, he can go on TV with his slick suits and his hateful bile, but we’re not gonna play that game. We have better things to do with our time, energy and money (what little we have).

    But to bring this back on topic: I agree with the points BA made! :D

  279. James

    This is written like a wedding covenant between God and the people he chose to be his people. Like a man getting married to his bride. How would you have felt if the people who were crying to get away, you helped by making war on the Egyptians and then to have them right away betray you, except for a couple of men annd their families.

    Many are called, but few are chosen.

  280. TheBlackCat

    @ Just me: I think you are grossly overestimating the perceptiveness of the average person. If you actually look at what most people think about a group, it is largely determined by the most vocal members of the group, not the majority. What I think or what you think is irrelevant, what matters is what the majority of people in the country think. People often won’t even realize there is another opinion, or think it is just a small group, because those people don’t talk as much or as loudly or as effectively. So no matter how you may actually feel, what the fundamentalists are saying does affect many peoples’ perception of you. I know better, but this is not about me. You know better, but this is not about you. It is about all those people out there who get all of their ideas about reality from Fox or CNN and neither have the inclination nor the training to think critically about what they are being told to believe.

  281. ND

    Daffy,

    Some sort of Orthodox Christianity maybe. Armenians officially adopted Christianity a few years before Constantine and Georgians followed suit a few years after. These groups still follow the same church they first adopted. Of course this was done at the expense of the pagan religions that were being followed at the time.

  282. @ James:

    How would you have felt if the people who were crying to get away, you helped by making war on the Egyptians and then to have them right away betray you, except for a couple of men annd their families.

    And how would you have felt if you were one of those Egyptians, minding your own business, tending your farm or sailing your boat up the Nile, only to come home and find out some sky fairy had slaughtered your firstborn son because of a quarrel between the king and a bunch of uppity settlers in the delta?

    Yahweh is a putz.

  283. Daffy

    ND,

    Maybe…but both those variants did not spread to Western Europe, did they? I suspect the religious in Europe and the US would still be worshiping some form of Bridget. Just idle speculation; I obviously have no way of knowing for sure.

  284. ND

    Daffy,

    you’re right. The Armenian Orthodox church is very much Armenian and in fact part of Armenian identity. It’s closely related to the Ethiopian church but not to too many other groups.

  285. TheBlackCat

    @ kuhnigget: There wouldn’t have been a conflict in the first place if God hadn’t intentionally and repeatedly forced the king to keep them there. The king kept deciding to let them go, and God kept “hardening his heart” so he would change his mind and keep them, then used that as an excuse to inflict unimaginable suffering on the everyday people of Egypt. This wasn’t God’s punishment for the king not letting his slaves go, this was God’s punishment for the king doing exactly what God wanted him to do.

  286. Rhea

    To expand on #280, and specifically reply to ## 187, 223 and 225:

    The Treaty with Tripoli is a US government document, written at the end of George Washington’s second term, passed unanimously by the Senate, and signed by the new President, John Adams. It includes the remark,”The Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” (This was by way of explaining why they had no trouble making a treaty with a nation of Muslims.)

    The people who approved and signed that treaty were there when the US was founded and knew EXACTLY what it was and was not based on.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Separation_of_church_and_state Section 1.3.1

  287. @ blackcat:

    This wasn’t God’s punishment for the king not letting his slaves go, this was God’s punishment for the king doing exactly what God wanted him to do.

    Like Judas turning in Jeebus, so he could be crucified/zombiefied/uploaded directly to heaven? All part of the divine plan, but Judas gets the bum rap.

    That’s the trouble with trying to find logic in conflicting religious theology.

  288. @ ND & Daffy:

    Christianity was quite well infused into Roman society before Constantine made it his official religion. It was probably the huge number of Christians within the imperial bureaucracy that allowed the Roman church to succeed so spectacularly in spreading throughout Europe. The Church, particularly the Catholic (Roman) Church, pretty much became one with the government, whereas the Eastern Orthodox church that grew in Constantinople followed a more parallel path of development, most likely because the emperors remained significantly stronger in the eastern empire compared with the relatively weak imperial courts in the west.

