Friday, April 25, 2008

Ten Commandments Commisssion

Established to make a Ten Commandments day. Here's the Cursor.org article about it. The basic idea is to get Congress to designate a day as an official Ten Commandments day in order to do something about affirming moral absolutes or something, which the commission thinks that America has gone woefully away from.

What's really sad is that one of the movers and shakers behind the commission is a Rabbi. One thing about Judaism that I really respect is the Talmudic tradition of discussion and analysis, which emphasizes variant reading and a very nuanced and sophisticated interpretation of things. The Christian ministers connected with the commission seem to be representatives of the typical fundamentalist Christian over simplification of things, using the idea of the Ten Commandments as a blunt instrument to beat the heads of people who don't agree with the idea of Christianity as being a foundation of the American state.

So moral absolutes, right? Ok, let's look at the least controversial of them, "Though shalt not kill". What if someone is attacking you with a knife trying to kill you and you kill the person in self defense? Does that violate the commandment? What if a person is a soldier in a war and kills another soldier, does that violate the commandment? If so, are there any situations like this where it wouldn't? What about accidental killing? Just because something is an accident doesn't mean that the person is automatically blameless. A person could be acting in a reckless and negligent way that leads to the death of someone, in which case they would be guilty, but even so it would still not be saying "Hey, I want to kill you". What about people who do things that contribute to the death of people when combined with the actions of others? Are they guilty of violating the commandment? For instance if a factory dumps toxins in water that while not lethal by themselves become lethal once combined with the toxins released by other factories.

I think revenge killings and honor killings are pretty much outlawed by the tradition, but what about capital punishment? If you admit that capital punishment is justified what exactly would and would not warrant it?


These are basic legal questions, not rocket science, but they point out just how much ambiguity there is in the simple commandment "Thou Shalt Not Kill". Even though the basic principle is great, it isn't the end all and be all; besides, I would say that every culture on the planet has rules about this. It isn't like the Ten Commandments are the only source for moral justice here.

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