I often hear people proclaim the importance of the Ten Commandments. Now I’m not going to get into which ten nor am I interested in delving into whether or not they should be displayed in public schools, at the local courthouse, etc. (clearly not because government sanction of the first four are obvious violations of the Constitution).
No, what I’m interested in is whether or not we can come up with something that is both broader and simpler. In other words, better.
OK, once we get past the first four (no other gods, no graven images, no taking god’s name in vain, keeping the sabbath) we have perhaps what can be best described as a bunch of generally good (although incomplete) ideas that many societies have come up with separately from the Bible. Yes, most sane folks would agree that killing and theft are bad. So are adultery and bearing false witness. Honoring your parents is also a pretty good idea. Regarding the last one, personally, I don’t have much of a problem with coveting so long as it doesn’t become obsessive and/or lead to theft (see above). And let’s face it, a sizable portion of our consumer economy is pretty much based on coveting so let’s not bash that hornet’s nest.
But where’s the condemnation of rape? How come there’s no prohibition on cheating? I guess you could argue that cheating has some aspect of theft to it but then you could also argue that killing someone is the “theft” of their life so I think it is valid to keep these distinctions. And what if your parents were complete douche bags and it is in spite of their douche baggery that you’ve become a responsible and engaged citizen? Are they still worthy of being honored? What if you and your spouse are into “open” marriage? Does the technical definition of adultery even apply?
OK, so we have a list that doesn’t cover everything and which ignores special cases. What to do, what to do. I suggest the following single commandment:
Don’t be an asshole.
That pretty much sums it up. It covers all of the above including special cases plus it adds items that weren’t included in the original set. Also, it’s completely non-denominational. Here’s how it works: If you steal something you’re being an asshole. If you kill someone you’re an asshole, unless it was unprovoked and in self-defense. Then you’re not really an asshole, right? If you’ve got great parents and you treat them like dirt or ignore them, guess what? You’re an asshole. But if you ignore them and they were vile individuals who were lousy parents, are you an asshole? Not so much. Rape? Asshole! Bearing false witness? Asshole! Cheating? Asshole! Adultery in a monogamous relationship? Endangering the welfare of a child? Dumping toxic waste out the back door of your business? Defrauding your friends or relatives? Denying solid scientific arguments based on a mountain of empirical evidence so as to create a false sense of debate in order to maintain your profits or dogma? Asshole, asshole, asshole, asshole, asshole!!!!! See?
All that remains is the degree of asshole-ishness to which one is guilty. That issue we can leave to the courts to dispense appropriate justice. And so we may add a corollary to our commandment:
The penalty for breaking the commandment should be proportional to the amount of asshole-ishness displayed.
Raping hospital patients on consecutive Thursdays makes you a much, much bigger asshole than stealing someone’s toaster and so the penalty is orders of magnitude greater. Therefore if a judge imposed too harsh a penalty, s/he would be guilty of being an asshole themselves. Granted, there will be some arguing about the precise level of asshole-ishness a particular individual has displayed and even if any asshole-ishness has been displayed but then we can also agree that anyone who goes off the deep end on these sorts of arguments is being an asshole too. Or at the very least, a dick. But let’s not go down that road because if we made another commandment about not being a dick we’d be getting away from the original idea of a simpler and more encompassing alternative, and that would just make us assholes.