Thursday, October 29, 2009

George Carlin's 3 Commandments

This is a response to George Carlin’s bit on the 10 commandments. If you haven’t seen it, it’s not hard to find. It was in his book, “When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops”. My Mom got me that for Christmas one year.

This is only bleeped version I have found on YouTube It is a televised version of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, Part 7 of 8. About 5 and a half minutes in.

First off, I love George Carlin. I have been following him ever since he wore a tie and had short hair when Johnny Carson hosted The Tonight Show and he did the ippy dippy weather man with all the ippy dippy weather, man. He is a comic genius, a hard worker, and I wish I would have thought of doing this before he died. This is not addressed to George anyway, besides he himself said that he wouldn’t care, he wasn’t trying to create any system of beliefs. This is addressed to you, his audience.

So let’s get started, George’s first question is, why 10? I agree with it being a marketing decision. Designed to control? Well, I’d like to control anyone who wants to come into my house, covet my stuff, including my wife, so maybe agreeing not to do that is not such a bad idea. Let’s look at the list.

The first three are dismissed without much discussion because of “spookey language”, “designed to intimidate”. Okay, but let’s look at what’s was going on at the time. It’s kinda important. It takes 6 verses just to cover the first two commandments. This is a time when Gods are related to tribes and to places. Your tribe has a God, and you assume that the tribe down the river has a different God. Your God is better of course and protects you from theirs. You make sacrifices to make that God happy, and you make idols so you can talk to it. But this new God won’t even tell you know his name, and he says he’s the only one, and he doesn’t want idols.

And “remember the sabbath”, you gotta keep that. First of all, a lot of people went to a lot of trouble so we could have weekends. If I have to claim to be religious just so I can have Sunday off, I’ll do it. Besides, how else am I going to know when football is on? You take away the Sabbath, and the next thing you know football looks like baseball with games on Wednesday afternoon. Nobody wants that, it stays.

These people were creating something new, Moses’ people, they just broke the bonds of slavery, that was something really new. If they had not done that, chances are yours and my life would be very different. These are people defining themselves by something other than who they can defeat and enslave. Take this out and you mess with history. And I’m not saying the book of Exodus is historically accurate. It doesn’t matter who begat whom or when the story was finally written down. The story was being told in a time when there were Kings with slaves, and for a bunch of people to be telling stories about how they didn’t need a King, they answered to a higher power, that would have made those Kings kinda nervous. That’s what the first three are about. We keep the first three, if for nothing else, sentimental purposes.

Okay, what’s next, I’m going to stick to the order,“Thou shalt honor thy mother and father”. Controlling, can’t argue with that on this one. And George rightly points out that respect is earned, not dictated. Instead of throwing this one out, let’s take a cue from George and modernize it, and make the language positive, “Thou shalt honor the roles of mothering and fathering”. That means all of you, and puts the responsibility of effective parenting on the adults as well as the children. This is covered in other parts of the Bible. Never had kids, doesn’t matter, the next generation is still your responsibility. Your kids are all grown up, you’re not off the hook, vote for that tax increase to support your schools, somebody paid for your school when you were just starting out, it’s your turn. The kids in your neighborhood are holy terrors, have you tried talking to them instead of yelling at them? Enough said.

Oh boy, next one is the big one, “Thou shalt not kill”. George says “murder”, then quickly moves on, but this is an important point. The interpretation from the Hebrew is possibly “murder”. That makes this one harder to understand, kill is too broad, murder needs definition. Our Western laws allow for killing under certain circumstances, including times of war, if done under the rules of war. We also have guidelines for a just war, guidelines that have not been followed so well typically. We also have rules for when to engage in war. Look up just war theory. Anyone who claims to be fighting a war simply because God told them to should be critically questioned, and historically they have been. Doesn’t always stop them….

I know this phrase, “more killing has been done in the name of God than anything else” has been bandied about for such a long time, that it’s just accepted as true, but the facts don’t support it. Taking the conflicts that George rattles off rapidly, one by one, let’s start with Northern Ireland. Take a look at a map of the furthest extent of the Roman Empire in about 350 AD and note that Ireland is not included. As Rome fell, much of the knowledge of the Greeks and Romans was taken there and preserved as the rest of Europe fell in to the Dark Ages. This is what we celebrate on St. Patrick’s day by the way. Ireland has enjoyed a long tradition of self-rule.

Where do you want to start anyway, with Strongbow, or how about a little more recently, the nicely named Plantation of Ulster? This was the beginning of Protestant and Catholic conflict that still continues. But was it strictly a matter of whose God was better than the other’s or who worshipped the right way? I don’t think so. This has always been a matter of sovereignty and the right to self-govern. Kashmir, pretty much the same, except they are in a cross roads of many governments and cultures and have a long history of changing rulers. Empires such as China, Britain and the United States have tried to get control over this area. Saying this is simply some conflict over whose God can beat up the others is a gross over simplification.

