Every year when Easter rolls around, some TV network shows C. B. DeMille’s 1956 movie, The Ten Commandments. This year, ABC showed a made-for-TV movie that was broadcast for two evenings.
Sometimes, I wonder if the network decision-makers are more theologically astute than we might imagine. The story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt is a story about God’s deliverance of His people. So is the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.
Furthermore, the Old Testament refers to Moses as a prophet. “And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10). The New Testament teaches that Jesus fulfilled this prophecy: “This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear” (Acts 7:37).
But, I suspect that the annual coordination of the two events has more to do with action scenes and audience share than with theology. With the exception of The Passion of the Christ, there have not been a lot of successful Easter movies, unless we count Ben Hur as one of them.
So, in honor of the season, which Eastern Orthodox Christians say is not over yet, I include an up-to-date, politically correct presentation of the Ten Commandments.
AS MODIFIED BY LAW
And God spake all these words, saying:
I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me, other than We the People.
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth, except the annual grammar school maypole: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them, although any violation of multicultural respect for all non-Christian faiths is a hate crime.
Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain, which does not include the obligatory “God bless America” at the end of every televised Presidential speech.
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work, but time-and-a-half must be paid on day six. But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates, except for the National Football League, golf, and Nascar. For in six days, metaphorically speaking, the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it especially for the National Football League, golf, and Nascar.
Honour thy father and thy mother through the FICA tax: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
Thou shalt not kill, apart from believable official reasons at the time a war breaks out.
Thou shalt not commit adultery and still remain Constitutionally guaranteed of a no-fault divorce.
Thou shalt not steal, except by majority vote
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour, except with absence of malice.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s, unless he is in a higher income tax bracket than you are.
THE OLD PARTY LINE
For those of you who still prefer the older version, you may console yourselves with this fact: The old liberalism that interpreted the Ten Commandments as basically antiquated rules for an ancient rural society, and saw Jesus as a socialist revolutionary, or close to it, is pretty much on its last legs.
Yes, they still sing the old songs. Just this week I received this unsolicited call for a new political vision. It was signed by Rabbi Michael Lerner, better known as Hillary Clinton’s favorite rabbi. He called for the creation of a new politics, indicating that something has gone wrong with the old politics. This new politics must, he says,
challenge the religio-phobia and hostility toward religious and spiritual people that appears in some sections of liberal and progressive culture, and to help the Left distinguish between reactionary forms of religion and the progressives forms that it took with Martin Luther King, Jr., William Sloan Coffin, Abraham Joshua Heschel and many others, and to build a new spiritual progressive politics not only for religious people, but also for those who do not believe in God but are “spiritual but NOT religious.”
It must also
seek a New Bottom Line in the Western world so that institutions get judged efficient, rational or productive not only to the extent that they maximize money or power, but also to the extent that they maximize love and caring, kindness and generosity, ethically and ecologically sensitive behavior, and enhance our capacities to respond to other human beings as manifestations of the sacred and inherently valuable and to be respected, and enhance our capacities to respond to the universe with awe, wonder and radical amazement at the grandeur of all that is.
That Rabbi Lerner should speak of a New Bottom Line (capitalized) indicates the extent to which the new politics is suspiciously reminiscent to the old politics and the prevailing jargon of our era. Somehow, I cannot imagine Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai with the Bottom Line.
The market for this kind of thing is narrow. It has been for about a generation.
For people who are convinced that the Messianic State is the West’s primary incarnation of Mammon — the god that promises more — the Ten Commandments are the place to start the project of rolling it back.
For those of you who are convinced that “Thou shalt not steal” means what it says, and so does “Thou shalt not covet,” my book on the Ten Commandments provides a lot of ammunition: The Sinai Strategy: Economics and the Ten Commandments. You can download it for free.
April 19, 2006
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