  289. Paul

    @ # 21. Rogue Medic

    Just a side note to a comment up there, Adam and Eve were not thrown out for eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, but the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. If your going to bash on religion, check your facts. The story is that they were like children not knowing good from evil. As an example, they didn’t know they were naked till they’d eaten. They were innocent. There are other flaws in your argument too, let me know if you’d like me to point them out :)

  290. Paul (#293):

    Just a side note to a comment up there, Adam and Eve were not thrown out for eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, but the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. … The story is that they were like children not knowing good from evil.

    As my father used to point out, if they didn’t know good from evil, right from wrong, then how can you punish them for disobeying you, as you didn’t know that was wrong/evil?

  291. Not to mention, what’s so “evil” about being naked?

  292. TheBlackCat

    @ Ken B: There is also the question of why God created the tree in the first place (he is all-knowing, so by definition he had to know that Adam and Eve were going to eat it). And how did the serpent figure out that God had lied about the tree? (God said it was poisonous) It sounds like a set-up to me.

    I read a quote that basically made the same point, that God was out to get Adam and Eve and they really didn’t have any chance. Does anyone happen to have this quote? I thought I did but I can’t seem to find it. It might have been Douglas Adams, I’m not sure.

  293. Just me

    @284 TheBlackCat:

    Perhaps I’m just a “half-glass-full” (tip o’ the dunce cap to George W. Bush) kinda guy and have a little more faith in humanity. I’ve found that people can look like idiots from a distance, but when I take the time to get to know them, they can actually be quite warm and insightful, and, well, human. This goes for atheists, Christian fundamentalists, Muslims, CEOs, etc. True, some are just bigger idiots when seen up close, but in that case, they’re beyond saving, so I just move on. Also beyond saving, IMHO—those whose perceptions of reality are shaped by Fox “News”.

    Also, fundamentalist Christians are well aware that progressives exist. They just believe that we’re not really Christian (i.e. if you accept evolution/the big bang/etc. then you’re certainly not a Christian; if you don’t believe that homosexuality is a sin, then you’re certainly not a Christian; if you’re pro-choice, then you’re certainly not a Christian; and so on…), so they don’t pay attention to us no matter what we say.

    You said: So no matter how you may actually feel, what the fundamentalists are saying does affect many peoples’ perception of you. I guess my response to that is, I can control what I say and do. What I can’t control is how my words or actions are perceived by others. Which brings me back to what I said in an earlier post: Whatever.

    Incidentally, I’m glad that at least you know better! :D

  294. Markle

    @just me

    A thing that greatly saddens me is that I think Islam has been hijacked (pun intended) by extremists. Extremists with guns. As a result, many moderate Muslims are afraid to speak up against the extremists, because there is a very real possibility that they could actually be killed for doing so. So it’s not cowardice that keeps a lot of moderate Muslims from speaking up, it’s a very real, legitimate fear for their personal safety and the safety of their families.

    That’s not a complete definition of cowardice, but it’s a fairly good example. If somebody is doing harm to others in a fashion that you consider immoral but don’t speak up because it’s causing you no direct harm, that’s immoral. To do so because you fear harm to yourself is cowardice.

  295. TheBlackCat

    Perhaps I’m just a “half-glass-full” (tip o’ the dunce cap to George W. Bush) kinda guy and have a little more faith in humanity. I’ve found that people can look like idiots from a distance, but when I take the time to get to know them, they can actually be quite warm and insightful, and, well, human. This goes for atheists, Christian fundamentalists, Muslims, CEOs, etc. True, some are just bigger idiots when seen up close, but in that case, they’re beyond saving, so I just move on. Also beyond saving, IMHO—those whose perceptions of reality are shaped by Fox “News”.

    So? Where have I disagreed with any of this?

    Also, fundamentalist Christians are well aware that progressives exist. They just believe that we’re not really Christian (i.e. if you accept evolution/the big bang/etc. then you’re certainly not a Christian; if you don’t believe that homosexuality is a sin, then you’re certainly not a Christian; if you’re pro-choice, then you’re certainly not a Christian; and so on…), so they don’t pay attention to us no matter what we say.

