Well, for once I actually agreed with Christopher Hitchens in both his argument and tone. Here the snooty British
intellectual seemed to be channeling both George Carlin and Hunter Thompson.
One is presuming (is one not?) that this is the same god who actually created the audience he was addressing. This leaves
us with the insoluble mystery of why he would have molded ("in his own image," yet) a covetous, murderous, disrespectful,
lying, and adulterous species. Create them sick, and then command them to be well? What a mad despot this is, and how fortunate
we are that he exists only in the minds of his worshippers.
Hitchens went on to suggest that the first four of the commandments have little to do with either law or morality,
and the first three suggest a "terrific insecurity" on the part of the person supposedly issuing them.
Well, they are about not having graven images, and making sure you don't have any other god you kind
of like, and not taking God's name in vain, and making sure you keep the Sabbath - but whether starting on Friday night
or Sunday morning is unclear of course.
As for the rest?
The next instruction is to honor one's parents: a harmless enough idea, but again unenforceable in law and inapplicable
to the many orphans that nature or god sees fit to create. That there should be no itemized utterance enjoining the protection
of children seems odd, given that the commandments are addressed in the first instance to adults. But then, the same god frequently
urged his followers to exterminate various forgotten enemy tribes down to the last infant, sparing only the virgins, so this
may be a case where hand-tying or absolute prohibitions were best avoided.
Then there are the commandments forbidding murder and theft, something even atheists and druids agree is just
fine - forbid them. No one likes that stuff.
But Hitchens points out that the middle-ranking commandments, of which the chief one has long been confusingly
rendered "thou shalt not kill," leave us none the wiser "as to whether the almighty considers warfare to be murder, or
taxation and confiscation to be theft. Tautology hovers over the whole enterprise."
And he sardonically covers the items on perjury and adultery and covetousness and concludes -
It's obviously too much to expect that a Bronze Age demagogue should have remembered to condemn drug abuse, drunken
driving, or offenses against gender equality, or to demand prayer in the schools. Still, to have left rape and child abuse
and genocide and slavery out of the account is to have been negligent to some degree, even by the lax standards of the time.
I wonder what would happen if secularists were now to insist that the verses of the Bible that actually recommend enslavement,
mutilation, stoning, and mass murder of civilians be incised on the walls of, say, public libraries? There are many more than
ten commandments in the Old Testament, and I live for the day when Americans are obliged to observe all of them, including
the ox-goring and witch-burning ones. (Who is Judge Moore to pick and choose?)
Too many editorialists have described the recent flap as a silly confrontation with exhibitionist fundamentalism,
when the true problem is our failure to recognize that religion is not just incongruent with morality but in essential ways
incompatible with it.
And my friend wrote back:
Still, when he says that "the same god frequently urged his followers to exterminate various forgotten enemy
tribes down to the last infant, sparing only the virgins," it's worth noting for the record that, as Karen Armstrong
hints in her A History of God, the God of the Jews may not have been the same god in every sense
of the word; that El Shaddai, the god who commanded Abraham to kill his son (before changing his mind) may not have really
been Yahweh, the god that laid down the "thou shalt not kill" rule much later in Jewish history.
Also of note (although not Hitchens' point here) is that there exists
more than one version of the Ten Commandments. For one thing, the version used by Jews, as well as most Protestant,
Anglicans and Orthodox Christians, has the no-graven-image commandment as number two, while Catholics and Lutherans combine
that one into the first, and round out the ten by breaking the tenth, about coveting thy neighbor's stuff, into two separate
commandments. For another thing, the wording varies between the two. So depending on which one was chosen by Judge
Moore, he had to have been offending somebody.
This confusion of numbers must, of course, be awfully confusing
for Saint Peter as he tries to figure out what you did wrong when you say with a smile and wink that you "repeatedly broke
Commandment #7," with him frantically looking up in your file to see whether you're an Anglican or are a Lutheran.
Another friend wrote, "Then of course, there's the Mel Brooks
version of the Commandments. 'God hath given me these fifteen (oops, smash, crash) - ten - Ten Commandments
for all to obey!"
To which the first fellow wrote: "Yeah, I think about that version
all the time! And for all we know about real history, that's what actually happened! Makes one wonder what five
rules got lost in the shuffle."
Yep. I wonder too.
A second exchange centered on an AFP story, carried by Associated
Press and Reuters also, and lot of news services. It seems a French TV show pulled a practical joke on the White House:
BUSH'S CHEF FALLS FOR FRENCH TV GAG -- BUT FINDS IT NOT
TO HIS TASTE PARIS, Aug 28 (AFP)
It seems US President George W. Bush is not the only person in the
White House who draws the line at the French sense of humour. His chef, Walter Scheib, also found the Gauls galling after
being the target of a gag for French TV, it was reported Thursday.
According to Le Parisien daily, Scheib was approached by
a woman pretending to be French President Jacques Chirac's wife Bernadette with a request: Would he consider switching presidential
pads to make hamburgers and pizzas for Jacques?
The answer, despite the brouhaha over "Freedom Fries", French wine
boycotts and the small issue of working for a man Scheib's current boss has little time for, was "yes", the newspaper said.
But when he found out it was all a set-up for a popular Candid Camera-style
programme called "On a Tout Essaye" (We've Tried Everything), Scheib grew furious.
He reportedly contacted the White House, which in turn called Chirac's
office to demand that the embarrassing scene be cut from the TV show.
The newspaper said it appeared that the public network France 2
decided to bow to the request and avoid a diplomatic incident, but that the US administration had such a sour taste in its
mouth it was asking for a formal apology from French officials.
I image a conservative friend of mine might say something like this:
I for one am relieved the White House took the time to demand
this item never be shown on French television, and that the French complied. It is important that our government
makes sure the French public does not see certain things. And we need to assert that although Americans have a wonderful
sense of humor (see Jerry Lewis) there are limits. We saved their cowardly sniveling butts in 1944-45 and respect is
due. This is not proper respect.
And so on and so forth.
And a friend wrote from Paris:
- But what about the photo of Walter Scheib in Thursday's edition of
Le Parisien? Must it be suppressed too?
- Photo shows Walter, wearing chef's working costume, having his papers
checked by gendarme at entrance to the Elysée Palace.
- Show producer Thierry Ardisson was quoted as saying the gag worked
perfectly. Le Parisien wondered if he would still be laughing if the Americans demanded 'excuses' from France.
- From what I know about Ardisson, if the French govenment actually
comes up with an apology, this will be another good, maybe better gag.
And this was wrapped up by a comment from Albany, New York - "So
Bush's staff is as humorless as he is."
My final comment was that having a passing interesting in cooking,
I sometimes glace at some show or other now and then on the Food Network. Chefs who have become "important"
strike me as petty, mean, arrogant and, at the core, far more humorless than most politicians.
So the joke was more about pretensions than politics? Maybe
it was. And maybe it wasn't.