I make my students recite the Ten Commandments.  In public school.  You see, there’s this part in The Crucible where the main characters are interrogated about their Christian credentials, and naming the commandments is one of the tests.  Some classes get eight commandments.  One only got six.  We’ve never gotten all ten.  So I tell them that they must be pretty witchy.

I don’t find the Ten useful.  The obvious stuff, don’t be a jerk to your parents, and don’t obsess about other people’s stuff, requires no reminder– only a superhuman effort to maintain.  No other gods?  Well, if I were sure about who God was, that would be no problem. Bearing false witness is bad, except when it spares feelings or avoids unnecessary arguments.

I do have rules that I believe in, for good or ill.  Not the poly/cotton restriction.  Nothing with cubits.  And not the kosher stuff, although since I’m a vegetarian, I almost keep kosher by default.  Rules like: don’t ever kiss a Republican.  That may lead to baby Republicans.  As a teacher, don’t ever meet with a parent alone.  Always have other teachers there.  It keeps everyone honest and productive.  Eat white bread only in restaurants.  Tip a dollar for a water.  It’s not the bartender’s fault you want water instead of whiskey.

Every once in a while, Americans get in a fury about putting the Ten Commandments in courthouses, in an evangelical gesture intended to prove to Jews that we have so much in common, and to show everyone else that we don’t give a damn about them.  You see, it’s not that people want to be bad.  It’s that they don’t know the rules!  Could it be, as Oprah says, that when you know better, you do better?  Or is Paul right–the good I try to do I fail to accomplish, and the evil I try to avoid I rub until I give myself a blister?  I’m more of a Paul, personally.

My students throw out some weird guesses.  Pretty standard: “Do unto others….” Nope.  My favorite was “Thou shalt keep all the other commandments.”  Cute.

A lot of people, for Lent, set up rules.  I’ve used no booze, no chocolate, no sweets.  Lent, for me, used to be about practicing self-restraint, and practicing the ritual of the season.  Rules are a good place to start.  They don’t keep you good or protect you, really, but they can set a path.  They can start, rather than end, a discussion.  Make you wonder what you’re protecting yourself from, or why you think you need to be better.

3 thoughts on “Commandments

  1. As always, you are simply insightful Elizabeth. I was contemplating out loud today about a Lenten kibosh on coffee due to my rather strong cathexis to it.

    I’m drawn particularly to your last paragraph where you mention that rules are simply a place to start, not goodness in and of themselves.

  2. Thanks, Steve. Good luck with the coffee thing. I’ve never been brave enough to try that. I am, shall we say, not a morning person. At school, my coffee cup is like my blankie. I carry it everywhere and it makes me feel better.

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