    That doesn’t stop them from claiming to speak for your, and that doesn’t stop people from believing them. Once again, this is not about what the fundies think about you, nor is it about what you say to them, it is about what they say about you to everyone else.

    You said: So no matter how you may actually feel, what the fundamentalists are saying does affect many peoples’ perception of you. I guess my response to that is, I can control what I say and do. What I can’t control is how my words or actions are perceived by others.

    Exactly, this is my whole point. You have full control over what you say, and what you don’t say. If you refuse to speak up, then all people are going to hear is what others say about you. You have to take responsibility for your own refusal to voice your opinion. If people get the wrong idea about you because you refused to speak up and set the record straight, then you bear a large part in the responsibility for how you are perceived.

    If someone misinterprets what you say, that is a different matter, but if you are to apathetic to say anything at all, then by definition you aren’t really very bothered by the misconceptions people are getting about you. So if you refuse to set the record straight, you have no grounds for then complaining when people misunderstand you.

  296. Daffy

    BlackCat: It was Douglas Adams, but I don’t have the exact quote.

  297. Daffy

    Kuhnigget (#292) I am in no sense a historian, so this is a question, not an argument: wasn’t Christianity a very small minority religion in Roman society prior to Constantine? Well established, yes, but still a small minority?

  298. @ Daffy:

    Not really. Christianity was quite prominent by Constantine’s time. It still faced attacks now and then even after Constantine (most notably by the emperor Julian, or “Julian the Apostate” as he became tarred), but a large segment of the population had already adopted the cult as its own. There was no chance it was going to die out, even if Constantine hadn’t — probably somewhat cynically — chosen it to rally the troops, so to speak.

    But I guess my main point had to do with the prevalence of Christianity among the imperial bureaucracy, which by Constantine’s time was huge. The bureaucracy ran the empire, and the Church got many of its day-to-day operational strategies from that same bureaucracy, and many of its most prominent members were major players in the same. Eventually they merged — at least in the western empire — and church became government for all intents and purposes.

    It’s very doubtful any pagan religion stood a chance at that point. Too bad, some might say. (Though animal rights activists might not. All that sacrificing and all…)

  299. Messier Tidy Upper

    Just watched Simon Schama’s documentary on ABC TV tonight which looked at the history of religion in the United States of America and the role in played with slavery and civil rights. Very interesting show & well worth watching in this context.

    NB. Haven’t seen if anyone else has already mentioned this – so many comments now.

  300. Messier Tidy Upper

    That would be this documentary :

    http://www.abc.net.au/tv/guide/netw/201006/programs/ZX0357A003D2010-06-10T213000.htm

    ***

    The American Future: A History By Simon Schama – American Fervour

    Historian Simon Schama explores the ways in which faith has shaped American political life. His starting point is a remarkable fact about the coming election – for the first time in a generation it’s the Democrats who claim to be the party of God. It’s Barack Obama, not John McCain, who has been talking about his faith.

    The British have long regarded American religion as largely a conservative force, yet Schama shows how, throughout American history, it has played a crucial role in the fight for freedom. Faith helped create America. It was the search for religious freedom that led thousands to make the dangerous journey to the colonies in the 1600s. After American independence, that religious freedom was enshrined in the Constitution, the first country in the world to do so.

    Schama also looks at the remarkable role the ‘Black Church’ has played, first in the liberation of the slaves in the 1800s, and again in the civil rights movement of the 1960s – neither would have happened without it. It’s this very church that has been the inspiration for Barack Obama, who traces the roots of his political inspiration to his faith.

    ***

    Dunno if this is available in the US or elsewhere or if it is webcast / transcripts available elsewhere I’m afraid. :-(

  301. Pi-needles

    @295. kuhnigget Says:

    Not to mention, what’s so “evil” about being naked?

    Well it can be pretty *wicked* especially if there’s more than one person involved. ;-)

    Or should that be wicked pretty .. !? [again, ditto.] ;-)

  302. Or should that be wicked pretty .. !?

    In my case, there’s been one (or twelve) too many birthdays come and gone for that statement to be true. :(

  303. Daffy

    Kuhnigget, more idle speculation on my part…but by Julian’s time, wasn’t Rome’s influence in Western Europe getting pretty thin? (Again, a question, not a debate!)

