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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Eight New Commandments



After all, they weren't carved in stone. Oh, wait. I guess they were.

My leftist columnist friend has recently proposed that the Ten Commandments are obsolete. All very well for a small desert tribe, perhaps. But progress! Morality marches on!

We Catholics were always able to derive everything we needed from the original ten in the traditional examination of conscience. But he does have something of a point; sometimes it takes a bit of a stretch. Not all the commandments are as clear as they possibly ought to be. For example, there is no “Thou shalt not lie.” There surely should be. The Devil is “the Father of Lies.” We are able to deduce the general point, sure, from “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour,” but that seems more oblique than it needs to be.

So okay, here are a few additional commandments that might usefully be added to the mix. No, morality does not change or evolve. But certain sins are currently conspicuous, and part of the problem might just be that the prohibition is not as clear as it should be.

The same principle, after all, holds for the commandments as a whole. All of them, as Jesus notes, could really be replaced with “Do unto others as you would have them do to you”; or “Love God, and love your neighbour.” Love, as St. Augustine said, and all will be well. But while the Golden Rule, or “Love, and do what you will,” or Kant's categorical imperative, or simply following the voice of conscience, ought to do the whole job, humans are perverse. They will look for loopholes. Things often need to be spelled out, or we will rationalize our way out of them. Given this tendency, the ten commandments could probably always be expanded. And always have been. Feeling the ten are not sufficient, Rabbinical Judaism expands them to 613 specific prohibitions.

So, a few new ones, to address some common sins.

Confucius


To begin with, I like Confucius's answer, when asked what he would do first if put in government. “First,” he said, “is the rectification of terms.” It is, I think, a profound moral issue not to tinker with the language, with the standard meaning of words. It is a form of lying, and an especially insidious form, for it becomes a great obstruction to anyone later seeking truth. Playijng with gender pronouns, changing the meaning of words like “bright” and “gay,” changing pro-abortion to “pro-choice,” when it refers only to one particular choice by one particular actor, and so forth. The tendency is everywhere.

Moreover, this commandment needs to be understood as fundamental, as Confucius said, because without it, all other commandments can be easily overturned, simply by changing the meaning of a crucial word: “kill,” or “covet.”

So I offer a commandment close to the heart of any editor:

1. Thou shalt not falsify or manipulate the meanings of words.

Also close to my heart, for almost the same reason:

2. Thou shalt not attempt to prevent another from sincerely expressing their mind, or refuse to listen to and consider what they have to say.

If you do not follow this commandment, you are not yourself sincerely seeking truth--see John Stuart Mill on this. Worse, when done in the public sphere, you are preventing others from finding truth. If you are not sincerely seeking truth, you do not love God, for God is Truth. No shouting down, no ad hominems in argument, no government censorship, no hate speech laws. This is obviously a growing problem today.

3. Thou shalt not judge a person before hearing what they have to say in their behalf, or, depending on the circumstances, observing how they act.

This simply and properly defines prejudice. Prejudice is a failure to honour the second core commandment, to love your neighbour as yourself. It seems necessary to spell it out, not just because it is a frequent sin, but because the nature of prejudice is often these days misrepresented as its opposite. Any freedom from prejudice is now declared prejudice. For example, people actually say, if you have white skin, you are racist; if you have dark skin, you cannot be racist. This is a statement of quite extreme prejudice.

There is a corollary to this, which probably needs to be stated separately, because it is even more often overlooked.

4. Thou shalt not favour a person over others except as is justified by their own merits, or one's prior commitments to them.

This is really the same as the previous injunction, or at least its necessary corollary. Unjustly favouring someone is just as evil as unjustly condemning another. In practice, it amounts to the same thing: you cannot favour one without discriminating against another. But because it looks like “being nice” from one very limited perspective, people commonly think it is okay. Hence moral crimes like nepotism or “reverse discrimination.” Thou shalt not play favourites.

The bit about one's prior commitments is needed, I think, to clarify that you do indeed owe special consideration to some, like your children or your spouse, because of prior commitments you have made to them of your own volition (by, for example, begetting them), or debts to them you have incurred.

