Anarchy X: The Second Commandment


“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. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”

I don’t really have much to say about this one, since it pretty much covers idolatry, and I have very little for or against that. It really doesn’t come into the laws of the country, which is what this whole series is about, so no harm, no foul.

Weeeeeell, except for one or two things.

First we have the whole issue of what exactly idolatry is. Let’s take a quick look at the idea of it, shall we? “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image”. Seems to me like that pretty much rules out any sort of symbol that people put stock or faith in, particularly the kind that seems to generate religious zeal. Like say the American flag. If we can’t burn it because it counts as “desecration”, I think we can also pretty well say you were engaging in idolatry. So who sinned first, my good man?

Then there’s the bald eagle. That would be a “likeness of any thing that is in heaven above” last I checked. So why exactly do we have them all over our money, our federal buildings, and just about everywhere else last I checked?

Oh and hey, are we still allowed to make films and cartoons that mock major religious figures and icons? I know that “Piss Christ” seems to have gotten by without the artist getting arrested yet, but the week isn’t over yet.

My reading of the Second Commandment is deep and complex, but I’ll try to break it down with as little sarcasm as I’m capable of and then circle back to these issues.

First, God is immaterial. Not in the colloquial “irrelevant” sense, but rather in the old-fashioned “insubstantial” sense. Non-embodied. There’s no there, there. The disembodied nature of the divine represented here makes it a lot harder for most people to focus their minds on, so naturally we search for something material to relate to, but then we often make the leap from using the material object as a way of focusing on the divine spirit to thinking of the material object as the divine spirit. This Commandment exists to circumvent that process happening in the first place by outright banning those material affectations.

Second, it’s a way of scooping followers away from the other historical religions in the area at the time the Commandments came down. Consider the avatars of most (if not all) other pantheons local to where Judaism (and by extension Christianity) originated. If “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” doesn’t cover them, I don’t know what does.

Finally, I know I’ve had this argument before (see the comments from my discussion of the First Commandment), but I’m still not convinced from this passage or many others that at this point in time or any other there was a serious declaration that “I the Lord thy God” was intended to mean “I, the Lord, thy God, and by thy God I mean all the people of Earth, not just the ones I am speaking to right now who have a major hate on against lots of other tribes for many and sordid good reasons and aren’t even aware of 75% of the world I created or the people in it.”

So looping back around to the modern political implications (which makes this a very long loop indeed), and yes, I’m going to bring up hanging the Commandments in court houses again, but only because it’s directly relevant, I promise. At what point does an image of the Ten Commandments itself become a “graven image”? Seeing as how some people treat them as holy law and worship them rather than simply obeying them, treating the very idea of not displaying them as more of an offence than breaking any of them it seems to be more than a bit ironic.

Then there’s the issues I mentioned above. Why are there attempts to ban desecration of the American flag? Because it is a symbol of our country, yes, I get that. But do we bow down ourselves to it, or serve it? We certainly pledge allegiance to it, and how is that different? How is it not a graven image? And why is it that the same politicians who are most adamant about pressing forward with anti-flag desecration legislation are often the same ones pushing prayer in schools and displays of Commandments in public places?

I’m not trying to call into question the sincerity or devoutness of the many people of faith who believe in both Judeo-Christian values and the idea that we should honor the symbols of our nation. What I am calling into question is whether there isn’t a disconnect between the stated nature of those two sets of beliefs (which are not inherently contradictory) and the attempts to restrict the behavior of others or push those beliefs into the public sphere.

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