  304. @ Daffy:

    I wouldn’t characterize the empire’s influence as “pretty thin,” but it was no longer the single player it had always been. For centuries the empire had recruited “barbarian” forces to help keep the peace along the frontiers. By the 4th century, those same barbarians were setting up their own de facto kingdoms, Roman in name, but ruled as if they were independent. They weren’t, but the empire was in serious decline, and the emperors were more often than not putting down some internal insurrection so couldn’t spend as much time as before handling the minutia of governing.

    Again, that’s why the Church’s infiltration into the bureaucracy of the empire was its greatest asset. The bureaucrats – which by the end of the 4th century, often meant the local bishops – were the ones who ran things locally.

    But bear in mind, the barbarians had been around the periphery and within the borders of the Empire for centuries. Tho they brought their own traditions, they — or at least the elite amongst them — were very keen on Roman culture.

    But you’re right in one regard: Julian spent most of his brief reign in the east, where he ultimately died during an ill-planned campaign against the Persians. Nobody really supported his return to paganism anyway, so even if he hadn’t croaked I doubt he would have had much effect on Christianity’s ultimate triumph in Europe.

  305. Clark

    rape is adultery. You don’t read the Bible with understanding what it means, you should not comment, obviously you aren’t a good lawyer.

  306. TheBlackCat

    rape is adultery.

    Not if the female in question isn’t married. And if she is, and it happens in a city, it is considered her fault.

    You don’t read the Bible with understanding what it means, you should not comment, obviously you aren’t a good lawyer.

    Apparently you didn’t read the bible at all, since if you had you would know there are specific rules on rape.

  307. Paul Burke

    “Apparently you didn’t read the bible at all, since if you had you would know there are specific rules on rape.”
    .
    And so it does…
    .
    Numbers 31:15-18
    And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? … Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves. –
    .
    As for the 10(20) commandments, they antedate the legends of Moses by many centuries, as noted above, in the Code of Hamurabi, and Egypt, and Bablyon and Sumeria, all of which influenced the assembling and codifying of the legends and myths of the Hebrews.

  308. Godamnathiest

    What I want to talk about is the silly notion that the United States was founded as a “Christian” country.
    It wasn’t. It’s a myth being promoted by people who know nothing of the History of the United States and know even less about it’s government.
    This can easily proven with a quick American History lesson.
    One of the earliest issues the young country of the United States had to deal with were the Barbary Pirates. This is clearly shown in the Treaty of Tripoli.

    Authored by American diplomat Joel Barlow in 1796, the following treaty was sent to the floor of the Senate, June 7, 1797, where it was read aloud in its entirety and unanimously approved. John Adams, having seen the treaty, signed it and proudly proclaimed it to the Nation.

    Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

    http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/treaty_tripoli.html

    So even as far back as 1796, the Senate of the United States gave proof not only to the people of the United States, but the world as well, that it is NOT a “Christian” country nor was it FOUNDED as one.
    So when you hear this myth being promoted, you have the ability to be a “Myth Buster” and set the record straight. And please, reference Article I of the Bill of Rights and the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli which was ratified by the United States Senate and signed by the President John Adams.
    And just to tweak their noses a bit more, remind them that John Adams also signed the Declaration of Independence and therefore a Founding Father.

  309. TheBlackCat

    I was more thinking of this:

    Deuteronomy 22:28-29

    If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.

    Or this:

    Deuteronomy 22:23-24

    If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city.

  310. @Ken B,

    My understanding is that it wasn’t eating from the Tree of Knowledge that got Adam and Eve kicked out but not taking responsibility for their actions. First, they hid instead of admitting they did something wrong. Next, they passed the blame: Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the snake. It was this that got God angry.

    To be honest, I see parallels in this with how I react with my children. If they do something bad, come to me with it, apologize and promise not to do it again, I’ll be angry but won’t punish them much. (Unless it’s the 5th time they’ve done it and “apologized”, of course. An insincere “I’m sorry” is meaningless.) But if they hide it, deny doing anything wrong or try blaming each other, I will punish them more. (More time in their room, etc.)

