Wednesday, June 04, 2008

"These Fifteen... [crash!] ...Ten Commandments..."

Mel Brooks had it right beyond the laugh. When Moses came down from the mountain to announce the Commandments to the children of God, I suspect he did drop a third big stone tablet.

A Third Tablet Theory could explain a few things about why the Ten Commandments are so easily disregarded. Maybe the Third Tablet was all footnotes: "*VII: ...unless thou canst get a quorum to agree that it's okay to kill!" But since Biblical researchers do not seem fixed on asterisks, I wager that if a Third Tablet ever could have existed, it would more likely have had statements the other ten were contingent upon.

We seem to mean well, but we are obviously missing some crucial information.

Let's have a look at killing - go right to the heart of good versus evil. We, the people, whether with our progeny or our money, kill. Whether the source of our humanitarian beliefs is religious or not, as a group we feel good about cherishing human life, and we agree that war brings anguish. But we live as if special permission existed in cases where we agree as a mob that taking the lives of others is not murderous if committed as acts of war.

Judeo-Christianity doesn't have the market cornered when it comes to claiming to value the preservation of human life and then dismissing it. Fighting for peace is rampant throughout the religious and secular worlds, but the idea of maybe just five more commandments - or some kind of explanatory note - tickles a nerve. What if we actually could have received crucial information - direct from the All Knowing - that fell crashing to the ground? I like the idea that we might piece together our integrity and become what we espouse ourselves to be.

We need to use our heads and keep them connected to our hearts. Ultimately we lack faith in our own intelligence (or, faith in God's creation). We claim we have no choice, sometimes, regrettably, sadly (bowing our heads), but to kill. We pretend God likes the good ol' boy buddy system, and that rules can be broken if it means our team wins. We justify killing by declaring the other team to be evil.

We get support for our team by insisting the other team doesn't value human life. We become what we feign to loathe, but we swear it is temporary. Have a look at the history of the world parts 2 and beyond as performed in the theater of real life: our readiness for war is by no means temporary.

We perform great acts of obtuse irony by praying for the killing to cease but we allow war as an acceptable default. We teach our children to be good. Yet, a portion of every generation on Earth goes to war. To win, let alone survive, soldiers are forced to commit to actions which, by necessity, break their spirits. Those who live through the experience return home. But their attempt to find a comfortable place within themselves and their society is pinched and pained as they try to fit back into a pretence.

Accepting the premise of a supreme being laying down ten rules for good behavior, dictated as keys to living a life as close to God as possible, and seeing how easily we fall short of following even the simplest of them (don't take other people's stuff without permission, don't fool around behind the back of the person who trusts you...) maybe there really is some missing information somewhere. Maybe we really are just a few crucial statements short of what we need to know to truly be good beings!

Back to Mel Brooks: The deeper humor of the joke is the idea that even Moses could deny his blunder for the sake of putting on a good show; and that's at the root of our fallibility. Whether in the tiniest part of a moment of truth or encompassing the overriding greed of a big plan, somehow Cowardice in the role of Hubris creates the illusion that bearing false witness is relative.

Maybe we like to claim that we are simply children of God so we can be excused for not understanding how the rules really go. But look around: we seem to be trying. We seem to need help. Think of the people you love, like or simply admire. We're driven by some truly kind principles and desires. We really do try. So, what's missing from the instructions?

Here are a few possibilities: Perhaps a Third Tablet might tell us to learn to anticipate the outcomes of our actions (and inactions); grasp the deeper meaning of empathy; develop conscience as integral to our being; and take responsibility for ourselves.

Inside or outside of religious beliefs it does seem plausible that we could use principles like that to help us live up to the standards we claim are our highest. We could even become supremely good and successful as a species. Such optimism could even boost us up onto the wall to see into the Garden of Eden.

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