CARRYING OUT THE CODE
Recently I heard there are those who advocate replacing the United States Constitution with the Ten Commandments, the ones found in Exodus, Chapter 20. According to the Old Testament, God gave to Moses those commandments on Mount Sinai, engraved upon stone tablets. They were laws by which the Nation of Israel, God’s chosen people, were to abide henceforth, following their miraculous delivery from slavery in Egypt.
It occurred to me that replacing our Constitution, which has served us well for over 200 years, with the Ten Commandments could present some interesting challenges, especially when it comes to enforcement.
Let's take those Commandments one by one:
I. I am the Lord thy God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
As documented in the book of Genesis, this is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, so Christians, Jews and Muslims will have no problems when it comes to defining God. Other religions guaranteed the right to practice their beliefs in this country could present a dilemma for officials whose job it is to make sure the Commandments are obeyed. Perhaps the country's leadership could simply declare that all religious organizations be required to include in the written tenets that they worship the God of the Old Testament and subscribe to His commandments. The challenge would involve monitoring and enforcement. Would we have "No Other Gods" troops who patrol places like Buddhist temples to make sure they are not ringing bells, chanting, striving for Nirvana? And what about atheists? Perhaps "no other gods" would not apply to those who believe in no god at all. I can see where a new government agency would be necessary to sort all this out and make sure the letter if not the spirit of the law is followed.
II. Thou shalt not make for yourselves any graven image.
Well, here's a dilemma! Does graven mean as in a carving or a sculpture? Would paintings be included? What about the Cistine Chapel in the Vatican with its extraordinary painting by Michaelangelo, the one of God's finger touching Adam's in that representation of the Creation of Man? Would our leaders be compelled to demand, "Pope Benedict, tear down that chapel!"? Or perhaps, since this would be a U.S. law and thus not applicable to other nations, we could only declare that any prints of Michaelangelo's magnificent mural in this country would of necessity have to be destroyed. And what about pictures of Jesus? Christians believe that he was not only the son of God but was God incarnate; therefore, any representations of him--paintings, statues, crucifixes, could by law not be permitted. The Graven Image Police would be busy invading art galleries and churches seizing contraband ranging from Dali's "The Last Supper" in the National Art Gallery to life-sized crosses bearing a sculpted Jesus suspended above altars in sanctuaries throughout the land. When they are all gathered in one place, the Graven Image Police could set them afire, destroying the last vestiges of this grievous affront to the Second Commandment.
III. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
Enforcing this one could well take care of the country's unemployment rate. From sporting events to traffic jams, the "Curse-Not Cops" will have limitless areas to patrol. Again, some clarification as to definitions might be in order, since certain frequently-uttered words and phrases do not specifically take the Lord's name in vain but could be called cursing nonetheless. Perhaps much as speeding along highways and byways can result in a citation or not--it's really up to the law enforcement officer patrolling the roads--the Curse-Not Cops can use their discretion as to whether or not to cite the offender. Warning tickets might be a good start, since word will begin to get around about the seriousness of the offense and affect widespread behavioral changes. And since jails might be getting pretty jammed up as a result of other Ten Commandment infractions, the Curse-Not Cops could carry bars of soap with them and simply wash out the offenders' mouths. That'll teach 'em!
IV. Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.
Again, the issue of definition arises. Jews practice the Sabbath from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. Christian denominations tend to stick to Sunday Sabbaths, if you don't count Saturday evening masses, Wednesday night choir practice and prayer meetings, Thursday night young people's, Tuesday afternoon ladies Bible studies, and then there's Sunday School, Sunday night services and once-a-quarter business meetings, usually on Sunday nights. Oh, and then there are the Seventh Day Adventists, a Christian denomination that meets on Saturdays, as do most Muslim mosques. These differences could be addressed by focusing on the "holy" part, expanding on the Commandment by making businesses close every Saturday and Sunday so Christians, Jews and Muslims alike are not tempted to engage in unholy activities such as shopping, eating out at restaurants or gassing up their vehicles for Sabbath-Day drives. The complete list will have to be drawn up to be all inclusive. A committee could be formed to address this issue, made up of priests, ministers, Rabbis and Imams. Of course, no atheists, Buddhists or Zoroastrians need apply, and it can only be hoped they will find some reason to rejoice in the significant curtailment of activities available to them during those very long weekends.
V. Honor thy father and thy mother.
What a boon to mankind this will be! The "Honor Thy Father and Mother" enforcement squad will be one of the most popular of the Commandments Brigade. Every parent will have them on speed dial. Kids will quickly learn to control their tendency to mouth off at their folks, since the instructions God laid down on this topic later on (Exodus 21) specifies that anyone who curses his/her father or mother must be put to death. It's a given that children would not dare deck Mom or Pop, that would just be wrong, but it also would be, as Exodus 21 says, cause to be put to death.
At first glance, this Commandment seems pretty straightforward, but as codified down the line, there's more than meets the eye. Death to our offspring who talk back might seem a bit severe, but then again, knowing what's at stake if the Commandment is broken could go a long way toward inspiring children not to break them. Or at very least, more than once. Not to mention, siblings would most likely experience a rapid learning curve.
