commandments and amendments.

So Huckabee failed to win the hearts and minds of the South Carolina Republicans. I’m glad to see it, since the guy just plain worries me, and I think that if you can’t win SC as a conservative Baptist with the backing of the Evangelicals, you’re pretty much done for in the national race.

Now, Tam linked a few articles describing Huckabee’s comments on wanting to amend the Constitution to “bring it in line with God’s word.” The comments after the articles are overwhelmingly stacked against Huckabee, even the ones from Christians, but there’s something that really chafes me about the comments on the nature of the Constitution.

Many of them claim that the Constitution is based on the Ten Commandments, and that is entirely inaccurate. The two documents have nothing in common with each other, and trying to match the former to the latter is a tortured exercise in revisionist wishful thinking.

But don’t just take my word for it; let’s have a look at both documents. Let’s compare the Ten Commandments to the Bill of Rights and the Constitution itself, shall we?

Commandment I: Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Right in the first rule of each document, we already have a massive disagreement. The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;[…]”, which is completely different from the First Commandment in both intent and nature. First of all, it’s a proscription of government, not the people. Second, it guarantees the free exercise of religion. How is that based on the Biblical commandment to recognize and worship only one specific God? The only even remotely plausible justification would be if you read “religion” in the First Amendment as “Christianity”, but even then the clause about not respecting an establishment of religion would clash with that interpretation. Which one is it, freedom of religion (any religion), or “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”?

In short, the First Amendment and the First Commandment have absolutely nothing to do with each other.

Commandment II: No graven images.

I fail to find the section in the Constitution that outlaws the manufacture of “a carved image–any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”

Commandment III: Don’t take the name of the Lord in vain.

That one clashes horribly with the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment, and any proscription of blasphemy encoded into law would also violate the Freedom of Religion clause. Again, I can’t find anything about blasphemy in the Constitution at all. (In fact, the Constitution does not contain a single instance of the words “God”, “Jesus”, or “Christianity”. The only references to religion–two of them–are mentioned in a proscriptive context (“…shall make no law” and “…shall not be required”). Kind of odd if the Founding Fathers intended to give religion a prominent place in the official business of the country, huh?

Commandment IV: Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.

Ooh, that one would be fun to enforce as civil law. It’s so vague as to be useless as a guidance, anyway. Ever notice how wildly divergent the opinions of believers range when it comes to properly keeping the Sabbath holy? They can’t even agree when the Sabbath is–some say Saturday, some Sunday–and the range of acceptable holy-keeping ranges from going to church and not being able to buy and sell booze on Sunday (if you’re a Baptist) to not using electricity, elevators, or automobiles on Saturday (if you’re an orthodox Jew.) Besides, that’s yet another proscription that fails to surface in the Constitution anywhere.

Commandment V: Honor Thy Father and Mother.

Another very vague rule that a.) isn’t found anywhere in the Constitution, and b.) has limited usefulness because it gives no details on how exactly this honoring is supposed to occur. It’s not a bad sentiment, for sure, but as with the Sabbath, there’s a wide range of opinions among Christians on just how exactly this commandment is properly observed.

Commandment VI: Thou Shalt Not Murder.

Here we finally have a Commandment that has a direct counterpart in present-day law. Trouble is, murder laws are part of the criminal code, not the U.S. Constitution (which, once again, limits government, not the citizenry.)

There are some who claim that this constitutes proof positive that we were meant to be a Christian nation (after all, without that commandment, what’s to keep anyone from just killing folks as they please, right?), but the prohibition of murder is found in all major religions, both extinct and extant, so the rule is not exclusive to Christianity.

Commandment VII: Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery.

Some states have laws against adultery, but the Constitution is totally silent on the matter. If there was a Constitutional prohibition of adultery, it would have the potential to be even more widely violated than the Volstead Act, seeing how adultery is not exactly uncommon among Christians and non-believers alike. In any case, once again we have a biblical Commandment that’s nowhere to be found in the Constitution.

Commandment VIII: Thou Shalt Not Steal.

Another useful commandment, and only the second on the list that has any counterpart in criminal law. Once again, however, the laws against theft are found in criminal law, not the Constitution, and just as with the murder thing, it’s not exclusive to the Bible, either.

Commandment IX: Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness.

This one’s the third useful one of the bunch, and it also has counterparts in modern law, but those are found in criminal and civil law, not the Constitution, which has precisely zilch in it regarding the bearing of witness, false or otherwise.

Commandment X: Thou Shalt Not Covet Your Neighbor’s Stuff.

How much fun would the enforcement of that one be? Our market economy is practically built on the coveting of things. In any case, there is absolutely nothing in the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, criminal, or civil law that prohibits the coveting of things and people.

So, there you have it. Ten Commandments, and none of them–not one–has a counterpart in the Bill of Rights or the U.S. Constitution, not even when it’s interpreted as charitably as possible in favor of such a claim. How can anyone with any reading comprehension claim that “the Constitution is based on the Ten Commandments”?

Now, I don’t want to kick loose a theological debate here. If you respect and live by the Ten Commandments, that’s a-OK with me. I just think the attempt to paint the Constitution as patterned on Biblical law is disingenuous, and definitely way out in “bearing false witness” territory. You can believe in the validity of both documents without trying to find a link that doesn’t exist, no matter how useful it would be in trying to establish that the nation was founded by Christians for Christians.


11 thoughts on “commandments and amendments.

  1. Ahab says:

    You have precisely encapsulated why as a Christian I am frequently so frustrated when talking politics and government with a lot of my fellow believers. So many of them seem to think that it’s okay to regulate the liberty of others just so long as Christianity is the rule for the regulating. Drives me fucking nuts.

  2. Kristopher says:

    Our system of government is patterned after the Greco-Roman model … it has little to do with Christianity.

  3. I touched on the First Amendment vs. First Commandment thing once before, but this was much better I think.

    Now, that was fun! Next, let’s reverse the comparison, shall we? Howzabout the Constitution first next time.

    Second Amendment? Uhhh, maybe in Luke (“….and he who hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.)


  4. Mattexian says:

    Maybe a better comparison for the Second is that section in the Exodus after the Ten Commandments, where it reads, (paraphrasing) “if someone comes in the night to slay you, arise and slay them first, and there will be no blood price.”

  5. Jeremy says:

    The Constitution and Bill of Rights were written by God-fearing Men and were designed to be implemented and maintained by people with similar values. That is not to say that the Ten Commandments should be made the law of the land, simply that our system of government will not survive without people of ethical character. So you can see why we are screwed.

    “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to be the government of any other.”-John Adams,October 11, 1798

  6. Tam says:

    Ethical != Religious.

  7. Gregg says:

    Actually Tam
    Moral = Religious

    Ethical is secular.

    Ethics arise from what is right or wrong in a shared culture.

    Morals are dependent on religion.

  8. Tam says:

    Morals are dependent on religion.

    With all due respect, that’s bullshit.

  9. Jeremy says:

    Apologies for the observed implication Tam, not what I was trying to get across. Ethical behavior is most certainly not limited to those of a religious background. I was simply responding to Kristophers comment regarding Christianity as a factor in the creation of our system of government.

  10. The 10th commandment would ban the entire platform of the democratic party.

  11. Kaerius says:

    “The 10th commandment would ban the entire platform of the democratic party.”

    And the 6th and 9th would ban the republican party then. 😉

    And yes, morals != religion.

    I am a very scrupulous moral man, with a deeply rooted sense of what’s wrong and right, yet I believe in no god, the christian one or otherwise. I’m a secular humanist.

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