A new Ten Commandments for modern American society

I have no problem with Christians--until they try to incorporate their beliefs into state law or shove them in my face, as is the case with the Ten Commandments monument currently on display in Wesley Bolin Park, located just east of the House and Senate buildings in Phoenix. In place on public land for approximately 40 years, the monument made the news recently when Gov. Janet Napolitano joined with the Scottsdale-based Center for Arizona Policy and 38 legislators in a friend-of-the-court brief in support of keeping the monument. The case will be heard later this year, when the U.S. Supreme Court considers arguments on the constitutionality of a similar monument situated on State Capitol grounds in Texas.

Thanks in large part to the efforts of some chapters of the Fraternal Order of Eagles--which have been busy as beavers donating engraved versions of the Decalogue hither and yon--the monuments have been popping up all over the nation. Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and individuals willing to risk the wrath of their Christian neighbors have lodged protests and filed lawsuits. In some instances, states have been required to remove the offending icons.

What is bothersome about their placement on public land is the tacit message accompanying the display: This is a Christian nation (specifically a Protestant one), guided by Christian principles. Well, it's not. Let's remember that our founders were merchants and slave-owners more interested in amassing wealth than in Christ's message.

If we take an unbiased look at Jesus' life and teachings, we find not the intolerance informing today's media-designated culture wars (and much of so-called Christianity) nor the Ten Commandments, but one simple directive: Love God, love your neighbor.

What is further troubling is the monument's marginalization of people who do not believe Moses was acting as God's scribe when he showed up with the commandments. Maybe Moses was simply meditating on methods for effective crowd control and came up with what seemed like good ideas for the time; maybe he honestly believed he was acting as a divine messenger. Maybe it never happened. The possibilities are almost endless.

Regardless of how the commandments came to be, it's not their content that is offensive. They provide an adequate set of rules by which to live one's life--though the absence of the notion of compassion is telling. But there are other rules to choose from (Zen Buddhism's Ten Precepts come to mind), and in a pluralistic and nominally secular society, it is deplorable that the principles of one religion should dominate the public arena.

As an alternative to the Ten Commandments, a more appropriate monument for the Phoenix park, or any public space, might be the revised version below that more accurately reflects accepted behavior in the United States in the 21st century. The 10 have been rewritten from a Catholic version (there are several versions) of the commandments as they appear in an old Catechism.

1. I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me except in the pursuit of the holy dollar, in which case it's fine to worship at mammon's altar, or in the case of celebrities who should be adored and emulated.

2. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain unless you get really pissed and want to forcefully make your point or are talking about goddamned heathens.

3. Remember thou keep the Sabbath Day, but only if it doesn't interfere with errands, social gatherings, Internet surfing or, above all, shopping.

4. Honor thy Father and thy Mother until they get too old, feeble or incapacitated, in which case do whatever is convenient to get them out of your life.

5. Thou shalt not kill except in the case of animals or any humans you deem your enemy at the moment.

6. Thou shalt not commit adultery unless you are clever enough to be discrete, not get emotionally embroiled and make sure you use a condom and shower before you go home.

7. Thou shall not steal, but taking land from non-Christians is not only OK; it is encouraged.

8. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor unless a prosecutor guarantees you immunity for your testimony.

9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife unless she lets you know in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that she's ready when you are, in which case it's consensual, not covetous.

10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods, but instead always purchase the newer, better model of whatever your neighbor owns.

These 10 are not what Jesus had in mind; but then again, neither are the originals.