  311. @TheBlackCat,

    I think that latter passage assumes that the man and woman were engaging in consensual sex because the woman didn’t cry out. A later verse says that the woman isn’t put to death if it was in the country because nobody would have heard her cry out if she did. (If she cried out and was still raped, she’s held blameless.) Still archaic, I know, but at least gives a little better understanding given the laws of the time. (I’m definitely glad that our society doesn’t stone to death because two people slept together before being married.)

  312. Gavin Flower

    Hmm…

    1 + 1 + 1 = 1 is often true, ever watched rain drops??? :-)

    Add two rain drops together and you get one rain drop!

  313. Damon

    The content of your site is inconsistent, it has nothing to do with “being able to to handle other people’s opinions”. Please return to talking about astronomy– you know, the name of the site– and not underhanded jabs at other people’s beliefs.

    Let me know when you’re back on track. ;]

  314. Mike

    Hmm, I thought it was *ten* commandments, but I clearly read *eleven* sentences in bold. What gives?

  315. Rob

    Nice essay, Phil. However, you missed out few historical and biblical circumstances: Moses made the Ten Commandments, supposedly drafted and uttered by God to Moses, as a mean to get his people behaved accordingly and properly. As a religious leader, he was losing the controls of the Jewish people, since they were misbehaving badly on the way to a promised land during the Exodus. Imagine the frustrations and the long, hot journey of the Exodus from Egypt, it’s nearly impossible to get several thousands of people to be on the same page as Moses while he was trying to lead them toward a promised land.

    Phil, try leading a hundred people, hungry, tired of wandering from place to place, and still make promises to them there is a promised land somewhere. Imagine days turned to months, then turned to years. Can you still get your hundred people to follow you 100% in spites of not seeing any promise being fruitful to them so far? I bet some would decide to turn against you and drop you as a leader and elect someone else. That is what Moses was facing by the time he and his people were settled to rest by Mount Sinai and realized that something had to be done before his people were to turn against him.

  316. Ghilemini

    You are so wrong.

    The point is these are the simplest and easiest laws for people to follow. If we even did follow them for a single day, it would be paradise on earth.

    As for the commandments, any legal historian would tell you they are the bedrock of human law and nothing will ever change that.

  317. Chakolate

    The tenth – not coveting your neighbors belongings – not only isn’t against the law in the US, it’s practically *required behavior*.

  318. Mark

    The rest of the story……Separation of church and state….

    http://www.wallbuilders.com/libissuesarticles.asp?id=123

  319. Rob

    When people say that the United States is a Christian nation, I’m thinking specifically which Christian are they speaking of? Roman Catholic Christian? Lutheran Christian? Baptist Christian? Quaker Christian? Calvinist Christian? Methodist Christian? Orthodox Christian? Evangelical Christian? Mormon Christian? Adventist Christian? Jehovah’s Witness Christian? Unitarian Christian? Christian Christian?

    So many different denominations and different theological belief systems in the US, it’s pretty hard to narrow all down and define the nation as a specifically Christian nation on that various differences.

    Can Christians of different denominations all get along for the good of the nation?

  320. Norman

    This article is basically flawed as a previous poster has pointed there are 613 commndments in the Bible and not just ten. I note the so called humerous responses to this but the fact remains that the Bible does provide a blue print for civilisation. For it calls upon all men to at least obey the seven Noachide laws 1) concerning adjudication,- the formation of impartial courts of law (2) and concerning idolatry, – which until recently was a bedrock of socity (3) and concerning blasphemy, (4) and concerning sexual immorality, i.e rape and paedophilia (5) and concerning bloodshed, – murder (6) and concerning robbery, (7) and concerning a limb torn from a living animal – animal cruelty

  321. Emily

    I think you were overly-generous with the 0.5 point you gave to #4. Although there are still blue laws that restrict what people can do on Sundays, when the U.S. Postal Service was established by the Continental Congress in 1775, mail was to be delivered 7 days a week. So if the Founding Fathers thought that mail could be delivered on Sundays, it’s pretty hard to argue that they thought that no work of any kind should have been done. Sunday mail delivery was not stopped until 1912. I would go with a big 0 for #4 as well.