"Envy plucking the wings of fame"

5. Thou shalt not envy.

This is, to my mind, already definitively covered in commandments nine and ten, Catholic numbering (“Thou shalt not covet”) but recent discussions with this same leftist friend, and indeed a Web search, suggest that this is still ambiguous to many. He takes those commandments as prohibiting, not envy, but materialism. Not immediately clear to me how this refers to coveting thy neighbour's wife… but that might be separate injunction against lust.

Envy deserves its own clear prohibition in any case. It is a common sin, and it is one of the seven deadly ones. If your neighbour has more than you have, or is smarter than you are, or is better looking, you have no right to resent them for it. You should celebrate their good fortune.

Might I point out that most leftist politics are based on this sin? If anyone does not have enough to live on, that is a problem to be fixed. Money can of course be acquired in immoral ways, but the mere fact of having money is not a moral issue--except that, if you object to it in another, you are simply indulging envy. Even worse when the envy is based on another's intelligence, which is at least as common a problem. A particularly bright person might produce great benefits for mankind as a whole: a cure for cancer, a pollution-free energy source, a symphony, a solution to some great problem. Yet the envy of others can hold him or her back from this. Even at a more pedestrian level, everybody benefits if the druggist behind the counter is the best druggist available, the brain surgeon operating on you is the best brain surgeon, the engineer designing the structure is the best engineer. Envy is the primary force preventing this from being so, and it is cumulatively massively destructive.

6. Thou shalt not outsource thy morality.

This is a major omission: it is a prohibition against hypocrisy, the key issue in the New Testament. And it remains a key issue today. Tooo many people try to sidestep their own moral obligations by instead placing moral obligations on others. For example, it is moral to give money to charity. There is nothing moral, however, about advocating a law requiring others to give a percentage of their income to charity. It is moral to limit your air miles in order to conserve limited natural resources, or to prevent the emission of “greenhouse gases.” It is not moral to lobby to pass laws forcing others to limit their air miles for this reason. It might be advisable in practical terms, but it is not a moral act. A particularly common, and particularly egregious, example: if you are paid for a job helping people, you are no more moral than the next guy who has a job doing something else, given that your pay rate is the same. If you are being paid for it, it is not your charity.

7. Thou shalt not openly forgive another who has not admitted a misdeed.

This will probably not sound Christian to many—this is why it needs to be said. It is a very common moral error. If someone sincerely apologizes, you have a moral duty to forgive. This too is commonly not done, but at least just about everybody seems to understand that you should. The more common error is the opposite. If someone does not apologize, and you publicly and openly forgive them, you are saying that what they did was really okay. This is putting their soul, and even those of any onlookers, in mortal peril.

It is especially important to make the point, because non-Christians are always trying to beat Christians over the head with their duty to forgive, when what they almost always really mean is that the Christians ought to accept that a sin is not a sin.

Of course, there is nothing to prevent you from, in the meantime, forgiving another in your heart. But even this is not really a moral issue. It is something advisable for your own peace of mind.

"Honour your father and your mother"is another present commandment that seems often misunderstood, and used for nefarious purposes. It does not mean "obey your father and yor mother,"and it is not addressed to children. It is too often used by bad parents as a stick to beat their children. Read this way, it directly contradicts must of the New Testament, in which Jesus tells a prospective disciple who asks for time to first bury his father, "let the dead bury their own dead," and, "call no one father but your father in heaven," And,  after all, obeying your parents if theyu ask for something immoral, or giving them honour above their deserts, would be itself immoral. What if your Dad is Hitler, and your mum Karla Homulka? What the commandment is really about is looking after your parents in old age, and allowing them a digified dotage. That is "honour." Hence it should be recast as

8. Support and respect your parents in their age.

Many are not following this commandment. The common problem is not abandoning the old, in terms of their physical needs, but dropping them off in a nursing home and forgetting them. They are owed not just food, bedding, and physical care, but dignity and  a stake in the continuing life of the living.



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