Thursday, August 02, 2007

1. You Shall Have No Other Gods Before Me.

Aaron Krager reported on his blog Faithfully Liberal a comment from an Assemblies of God pastor that illustrates for me how many of us understand the Ten Commandments. The comment stated,
“Morality is the No. 1 issue with me,” said Ken Rogers, 62, of Altoona, a member of Central Assembly of God Church in Des Moines. “If a person can’t live by the Ten Commandments, how can he lead the nation?”

Krager's point was to ask how is it that we go about defining our values. He explains that given all of our moral failings, is anyone actually certified to serve anywhere. But for me, Roger's statement seems to reflect what many people think should be the minimum values that everyone in USAmerica considers as a set of collective values. But you know, I cannot help but wonder if Rogers and the rest of USAmerica really understand what they are asking for.

I also wonder if this conversation is more about an ideal and verbal assent or if most folks really believe, that the USAmerica as ever followed these commandments to begin with. Politics is an interesting institution—we pursue ideologies as if they were truth while neglecting them as a matter of practice. And, I might even add that we have purposefully neglected them, but that is a judgment call that perhaps I shouldn't be making. On the surface however, I am inclined to believe that we have made our governmental institution into a Trojan horse when it comes to faith and practice.

And so, I thought it best to begin a series on the Ten Commandments and to take each commandment, one by one, and see if we're really practicing what we tell others we're practicing or, if we've simply made it a litmus test of politicos of choice and have no intention of make the Decalogue into anything more than a value of wishful thinking.

If you haven't read the Ten Commandments for awhile, you can go to Exodus 20:2-17 and to Deuteronomy 5:6-21. Both list the Ten Commandments and both are slightly different, but not so different to change the meaning. I love the Deuteronomy passage best but for the sake of our understanding, I'll keep to the Exodus passage and reference the Deuteronomy one when appropriate. And, I'll be using the New King James Version because for the most part, it'll be reflective of what we think we remember it says.

  1. “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.”

This commandment appropriately begins the rules that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. We are to worship only Yahweh, the Hebrew name for God and no others. And, we're to do so because God has done for us a great thing (our ancestors were brought out of the land of Egypt and from the bounds of slavery). Therefore, because God did such a great thing for us and if we are to follow after God, then we obey God's commandment both out of appreciation and respect.

But one might find themselves asking, “Umm.. what other gods?” Perhaps you have heard a sermon or two, or a declaration, that we Americans have turned our money and our thirst for power into a god. These two things, money and power, are often explained in such a way that a thirst for either is akin to turning said pursuit into a god. While I don't believe either are gods, I do find that some folks do value money and power more than they value God. But is that pursuit really turning either of those pursuits into a god?

To put this into perspective, I would like to give a brief and perhaps crude history lesson on the time and era of Moses and what religion looked like around 1445 BCE. While Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, and liberal folks cannot really find a consensus on the date this actually happened, I am going to just pick 1445 because that is a, the date historians had originally thought it probably happened and b, it isn't of primary concern for this post. What is of primary concern is that during this time a plethora of religious deities, gods, and idols existed. It seems everyone had their own little god or, some had their national gods, and others had their age old gods. The Persian God Mithra perhaps the most famous, was an extension of Zoroastrianism known as Mehr.

During Moses time, the god Baal was quite popular, so popular in fact that while Moses was on Sinai getting the Ten Commandments from God, the Israelites grew impatient with Moses' return and began to fashion gold to make an idol to worship. Even the Israelites had their gods and became one of the primary reasons so many of them had to be punished (read: killed) because they continually went back to worshiping idols.

To worship another god or idol, a person bowed down to them, displayed the idols in their homes, and followed the rituals and commandments of the differing religions. Most notably among the devotees of Baal were the fertility rituals that promised a good harvest for the farmers. Baal worship would continue to plague the Israelites long after entrance into the Promised Land. Such fertility rituals involved fun parties of alcohol (what fun parties exist without alcohol, right?) and sex with many—and we all know how much everyone loves to do that!

In modernity (or post-modernity), when we think of our idols, do we really mean that there are those who “worship” money and power? In a strict literal sense, I would think not. However, if we were to define worshiping an idol in terms of one person placing the pursuit of money and power above all else, and obeying whatever rules we set up to achieve more money and power, then perhaps we might change our mind. We can probably correlate the display of money or power as an idol in the home by those who either display their possessions or even their stock certificates. Sure, this is a stretch—but there are several similarities to how we have created our own god-like deities in place of putting our trust in God.

As a nation, we can see other similarities to other “things” we place in a category of more importance than we do with God. And, depending on your particular perspective, we might discover more than we feel comfortable admitting: as an immigrant, how would patriotism or, a more negative word, nationalism, be seen in their eyes? Do we value our Americanism more than we value God? When we seek to limit the benefits of our resources from those we deem inferior to us, are we not elevating ourselves above others? And in that elevation, do we value our self-interest as a nation or even ourselves, more than we value other humans? Maybe this is a crude example—but you get the idea. While we may not worship idols per say, we sure act like we do. And when we act like it, it is tough to wonder if we're disobeying the first commandment or not. If we cannot make that distinction with certainty, I'd imagine that God wouldn't be altogether happy about it.

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