  322. Ancient codified commandments indeed inflected or impacted or were indicative of law but not so much today’s laws.

  323. Marcus

    It’s a bit generous to assign zero points rather than negative points to the first three, where laws based on those commandments are specifically prohibited rather than merely absent.

  324. scattergood

    This post is tripe. The translations are horrible and the assumptions are even more asinine.

    The 20 – 40 year lens of most people’s experiences don’t come close to understanding why AT OUR FORMATION the USA was founded on Judeo-Christian ethics.

    Why is murder wrong? Why is rape wrong? Why is thievery wrong? Why is lying wrong? Why are the UNIVERSALLY wrong? Why are they wrong for a ruler as well as a peasant?

    These actions are wrong because, as the founders understood them, the ethics embodied in the Judeo-Christian creed taught them to be universally wrong. It was wrong for Joe Schmoe to steal just as it was for George Washington, because as they understood the Bible, stealing was wrong. This was a radical idea at the time. Royalty literally had a license to steal, murder and rape in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. Afterward, not so much.

    One only has to look at the writings of the Founders to understand this. To them ‘religion’ meant a ‘state religion’. It didn’t mean belief in G-d. To quote GW:

    “The General hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor to live and act as becomes a Christian soldier defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country.” – General Order, (9 July 1776) George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 3g Varick Transcripts

    “While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian.” – General Orders (2 May 1778); published in Writings of George Washington (1932), Vol.XI, pp. 342-343

    “Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.It is substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who, that is a sincere friend to it, can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?”

    Nice try on the post, but go back to astronomy.

  325. Kenneth

    Counting commandments is a no basis for a serious argument.

    The Ten Commandments are indeed one of the foundations of Western codified law, which forms the basis of all Western legal systems, including that of the US. Of course, the number of laws has grown and interpretations have changed over the centuries. The Judaic part of the Judeo-Christian heritage refers to the Talmudic practice of studying and debating G-d’s laws. It does not refer to fiery Leviticans, although that phrase is a clear give away of the author’s prejudices. The Talmud is another significant historical & cultural source of all Western legal systems.

    The development of the Enlightenment is well understood as a product of European Christian philosophy. The US Constitution was written by men steeped in the Enlightenment literature. They wrote the US Constitution to reflect & embody the philosophical ideals of the Enlightenment, which was a product of Christianity. Yes, Jefferson was not “Christian” in the strict sense, he considered himself more of a Deist. But that sect too was a philosophical product of the Enlightenment.

    Silly counting games aside, based upon historical facts, the USA was indeed created as a Christian nation and the laws are based upon in part, although not solely restricted to, the Ten Commandments. This does not mean the USA is a Christians Only nation, and certainly not a Christian theocracy. It is a constitutional democratic republic founded upon the ideals of the Christian Enlightenment tradition, which includes the Ten Commandments.

  326. Nathan

    “I am the LORD thy God… Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

    “Obviously, God is saying He’s the only one, and all other religions that have other gods, or other versions of The One God, are wrong.”

    That’s not obvious at all, given that it’s not what the text says. It sounds like God is not saying other religions are wrong; nor is God saying that there aren’t other gods. God’s saying that, while there may be other gods, God’s #1 for God’s chosen people. Judaism may not have shifted from monolatrism to monotheism until sometime well after these commandments were codified.

  327. Unsympathetic

    If the 10 commandments were the basis for our laws, CEO pay would not be as outrageously high as it is. Yet, Republicans support that level of CEO pay.

    If the 10 commandments were the basis for our laws, Christians would support Democrats – because Democrats put money into caring for people.

    If the Bible was the basis for our banking laws, Wall Street certainly wouldn’t be as powerful as it is today. Usury is a sin.

    But hey, facts never bothered Republicans before!

  328. Steve Dutch

    The Ten Commandments don’t create a moral code any more than a physics textbook defines the speed of light or the charge on the electron. Before the Ten Commandments were written, we find condemnations of murder (Gen: 4:10), adultery (Gen 12:17-20), lying (Gen 27:36) and theft (Gen 31:30). The Ten Commandments summarize what was already instinctively believed to be moral conduct. So it is a surprise only to the shallow and ignorant that the Ten Commandments have close counterparts in most other cultures and religions. Nor should it be a surprise that we can derive abhorrence of murder and theft from non-theistic ideas. We’d expect that if the Ten Commandments were rational.

