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Hitchens Rewrites 10 Commandments

Christopher Hitchens is always good for stirring the pot. Here is a summary of his review of the 10 Commandments in the April issue of Vanity Fair."What emerges from the first review is this: the Ten Commandments were derived from situational ethics. They show every symptom of having been man-made and improvised under pressure. They are addressed to a nomadic tribe whose main economy is primitive agriculture and whose wealth is sometimes counted in people as well as animals. They are also addressed to a group that has been promised the land and flocks of other people: the Amalekites and Midianites and others whom God orders them to kill, rape, enslave, or exterminate. And this, too, is important because at every step of their arduous journey the Israelites are reminded to keep to the laws, not because they are right but just because they will lead them to become conquerors (of, as it happens, almost the only part of the Middle East that has no oil)."You can read the whole article here.


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It is difficult to see Hitchens other than a charlatan. Notice that he would not quote the bible sentence that says "Only a fool says there is no God." Alas there are also too many charlatans who pretend to follow God. It is said that both the right and the left, religious and non relgious, proclaim Descartes as their oracle Hitchens should read this founder of the modern method of seeking truth. Descarte especially found God such a thriving part of the human makeup. Hitchins should spend more time in Cartesian company to give himself clarity.

"Hobo God", a science fiction story by Malcolm Jameson, is a parable in which a hobo and an eminent scientist, the former an undesirable reprobate and the latter convicted of some capitol crime, are exiled to a primitive planet. The highest life form on this planet is a newly-sentient ape-like species (!), whose development had not progressed beyond the hunter-gatherer stage.In a short time, the scientist is killed by the indigenous creatures -- a victim of his own ego and hubris. The hobo, having mastered a few survival skills, passes them on to the creatures beginning with five simple rules (half as many as in the Decalogue and none related to the worship of a supreme being), which become the founding principles of a greatcivilization:1. The boss is BOSS.2. No killin' in the tribe.3. No wimmen stealin'4. Wimmen do wimmen's work.5. Men do men's work.All the trappings of civilization arise spontaneously as the result the ape-creatures' sentience leavened by the hobo's practical solutions to the problem of survival.Over time, the hobo becomes an honored and revered patriarch. On his death-bed he leaves his grieving disciples with one final maxim for achieving the good life:"Hard work pays (but not too much of it)."In this case, the moral seems to be that these laws reflect a mandate for survival arising from the interdependence of the tribe and the individual.

There-in lies the challenge of the original ten commandments! They all apply to today's world, but Hitchen's "dusting off" of them is somewhat humorous. His interpretation of the original ten is just that, an interpretation. At least he is talking about them, which is causing us to talk about them. For that I give him credit!

I haven't read Hitchen's book, so I can't begin by saying "As usual," but H. does seem to take the easy way out by postulating a kind of fundamentalist reading of the Commandments that should make any historian, to say nothing of theologian, squirm.On the other hand, his modern commandments have much to commend them. Hooray, for instance, for his injunction to turn off cell phones. But it's an interesting commentary if not perhaps of H., then at least of the culture that produces him (and us) that about half way through his little talk, a music track comes in -- a stupid one, at that -- not only contradicting his point, but also reminding us that we live in a time when we're expected to get bored after a few minutes of talk, and have to be "entertained" by external noise. Vanity Fair could learn something of the virtues of silence; but then so could those responsible for the liturgies in many of our churches, where the organ starts warbling in the background when the action at the altar slows down.

I have long wondered why the Ten Commandments are so highly revered, even by people who would be lucky if they could at best name four or five of them. As I have argued before, murder, theft, and adultery are all wrong by definition. And I believe the commandments originated as a code of conduct for a tribe, so the command not to murder was a command not to murder someone of your own tribe. The God who is quoted as saying "Thou shalt not kill" is also the God who orders the slaughter of men, women, children, and cattle. I don't think it would be difficult to come up with a better set of ten commandments.

This is a drab and sad performance by Hitchens. Like Stephen Fry he has become a purveyor of tired and often inaccurate platitudes. His critique of the biblical religion is far more scintillatingly put forward by Schopenhauer in a dialogue "On Religion" about 160 years ago (Paralipomena, #174). If he wants to present Feuerbach to the people, let him study Flaubert's portrait of M. Homais: the village atheist is often close to the village idiot.

