Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Friday, April 06, 2007

11th Commandment

When I was giving my "world religions quiz" to college students, we discussed whether the Ten Commandments were still relevant, and what if anything we would add or take away from them. Some students made some half-hearted calls to strike the first commandment ("No Gods before me" and, depending on how you count them, "No graven images") and the fourth ("Keep the Sabbath"), but with only a modest liberality of interpretation we immediately made good cases for keeping them. While literal idolotry is not a big concern in our culture today (I can't remember the last time I saw a golden calf), we do see lots of people putting things other than God at the center of their lives. The Sabbath was not voted off the island, either, once people decided to interpret it as "dedicate specific time to thinking about spiritual things." Everything else -- the prohibitions against lying, stealing, murdering, screwing around -- were still seen as self-evidently good.

Very few people had anything to add to the commandments, which speaks well of the original ten, I suppose. Jesus' summation of the Law ("Love God, love thy neighbor as thyself") was included, but in a Christian nation that's a gimme anyway. Some attempts were made to enshrine liberal values ("Don't hurt others" or "take care of the earth"), but those generally fell apart as people realized they were so vague as to be almost useless.

I could only think of two that I thought deserved to make the list. I don't think the ancient Jews ever felt the lack, because these principles were so engrained in their world view that they hardly needed saying:
  1. Keep your promises.
  2. Honor and love your children.

"Keep your promises" didn't make the list because it was embedded in the Law from the very beginning. The Law itself was a covenant, a commitment, between God and man. But today the world needs a very explicit reminder that everything in our society hangs on our ability to commit ourselves to good things and then keep those commitments.

Loving, protecting, and forwarding the interests of your children is not only obvious, it's even built into the stereotype of the Jewish mother. But again, it seems like the world needs reminding. We've had generation upon generation of people growing up both loving and hating their parents, spending half their lives (if not more) trying to transcend the physical, psychological or sexual abuse they endured. How much evil could be removed from the world, if people understood and kept the commandment, "Thou shalt not fuck up thy children?"



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