    As for the alleged conflict between Old and New Testament, we find Jesus repeating the commandments in Matthew 19:19, Mark 10:19 and Luke 18:20. Here’s a radical thought: just because you find something to be warm and fuzzy doesn’t make it right, and just because you think something is harsh doesn’t make it wrong. Untrained intuition is useless, and the moral intuition of people whose notion of morality is based on feeling is as useless as the physical intuition of someone who is sure there must be something to dowsing or telepathy.

    The sheer Biblical illiteracy of this column and its cheering section are stunning.

  329. Bill Stewart

    Phil commented in his article that “waging false war” ought to be on the list. It’s covered by a combination of less complex commandments – bearing false witness against your neighbor (the WMD thing), so you can kill him (and his army, citizens, and innocent bystanders), because you covet his oil (and his land, his servants, his strategic geopolitical location), and because you covet or maybe even worship the political power you can get in your own country by building a bigger military-industrial complex.

    And the Jehovah’s Witnesses beat the right-wingers in the Supreme Court a couple of times to stop schools from forcing their kids to worship the idol of a battle-flag, and it’s not real clear which God the nation is under; it seems to be that of anti-Communism. And then there was that judge who got fired for wanting a big stone idol of the Ten Commandments out front of his courthouse.

  330. Bill Stewart

    Thomas in 117 asks “Anyone celebrate the feast of unleavened bread?” It’s called Passover – Jews celebrate it, and many of their friends do as well, at least when we get invited to Seder dinners. Some of the other festivals, not so much unless you’re Orthodox, but Passover’s a really core reminder for the Jews of who they are and where they come from.

  331. Marol

    I’m doing a project for school and i found your article extremely helpful, and insightful.

  332. Kim

    This is what happens when people take information out of context and try to use it to answer a question that requires more knowledge of the subject.

    Would you teach students physics by using only one one chapter of one textbook on physics?

    The 10 commandments were not the only commandments given to the Jews and mankind. There were many more laws provided to the Jews on a whole myriad of
    subjects to guide their lives. The ultimate purpose of the 10 Commandments was to prove to the Jewish people, and the world, that they could not maintain a pure relationship (covenant) with God without saving grace. One must read the Old and New Testaments to understand the concepts of lawlessness, rebellion, covenant, and grace. What you have specifically overlooked in your research are the “Greatest Commandment” and “the Second
    Greatest Commandment”.

    Matthew 22:36-40 (New International Version, ©2010)

    36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

    37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.
    39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” The two are inextricably intertwined.

    Who should we trust to be 100% correct in defining what is right and wrong in order to make a law for this republic? Kings? Lawyers? Jews? Christians? Congressmen?
    Judges? Parents? If you research the Bible for all it is worth, it would be hard to argue that the Bible shows us what is good and what is bad for us and that it is the basis for our Constitution and amendments.
    Now, I would ask that you go back and do the exercise again, with all of the law(s) and especially verse 39 in mind. Your result should be quite a bit different!

  333. Michael

    Ok, I am only in my 50′s. But even I have seen a change in laws in the past 35 years. Looking at the history books as well as the law books. I get a 10. Heck, 3 years ago. Someone in Michigan got sued for cussing and lost. So lets pretend we are being honest with this poll. Oh ya, it did start out Christian, but it is so far from it now. Its scary.

  334. Joe

    Hey buddy !
    At the very top or 1st commandment First Article Of the Bill Of Rights you wrote Legal Right but that there is wrong one has the freedom of Rights not legal Rights !! and for your info. yes the Bill Of Rights are synonyms to the Ten Commandments . Read the federalist papers the unabridged edition and don’t get cheated there you will learn the history of the U S Constitution . I have been studying the U S Constitution since 1983 and spend thousands of hours and did battle with the crookedest agency and won ! how many time did you beat the
    International =
    Roofing =IRS
    Services ????? =

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