The decalogue in its various versions is a time-bound part of a Hebrew law-code. But the Church carefully rethought the basic moral principles to which the Decalogue historically and foundationally pointed. Hitchens should have tackled the seasoned Catholic interpretation of the Commandments -- unless, like Dawkins, the only audience he is interested in is the biblical fundamentalists. Sermons on the Ten Commandments were a staple of Christian instruction, and their disappearance is rightly deplored.

But really, I think Hitchens has prostituted his intelligence. Not sure what commandment that breaks.

A lame article, imho. Books like The Evolution of God sell well. Most people are not as clueless as Hitchens and the editors seem to think. (Still, a Jeopardy contestant didn't know which two kings in the "Old Testament" met because one had heard of the other's musical talent.)I think it may have been the editors who used brackets in the bit below to define a word that surely everyone knows. (Hitchens uses parentheses in the rest of the article.)'Thou shalt not suffer [permit] a witch to live,' which was taken as a divine instruction by Christians until relatively recently in human history."

Hitchens should have tackled the seasoned Catholic interpretation of the Commandments unless, like Dawkins, the only audience he is interested in is the biblical fundamentalists.Fr. O Leary,If Hitchens had done this, he would not have been doing a critique of the Ten Commandments. He would have been doing a critique of two thousand years' worth of the Church shoehorning every moral principle it could think of into the commandments. In Matthew 5:21-48, Jesus doesn't take the commandments and claim that implicit in them are all kinds of unstated moral requirements. He says, "You have heard it said . . . but I say to you." It seems to me more of a critique of the commandments as being inadequate than a presentation of them as statements that have implicit within them far more than they actually say.I haven't checked any commentaries on this, but it strikes me as very interesting that Jesus would cite a commandment in words like these, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.'" We take the Ten Commandments to be directly from God, and Jesus introduces them by saying, "You have heard that it was said." Of course, I realize that a believing Catholic might argue that God promulgated the Ten Commandments in primitive times when a more elaborate and sophisticated code would have been incomprehensible, but that he intended them as some kind of seeds that later generations -- and eventually the Catholic Church -- would nurture and grow into luxurious plants, revealing everything that was implicit in them. But you can't expect an atheist like Hitchens to accept something like that. It strikes me that even a believer would have a problem with the idea that the God of the Old Testament was gradually bringing the Hebrews up to a level of morality they could understand.

I am not persuaded by the implicit argument that the "new atheists" can be dismissed because they aren't Nietzsches or Schopenhauers or Feuerbachs.

Like it of not, Hitchens is not debating the learned for the benefit of the intellectual elite nor is he dealing with the fundamentalists. He is dealiing with the amalgam of beliefs comprising folk religion as commonly practiced by the rank and file who sit in the pews or watch the 700 club or EWTN. I wonder how many of them read Schopenhaur or Feurbach or pay attention to the speculations of theologians?He may be an entertainer and showman at heart but so are Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Oral Roberts, Billy Graham or Benny Hinn.

Rene Girard says that violence is rooted in wanting what other people have just because they have it. Anyone who has seen small children interact will know there is a lot of truth in that. He points out that the 10 Commandments are trying to address this problem and contrasts it with the pagan solution, which, he says, was to murder an innocent victim and create a myth of the victim's guilt. The 10 Commandments are part of God's revelation that will (eventually in Jesus) totally de-mystify human violence.

The 10 Commandments are part of Gods revelation that will (eventually in Jesus) totally de-mystify human violence.JC,How long doe he say this will take? It's been almost 2000 years!

An entry in The Devils Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce:Decalogue, n. A series of commandments, ten in number--just enough to permit an intelligent selection for observance, but not enough to embarrass the choice. Following is the revised edition of the Decalogue, calculated for this meridion. Thou shalt no God but me adore:'Twere too expensive to have more.No images nor idols makeFor Roger Ingersoll to break.Take not God's name in vain: selectA time when it will have effect.Work not on Sabbath days at all,But go to see the teams play ball.Honor thy parents. That createsFor life insurance lower rates.Kill not, abet not those who kill;Thou shalt not pay thy butcher's bill.Kiss not thy neighbor's wife, unlessThine own thy neighbor doth caress.Don't steal; thou'lt never thus competeSuccessfully in business. Cheat.Bear not false witness--that is low--But 'hear 'tis rumored so and so.'Covet thou naught that thou hast gotBy hook or crook, or somehow, got. ======================Some point out that Bierces updating of the Ten Commandments is itself quite similar to The Latest Decalogue by the English poet Arthur Hugh Clough -- plagiarism apparently is not forbidden in the new era.

