The Real Religious Challenge of the Second Commandment

Many people today want to post the Ten Commandments in their front yards and on courthouse lawns. They claim that, if only we would heed the decrees, the world would be a better place. The standard bearer leading this charge is the ever-present, effervescent Sarah Palin who, during an interview with Bill O’Reilly a few weeks ago, set forth her plan for salvaging America: “Go back to what our founders and founding documents meant — they’re quite clear — that we would create laws based on the God of the Bible and the Ten Commandments.”

That sounds easy enough. Ten Commandments. One for each finger. Surely, if we all could do just those 10 things, our country could get back on track.

Well, I’m a microwave kind of person. I like things that are easy to understand and simple to do, so in my last post, I suggested that we try it. We took a look at the first commandment. And, after we got beyond all of the archaic language, we discovered that the essence of the edict was all about freedom. So, it’s simple. According to Sarah Palin, what we need to do is to enact laws based on freedom and all of its many aspects. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Now, here’s the next in line, Commandment Number Two:

“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous god, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love me and keep my commandments.”

Geez. If this decree doesn’t conjure up visions of thunderbolts and lightning, I don’t know what does. But stay with me here. Let’s break it down.

First of all, it says not to make for yourself an idol. My dictionary defines an idol as: “an image, form or object of excessive devotion or admiration.”

Does this mean that I have to take down my posters of Ashton Kutcher and George Clooney? Because, let me tell you, those are definitely images of excessive devotion and admiration. Well, this credo basically says, “Don’t make any images of anything!” So, yes, the posters have to go.

But, wait a minute. Aren’t all of the things that we call “our life” images, forms or objects of excessive devotion or admiration? I love my house and my car. I’m devoted to my job, my family, my church and my country. All of those things could be classified as idols. Why would we want to enact laws opposed to being devoted to any aspect of our lives? Most importantly, how could a law against excessive devotion to images, forms or objects help America to be a better country?

In an age of Facebook “like” buttons, American Idols, and, dare I say, Dancing With The Stars, implementing this decree hardly sounds feasible or even desirable. Maybe we should all just agree that this commandment was addressed to a nomadic tribe of people during a superstitious and primal time of history. After all, they were the ones who melted down all of their gold (can you imagine?) and built a golden calf. Mesmerized by the glittery bovine, they danced around it and proclaimed it to be their new god.

So Moses told them not to do that. Why? Because God gets jealous. Oh, the J-word. Jealousy. Not a very attractive trait and certainly not a fitting attribute for The Most Holy. And the truth is God is not jealous of anyone or anything and is not about to explode into a Supernatural Tizzy Fit. Sure, that’s dramatic and would be fun to watch, kind of like a catfight in the cafeteria. But that whole idea is — how can I say it politely? — inaccurate.

The first meaning of the word jealous is “watchful or solicitous.” Solicitous means “showing care, or concern.” Basically, the Universe is paying attention. It’s a cause and effect type thing.

Follow this through. The First Commandment reminded the people that they were free. Free at last! Do you really think this second decree is putting the kibosh on the party? Au contraire.

It’s really telling them to keep expanding on their freedom. Don’t be static. Don’t be enthralled by what you’ve placed on the altar and exalted as the be all and end all. Keep moving forward because there’s more, oh, so much more. That’s what free people do. They change, they adapt, they integrate, they innovate, they do all of that wonderfully exciting stuff.

So, what kind of law could be enacted based on this ancient text? Well, I’d venture to guess that Commandment Two probably isn’t among those that Sarah is hoping to implement. But it does challenge each one of us to have a clear vision, one that’s not blurred by limiting perceptions about life and how to live it. It encourages us to embrace the march of freedom — yours, mine and everyone’s. Republican, Democrat, Green or Tea, we can all positively affect our world by allowing space for the pursuit of happiness in this generation and in generations to come.

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