Saturday, March 06, 2010

Christopher Hitchens rewrites the Ten Commandments

The kicker:

It’s difficult to take oneself with sufficient seriousness to begin any sentence with the words “Thou shalt not.” But who cannot summon the confidence to say: Do not condemn people on the basis of their ethnicity or color. Do not ever use people as private property. Despise those who use violence or the threat of it in sexual relations. Hide your face and weep if you dare to harm a child. Do not condemn people for their inborn nature—why would God create so many homosexuals only in order to torture and destroy them? Be aware that you too are an animal and dependent on the web of nature, and think and act accordingly. Do not imagine that you can escape judgment if you rob people with a false prospectus rather than with a knife. Turn off that fucking cell phone—you have no idea how unimportant your call is to us. Denounce all jihadists and crusaders for what they are: psychopathic criminals with ugly delusions. Be willing to renounce any god or any religion if any holy commandments should contradict any of the above. In short: Do not swallow your moral code in tablet form.

I do hope that Christopher Hitchens is not going to become one of those acerbic types who, as he enters old age, becomes violently bitter and sour because the passing parade just doesn't seem that funny to him anymore. This piece seems jocular enough, but I'm just wondering...

Here's his argument in shorter if more flippant terms:

Gentleness and cheerfulness, these come before all morality: they are the perfect duties. If your morals make you dreary, depend on it they are wrong. I do not say, "give them up," for they may be all you have; but conceal them like a vice, lest they should spoil the lives of better men.
-- Robert Louis Stevenson

The only thing about which I feel strongly enough to dispute with him is his take on the Sabbath. It isn't intended to be simply a day of inertia, but to be kept holy. Here are some quotes about the Sabbath from some famous people:

The longer I live the more highly do I estimate the Christian Sabbath, and the more grateful do I feel to those who impress its importance on the community.
--Daniel Webster

I feel as if God had, by giving the Sabbath, given fifty-two springs in every year.

He who ordained the Sabbath loves the poor.
--James Russell Lowell

To that in men which is secular and animal, Sunday says "Rest"; to that which is intellectual, moral, and social, "Grow."
--Henry Ward Beecher

I think the world of to-day would go mad, just frenzied with strain and pressure, but for the blessed institution of Sunday.
--Brooke Herford

Sunday is like a stile between the fields of toil, where we can kneel and pray, or sit and meditate.

If the Sunday had not been observed as a day of rest during the last three centuries, I have not the slightest doubt that we should have been at this moment a poorer people and less civilised.

Yes, the rest is welcome. I don't even like to go shopping on Sundays, so much do I pity the people who have to work on that day. I work some Sundays, and resent it. But a "lazy Sunday" is not the only kind of Sunday there is. The day can be quite fruitful for the spirit, if you cultivate it.


  1. Do not imagine that you can escape judgment if you rob people with a false prospectus rather than with a knife.

    From whence the judgment? From whom? And why are his "commandments" superior simply because Hitchens paraphrases "love thy neighbor as thyself"?


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