Supersonic Man

November 14, 2017

do the ten commandments model virtue?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Supersonic Man @ 1:44 pm

The appalling Roy Moore, the teen-perving judge who made a name for himself by defending the presence of the Ten Commandments in the courtroom, has been in the news a lot lately. And this makes me think… are the Ten Commandments even a good model for virtuous behavior?

Let’s lay out a list of virtues and see which ones are and are not supported by the Commandments.

This list is a combination of virtues enumerated by various sources, from the Catholic Church to the Boy Scout Law and Oath to various self-appointed virtuists such as the hypocritical scold Bill Bennett and the off-grid inventor Jaimie Mantzel.

A virtuous person is, we suppose (in no particular order):

a. Honest, Trustworthy, Honorable, and Truthful
b. Fair and Just
c. Prudent and Temperate
d. Humble and Modest
e. Generous, Charitable, and Helpful
f. Diligent, Industrious, and Productive
g. Responsible and Self-Reliant
h. Courageous and Steadfast
i. Healthful, Fit and Strong
j. Alert, Attentive, and Engaged
k. Imaginative and Creative
l. Purposeful and Goal-Oriented
m. Dutiful toward community obligations
n. Dependable and Loyal (when appropriate)
o. Friendly, Courteous, and Considerate
p. Hopeful and Cheerful
q. Kind, Compassionate, and Empathetic
r. Loving
s. Obedient to law and applicable rules
t. Patient, Forbearing, and Tolerant
u. Clean, Decent, and Inoffensive

I need to add a couple more — some virtues which those who compile virtue lists always manage to omit:

v. Intelligent, Knowledgeable, Intellectual, and Thoughtful
w. Skeptical, Critical, and Questioning of dubious ideas

We often act as if intelligence, knowledge, and intellectuality are accidents which people are blessed with at random. They are not. Having a strong intellect is not much more a whim of chance than having strong biceps is. We all differ in our innate gifts, but in the end, you are the one responsible for developing and maintaining both your mental strengths and your physical ones. And the same goes for avoiding being gullible and recognizing the smell of bullshit.

So which of the above virtues do we find in the Commandments?

I, other gods:  n and w, but only for a special case
II, graven images:  (none)
III, name in vain:  maybe d and u, a little
IV, sabbath day:  (none)
V, honor parents:  m and n, but only for a special case
VI, killing:  b, c, q, s, and t, but only for a special case
VII, adultery:  a, c, n, r, and s, for a different special case
VIII, stealing:  a, b, c, g, m, and s, for another special case
IX, false witness:  a (fairly full support)
X, coveting:  g (fairly full support), also some b, e, and f

So the only virtues on the list which the commandments strongly model are honesty and self-reliance. Several others get partial support, a bunch more get some tangential implicit support related to a special case, and some get nothing. Which virtues are entirely unmentioned in that list, having not even the thinnest of connections to the Commandments? That leaves h, i, j, k, l, o, p, u, and v. Many of these are valued elsewhere in the Bible, but not here.

And really, only six of the ten commandments are relevant to good ethical behavior: the first four are just for maintaining conformance to dogma and orthodoxy. I do not consider such conformance to be virtuous.

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