The crusades, wow this one is blown way out of proportion. Yes, it was decreed by a Pope that they would start this war, but where was it to be fought? Were they a world power, seeking to expand their territory and force their beliefs on others? No, the 1st crusade was another in a long line of cultures putting a claim on Jerusalem. In this case the Roman Catholics were the most recently expelled, trying to get it back. If they had done a little negotiating the whole thing probably would have worked out much better, but Emperor Alexius got more than he bargained for when he asked for an army, and the knights took a lot of initiative well beyond the control of King and church. This is more a story of a military out of control than a religion controlling who should kill whom.

As for torture and killing of people for their beliefs, what evidence of this do you have? Much of this mythology comes from Andrew Dickson White and William Draper, two authors who have been disproved by modern historians, but somehow their ideas have perpetuated. What atrocities actually occurred, and how do they compare with the prevailing morals of their time? And how do they compare with today’s system? If you live in America, you live in a country that does a lot of killing and lot of incarcerating. We throw people in jail for minor crimes, and they learn more about how to be criminals in jail than they ever knew while they were out. We are the only modern country that tries minors as if they are adults. Take a look at yourself before you judge any history of collective support for killing.

Finally, he throws in “flying planes into buildings”, the hot button issue of our time. First, they were Muslims, and we are talking about a Jewish document that Christians use but have overridden with the New Testament. Second, they were a tiny minority of Muslims, denounced by many of their same religion. And again, they are angry about a foreign invader coming into their ancient homeland and setting up military bases and taking their resources. Not a justification! Not saying that! They are abusing their own religion to reach a political end. They are violating universal laws of morality, not supported by any modern religion to achieve their goals. I would question if they even could define their own goals any more, or if they understand their own scriptures. “Thou shalt not murder” stays in!

Okay, let’s lighten it up a little now. George jumps around a little and looks at all the coveting going on. One that he actually keeps is “Thou shalt not commit adultery”, he puts the positive spin on it, and combines it with lying and stealing and comes up with “Thou shalt always be honest and faithful”. I like it, you’ve covered most of the core values here. This is right up there with “love your neighbor”. This leads to “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife”. I think George had a good marriage because he doesn’t spend much time here, so neither will I. Let’s keep the modern language in mind and include all definitions of family, so we’ve eliminated 3 by using George’s “especially to the provider of thou nooky.”

A little more time is spent on “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods”. This is a good time to remember that George often used sarcasm. He had a bit on not washing your hands after you go to the bathroom, he said it was a waste of time, unless you get some on your hands, which for him was 2 maybe 3 times a week tops. I’m pretty sure he’s being sarcastic here when he says we should leave “coveting thy neighbor’s goods” alone, ….because that’s what keeps the economy going.” This may be true, and it may get a good laugh, but it’s also very sad. If you are not seeing that setting aside an acre of land, putting a big box on it to live in, burning stuff to keep it warm, filling it with plastic things, adding on another big box with more fuel burning machines in it and keeping them warm, is not working out so well, well then you and I just see things differently.

Competition and a little greed have made progress for a few hundred years, but what has it really got us? Are lights in sneakers really that important? Is spending more money on chewing gum than we do on books really a world in balance? The quality of our food has gone down, our schools are falling apart, and you can’t go anywhere and drink the water if it isn’t in a sealed plastic bottle. If you want to throw out all the other commandments and just focus on this one for a couple decades, I’d be alright with that. Definitely do not eliminate this one.

So, sorry, there are still seven. But I’m not adding on that one that George does, so that’s it.

You know, the one about “Thou shall keep thy religion to thyself”. I’m fine with that as long as you don’t impose on my right to tell a story any more than I impose on yours. No lying, no slander, no inciting people to riot, just telling our stories. All throughout the book of Exodus, it is repeated that the events are happening so the story can be told again and again. Not read, as if the exact words are important, but told, like a story. The New Testament also talks about sharing the story. I’m afraid story telling is an art that we have lost. The trouble starts when someone thinks that they not only should tell you the story, but they should get you to believe it. I think that is what George was saying, and I agree completely. Forcing beliefs on others has no place in the modern world. The roots of understanding that began at least 2,000 years ago, it’s about time we put that into practice. If we worked on understanding the spirit of these 7 guidelines instead of fighting about them, we’d all be a lot better off.

So here they are, and I took the liberty of modernizing some of the language:

Quit worrying about defining god.

Don’t worship any images of him, her or whatever you might visualize. No burning, bleeding or nailing. A little wine and bread and maybe a candle or some oil are okay. Singing is also good.

Take a day off once a week or so, it’s good for you, meditate or go for a walk.

Thou shalt honor the roles of mothering and fathering.

Thou shalt not murder.

Thou shalt always be honest and faithful, especially to the provider of thou nooky. (Thank you George for that one).
You shall not covet things. Have a goal, follow your bliss, but it’s the journey, not the destination. It’s about your passion, not other people’s stuff.

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