I Take on Christopher Hitchens July 3, 2010

A few months ago Vanity Fair magazine published an essay by famed atheist Christopher Hitchens criticizing the Ten Commandments and proposing a new set for today. There are plenty of errors and misunderstandings in his critique, but I will address only one of them now; the major meaning of “thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain” is actually “thou shalt not use the name of God to get people to do what you want or what you think they should do when it isn’t clear that God wants them to do that.” Misusing God’s name in a profane way is not a good thing, but it is not the main meaning of this commandment. And it’s interesting how we think of oaths sworn on the hind parts of our body and excretions therefrom as actually more serious than theological oaths nowadays.

But I couldn’t help noticing that most of his new commandments are really Biblical too, in an odd way.

1. *Do not* condemn people on the basis of their ethnicity or color.

Prejudice is the eighth deadly sin and is dealt with in the Bible by the fact that there is one Adam, one Noah, one Jesus, and one Pentecost. That settled it for me.

2. *Do not* ever use people as private property. Despise those who use violence or the threat of it in sexual relations. Hide your face and weep if you dare to harm a child.

A combination between “Thou shalt not murder” and “Thou shalt not steal” and the statement in Genesis that all humans bear God’s image, even in their fallenness – and similarly all are fallen except He who came to save us – caused the insight to spread primarily among Christians in the nineteenth century that slavery was wrong.

3. *Do not* condemn people for their inborn nature.

Now original sin is part of all our inborn natures, but precisely because I am an original sinner is why it’s not right for me to jump on you, try to shrink your head, and judge the worst. People are born, or come out of childhood, with many serious difficulties and temptations to behavior that cannot be accepted or validated, but it is our obligation to help them in constructive ways. Mere accusing and condemning will get us nowhere.

4. Be aware that you too are an animal and dependent on the web of nature, and act accordingly.

Genesis teaches, of course, that we are not merely animals. We were appointed stewards of the earth, and that was reaffirmed after the Fall in Genesis 9. But there is a Landlord, and the “web of nature” belongs to Him, not to us.

5. *Do not” imagine that you can escape judgment if you rob people with a false prospectus rather than with a knife.

I think “Thou shalt not steal” implies that already, and some have read the commandment “Thou shalt not covet” as partly referring to this very thing.

6. Turn off that ____ cell phone.

I think of this as an application of the Commandment of the Sabbath. The point of the Sabbath is that God is in charge of the world and that it will not fall apart if we kick back one day a week – the sustenance of the universe does not depend on us. A lot of the annoyance with people who talk on phones in public places is that they seem to be saying, “I am he who holds the universe, or a portion of it together, and if I cannot be in touch with my portion of it at this very second, it will implode.” Most of us rightly regard that attitude as rather overly self-important.

7. Denounce all jihadists and crusaders for what they are: psychopathic criminals with ugly delusions.

I’ll admit that the Crusades were sort of an imitation of jihad; unfortunately, rightly or wrongly, Western civilization was ‘Christendom’ at that time, and they saw themselves reclaiming conquered territory. I’ll mostly agree with Hitchens if he will accept that Communism and Nazism are religions!

8. Be willing to renounce any god or any religion if any holy commandments should contradict any of the above.

The biblical prophets are full of denunciations of “false prophets” who taught things that God never said, and of the cult of Baal that misused sacred prostitutes and sacrificed children in the fire. All this proves C.S. Lewis’s point in Mere Christianity [Amazon link] that the two distinctive commonalities of humankind are that we have this idea that we ought to behave in a certain way, but we do not consistently do so. Hitchens has stretched a bit, but he has not been able to so rid himself of God’s law written on his heart as to come up with some absolutely new ethics. God is not mocked.

Anna 07/03/2010

“We were appointed stewards of the earth . . . there is a Landlord, and the ‘web of nature’ belongs to Him, not to us.”

So does that mean it’s not cool to be setting the house on fire, expecting that the Landlord will put it out?

Ganado-Lady 07/04/2010

I enjoyed this very much H. But don’t you believe that the over arching commandment – the one that is the basis of all 10 – is “Thou shalt not covet.”? MB

curt.deckert 07/05/2010

I agree that Hitchens has stretched morality a bit.

Dr. Michael Ruse, from the Department of Philosophy at the University of Guelph in Ontario, is a philosopher of evolutionary sciences who has authored several books on Darwinism and evolutionary theory. In an article in the National Post he wrote: “Evolution is promoted by its practitioners as more than mere science. Evolution is promulgated as an ideology, a secular religion—a full-fledged alternative to Christianity, with meaning and morality. . . . Evolution is a religion. This was true of evolution in the beginning, and it is true of evolution still today.”

Even Dawkins admitted that evolution does not have good answers for the origin of life, origin of sex, the origin of consciousness, and the rise of morality. The question is how evolutionary writers account for their limited forms of morality–actually partially based on the earlier Ten Commandments and our preprogrammed consciousness of morality. Hitchens has tried to rid himself of God’s law written on his heart by coming up with his own ethics. He is not dealing with the whole truth, but is forming his own religion which does not take into account our Creator’s moral standards. Hitchens has allowed man’s original sin, that has multiplied and become part of all our lives, to creatively compete with God in suggesting his form of morality.

[…] of each other, so we are working harder than ever.  The new Sabbath, as I pointed out in a previous post is a period of ignoring your cell phone and your e-mail. Shabbat […]

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