Gregg Easterbrook has an odd proposal to solve the various Ten Commandment lawsuits. He claims that there would be no Constitutional issue if Christians were willing to compromise and focus on the six commandments that Mr. Easterbrook believes Jesus valued most. However, Mr. Easterbrook apparently misunderstands the essence of the passage that he uses to illustrate his point.

Yet there is an alternative to the Ten Commandments--namely, the Six Commandments, enunciated by Jesus himself. And the Six Commandments could hang in any public facility without jeopardizing the separation of church and state.

In the Gospel of Matthew, a man asks Jesus what a person must do to enter heaven. He answers: "Keep the commandments." The man inquires: "Which ones?" Here is how the biblical account continues: "And Jesus said, 'You shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness. Honor your father and mother. Also, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"

Debating what laws are more important than others was a long-standing exercise of the rabbinical tradition in which Jesus was educated. But in these verses, which have a parallel retelling in the Gospel of Mark, Christ is not merely offering an opinion about law. Something wholly remarkable happens--Jesus edits the commandments.

Quickly now, which commandments did he leave out? "You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourselves an idol. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God. Remember the Sabbath Day, and keep it holy." These are the commandments having to do with formal religious observance--from today's perspective, the ones that clash with the Establishment Clause. Jesus' Six Commandments make no mention of God or faith. They could be posted on public property without constitutional entanglements.

Mr. Easterbrook very conveniently decides not to include the entirity of the account to which he is referring, which can be found here:

Matthew 19:16-22

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”

“Which ones?” the man inquired.

Jesus replied, “ ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

It should be obvious that Jesus wasn't dismissing the first four commandments; rather, he mentioned the latter six to the man first in order to set him up to face what was really hindering the man's spiritual journey. The questioning man apparently did very well obeying the commandments that instructed him in his relationships with his fellow men, but when Jesus told him to sell his goods and follow the questioner could not. Why? Because he was very rich and he had made his wealth into an idol. The rich young ruler was right with men, but he was not right with God, and when Jesus pointed this out to him he left, sad. The man knew what he had to do to fix his relationship with God, and yet he refused because of his idolatry -- which is, of course, a violation of the First and Second Commandments.

Mr. Easterbrook appears to have constructed a false God for himself, as well. Jesus did, in fact, de-emphasize the formalities of worship (particularly the forms with which the ancient Jews were familiar), but he certainly never condoned idolatry and blasphemy (remember when he cleansed the temple?). To suggest otherwise is, itself, blasphemous.

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