Why the Ten Commandments Are Un-American

Admit it, when the weekend rolls around you chuckle softly to yourself about the odd, and usually ridiculous things that Sarah Palin says on a regular basis. This past lazy Saturday I was reminded of my personal favorite Palin-ism, that we should create laws "based on the God of the bible and the Ten Commandments."

Now, is the United States a Christian nation? If so, you would assume that the Ten Commandments would have some sway in our legal code, or at least in its spirit.

Sarah's statement makes me curious about whether she actually knows what the Ten Commandments say. If she thinks that they are, or should be the basis for American law, she must dislike strongly the core tenets of this country. Why? Because the 10 rules that can be found in Exodus are, on the whole, decidedly theocratic and anti-capitalistic.

Before we can go through the laws one by one, we have to pick a single version of the Decalogue to use; after all there are many, many to choose from. Digging through the flavors, the Orthodox list seems to be the best to work with. It is simple and straightforward. We shall state each of the rules in turn, and then discuss whether America has based its laws upon it, or should have done so. Let's put Sarah to the test.

1) I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me.

Things begin roughly for the Right. This first commandment is about as un-American as you can imagine. It flies directly in the face of religious freedom and the melting-pot plurality that we cherish. The little bit of law we call the First Amendment also causes it some trouble. If we were to create a law based on this commandment, we would be living in a strict Christian theocracy. No thanks!

2) You shall not make for yourself an idol.

This is a similar point; we can make idols if we want. Actually, in America you can make exactly as many idols as you desire. Thinking carefully on the matter, you have to wonder if there is a double standard in effect here. Palin is against idols, but extolls fair and honest patriotism and the symbols of our country. Is it wrong to put our flag on a pedestal?

3) Do not take the name of the Lord in vain.

Still no luck for Sarah. This one is beaten back (thankfully) by our freedom of speech (that pesky First Amendment again). Perhaps she wants this one to be law, but you are under no obligation to follow it, thank God.

4) Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.

This has literally no bearing whatsoever in our nation unless you are trying to find an open bank. If we shut down our country every Sunday, our economy would grind to a halt. Modern society runs constantly; it's how our lives work.

In fact, industriousness is one of American's best points, and that means that we work on Sundays. Restricting productivity? That is hardly American.

5) Honor your father and mother.

Recommended but not mandatory, this commandment is a generally good idea. However, we make allowances for children to be able to leave their homes before legal age if they find the situation untenable, regardless of parental wishes. However you look at it, this commandment is not something that we would ever write into law.

6) You shall not murder [kill].

This is more bad news for Sarah, a death penalty advocate and staunch supporter of our nation's numerous wars. Either God was lying or really speaking conditionally. Did God say no to all killing, or only some killing? You know how the conservative elite feel about those dang Ivory Tower liberals and their situational ethics.

Either way, we here in the U.S. are not so big on killing (at least most of the time), so Sarah straddles this issue. The U.S. rules are a mixed bag. This remains hardly a big score for the Decalogue in U.S. law, now pulling 0.5 points out of six tries.

7) You shall not commit adultery.

Well now, this is a tricky one. Here in the U.S., the country that Sarah seems to not know, adultery is mostly legal. There are some rules on the books in some states that punish it; you can for example rack up a $10 fine Maryland, but following the decision of Lawrence v. Texas, those rules are generally impossible to enact where they do exist. In short, there is no strong legal rule against adultery, leaving the Ten Commandments out of step yet again with America.

8) You shall not steal.

Here we go, the first direct hit for the Ten Commandments in American law. Sadly, this one predates the Bible by a fair margin. Let's move along.

9) You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Bad news, this is only illegal part of the time. You can lie all you want, so long as you are not under oath or committing slander or libel. Again, this idea predates Christianity, so even if we grant the measure, it is a cheap victory here for Moses.

10) You shall not covet your neighbor's wife. You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Now this one is slightly tricky. You have to think on the larger idea of capitalism, that more is better. If you want more, you desire an object, and there is a decent chance that a neighbor (or at least someone on your block) has that piece. There you see it, the very idea of capitalism is covetous, and as capitalism and free enterprise are foundational elements of this country, the tenth commandment is contrary to the United States. To put it perhaps more crassly, can you imagine a non-covetous Super Bowl advertisement?

So where do we end up? Out of the Ten Commandments, most are not enforced, and several fly directly into the face of our national spirit.

Be glad that we live in the country that we do, not the country that Palin imagines or wishes that we had.