VI. Thou shalt not kill.
Short and to the point, and who would argue that this is not one of the most important of the Commandments. Why, it might even have been included in the U.S. Constitution. There certainly is a huge body of law covering this subject. But "thou shalt not kill", hanging out there by itself, could seem a bit ambiguous. We make the automatic assumption that it means not to kill another human being, but that necessitates a series of "What if?" scenarios. The New International Version of the Bible translates this Commandment, "You shall not murder," which couches it in more human terms and gives the "out", if you will, of addressing those "what ifs". The Lord clarifies it a bit in the next chapter of Exodus. "Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. However, if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen, he is to flee to a place I will designate. But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death." Thus it seems that God made provision for incidents such as accidental deaths and self-defense. Later on in the Old Testament, Cities of Refuge were built where those who killed another without intent could escape to and live without retribution.
Enforcement of this Commandment seems rather uncomplicated on the face of it. Perhaps it would not even require a new layer of bureaucracy, amazing as that may seem. Possibly, the law enforcement entities now in place could continue to carry out their jobs as they have been--investigating crime, processing evidence, tracking down the bad guys, bringing them to justice. It's not clear if the law would be prosecuted differently or more effectively under the Ten Commandments than as it currently stands, except that Exodus 21 does talk about "a life for a life" in pretty unequivocal language. Judges and juries would be given no option but to mete out the death penalty to those who deliberately and intentionally kill, with the government carrying out the very act prohibited by the Commandment. A conundrum, indeed.
VII. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Codifying this Commandment is easy. By definition, adultery is "voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not their spouse." Given the inclination to engage in adulterous relationships by government officials, high-profile publicity hounds such as actors and rock stars, and of course ordinary citizens around the country, enforcing this Commandment could necessitate a huge bureaucracy. The "Catch 'em in the Act" crew would be busy day and night, armed with cameras to document the nefarious deeds along with warrants for immediate arrests (just fill in the blanks with the offenders' names). Fortunately for most adulterers, the previous Commandment spares them the wrath of aggrieved spouses who might be inclined to dispatch them with all due haste and plead justifiable homicide. The penalty for breaking this Commandment, however, will need to be clarified early on. At one time in history, Jews stoned adulterers, although it seems it was just the female side of the offending couple who was put to death. Muslims, from all reports, still mete out that punishment. Christians among the populace rightly could be conflicted on the subject. Jesus not only forgave the woman caught in adultery, he further counseled that if a man lusts after a woman, he has already committed adultery in his heart. It's unclear if that would also be incorporated in the 7th Commandment, but seems doubtful that it would, at least until the time when the Thought Police Squadron is geared up and fully operational.
VIII. Thou shalt not steal.
Again, a law already on the books, so crime and punishment methodology is in place. Those accustomed to thoughtlessly palming the occasional paper clip, rubber band or pencil from their place of employment might be in for a rude awakening as details of this commandment are worked out, but the first time or two they're busted by the ubiquitous Theft Squad should prove sufficient to forestall any such future infractions. One could only hope those whose financial mismanagement recently bilked citizens out of millions of dollars in pensions and other investments might be held accountable for their actions.
IX. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
I suspect a lot of time will be given over at first to the definition of "neighbor." If, however, the commandment is reduced to the lowest common denominator and stated simply, "Thou shalt not lie," the enforcement process will be greatly simplified. The False Witness Force would be on the job non-stop as soon as this commandment is codified, starting with, one would hope, the highest levels of government. Then they can storm IRS offices nationwide, where after endless hours poring through tax returns, the FWF can begin the task of rounding up and incarcerating approximately 80 percent of the populace. Jilted lovers will especially like this commandment, since those lying liars who swore, "Of course I'll respect you in the morning" would at last get their due.
X. Thou shalt not covet.
The Covet Cops will definitely be working overtime enforcing this one. Again, since the original commandment specifically refers to that which is our neighbor's, it might be well to simplify the definition dilemma by incorporating all Americans. Coveting would then be disallowed for the house, wife, ox, ass, man-and-maid-servant or anything that belongs to anyone. Period. And since the act of coveting is seldom overt, the ability to read others' thoughts will be required of the Covet Cops. Or--they could jump to their own conclusions based on the look in a person's eyes. Since wishing what someone else has were your own is a pretty common malady, it's safe to say an arrest of any person at any time could occur based on the fact that there's some coveting going on. Further, because the Ten Commandments pretty much declare all of us guilty as charged without having to go through the time and expense of a trial, that "innocent until proven guilty" business would be unnecessary. "You say you WEREN'T wishing Farmer Brown's ox was yours? Prove it!"
Clearly, the Ten Commandments present huge challenges not only to enforce but to follow. As Jesus said to the Pharisees, "Moses gave you the law, and yet you do not keep it." So as we can see, Commandment-breaking goes back a long way and there's not much reason to believe that instituting them instead of the Constitution would work much better. My recommendation is that we stick with the Constitution, as flawed and outdated a document as some believe it to be. The Preamble itself always gives me chills: "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
Then there’s the Bill of Rights, which affords all Americans the kind of freedoms unheard of in the world as it existed when those Founding Fathers penned the framework within which the new nation they were establishing would function and thrive. Maybe it would be prudent to heed that old saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Or that other old saw: "Be careful what you wish for. You might get it."