Is it just me, or is it obvious to everyone, that this guy, besides an understanding of God's Ten Commandments, could use a little Joy in his Life? Someone should send him a copy of, "Surprised by Joy" as it could change his disposition, but make sure you don't ring him up until he's finished with the book.

My parents are atheists, Nancy. They were made by smug Christians who brought them books and tracts.This doesn't work.It takes repeated acts of kindness with no strings attached. And a willingness to bear with, "We just don't get how you could believe all that clap trap and fill our grandson's head with it."

You might want to take a look at Chris' brother Peter's article on his own return to faith and his relationship with his brother. It's moving:

Jean, atheists are not made, they choose to become atheists by choosing not to believe in The God who is Love.

Nancy,How do you choose to believe or not believe something?

David, God is not something, He is the essence of Love.

Nancy,You are judging the consciences of atheists, few of whom you apparently know. Jesus said, "Judge not". He didn't say, "Don't judge anyone, except the atheists". And that's the truth.

Schopenhauer was not an inaccessible highbrow. The text I referred to is better and livelier journalism than Hitchens' jaded performance. And he and Dawkins err if they think most Christians are fundamentalist nuts. Pointing to the genocidal texts in the OT is a good corrective to implausible theological claims about biblical inerrancy. But in practice few Christians are diehard inerrantists.As to Feuerbach, he was a trained theologian, and therefore perhaps the most effective critic of Christianity (more than the unbalanced Nietzsche). If Hitchens and Dawkins are intelligent men, why do they not do someore homework and get a little bit of theological sophistication. What are they afraid of?Interesting point about You have heard it said to the men of old as implying criticism of the Decalogue on Jesus part (in conflict with the not a jot, not a tittle passage). The Decalogue is an external law on tablets of stone, whereas the evangelical law is written on the heart. But clearly Jesus upheld the Decalogue see the conversation with the rich young man.

Reading Peter Hitchens' article, you can see that both of them are very lovable fellows. The avalanche of secularism in Britain is deplorable not only for the damage to religion and morality but for its low intellectual caliber. Dawkins is a very qualified scientist, but he wastes all his time caricaturing Christianity or fighting with self-caricaturing Christians (in The God Delusion). We have fallen far below the level of Bertrand Russell or perhaps even T. H. Huxley, not to mention continental exponents of atheism such as Sartre and Camus.

"He may be an entertainer and showman at heart but so are Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Oral Roberts, Billy Graham or Benny Hinn."Well, if Hitch reads this he will blush to the roots of his hair!

I don't "dismiss" the new atheists -- I just say their arguments were better made by their predecessors up to 200 or more years ago (and by Dawkins in his earlier work). Now Hitchens, Dawkins and Fry are just making noisy propaganda, not encouraging critical thought, and they are being met by noisy propaganda from the Christian side.The Church has done a very poor job marshalling the apologetics these old arguments require. I am appalled when theologians like Keith Ward drag out the God of the gaps to counter evolutionary reductionism.

"We take the Ten Commandments to be directly from God" (D Nickol). Not really: Catholics recall a Catechism text of the commandments that does not contain many of the details of the Hebrew versions -- for instance, it has "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods" -- no mention of cattle. Basically Catholics think of the commandments not as a text but as a set of moral principles, whose implications are expounded or were expounded in preaching that has taken into account the Sermon on the Mount (Jesus as the New Moses). And in this sense, it is quite right to think of the commandments as directly from God. In fact most religions have similar commandments.

This video is a feeble attempt at a diversion tactic. Christopher Hitchen's knows that the Laws of Physics reveal that nothing comes from nothing, so the fact that there is something rather than nothing reveals that God, the Creator of the Universe, including The Laws of Physics, exists.