The Ten Commandments
A Book by Joseph Lewis
The Second Commandment
... chapter continued from previous file ...
Shadows, Reflections and Images
"Shadows" and "reflections" are closely associated with images under the belief in sympathetic magic and animism, and have exercised a tremendous superstitious influence upon primitive mentality. [*42] It was thought that the person whose shadow was trampled upon would suffer some injury. This superstition grew from the belief that the shadow was a reflection of the soul.
In the Island Wetar, it is believed that a person can be made ill by stabbing his shadow. Among the Tolindoos of Central Celebes, to tread on a man's shadow is an offense because it is supposed to make the owner sick. The Ottawa Indians thought they could kill a man by making certain figures on his shadow. The Baganda of Central Africa regarded a man's shadow as his ghost, and would attempt to kill their enemies by stabbing or treading on their shadows. The Caffres avoid having their shadows touched for fear of the evil consequences. Among certain primitive tribes, it is the custom to avoid being seen in daylight for fear of injury through the medium of the shadow. Others avoid having their shadows fall upon the foundation of a building they are engaged in erecting for fear that it will bring sickness to the owner or occupants. In Darfur, people think that they can do an enemy to death by burying a certain root in the earth on the spot where the shadow of his head happens to fall. It was believed among the people of Arabia that if a hyena trod on a man's shadow, he would lose the power of speech and motion. [*43]
Among the Caffre tribe, it was believed that the shadow of a tree felt the touch of a man's foot; and in the Punjab it was believed that if the shadow of a pregnant woman fell on a snake, it would blind the creature instantly. It was also believed that to overshadow the king by standing in his presence was an offense meriting instant death.
In the central provinces of India, a pregnant woman avoids the shadow of a man, believing that if it falls on her, the child will resemble him. The Bushman is most careful not to let his shadow fall on dead game, as he thinks this would bring bad luck. An Australian native is said nearly to have died of fright because the shadow of his mother-in-law fell on his legs as he lay asleep under a tree. [*44] The savage Besisis of the Malay Peninsula fear to bury their dead at noon, because they fancy that the shortness of their shadows at that hour would sympathetically shorten their own lives. [*45]
At funerals in China, before the coffin is shut, bystanders retire from the room for fear that their shadows will be enclosed in the coffin and they will suffer ill health as a result. In savage tribes it is the rule to avoid the shadow of those persons who are regarded as sources of dangerous influence. The Shuswap Indian thinks that the shadow of a mourner falling on a person will make him sick.
In Bimo, a district in the East Indian island of Sambawa, it is the custom to bury a man's shadow when a new building is erected. This is a survival of the custom of burying a live man in the belief that it will add strength to the building. The shadow, being considered his soul, is measured and preserved. [*46] In one instance, the shadow was worshiped as a god.
When the Motumotu of New Guinea first saw their likenesses in a looking glass, they thought that the reflections were their souls. Among the Galelareese, girls and boys must not look into a mirror for fear that it will take away the bloom of youth. The Zulus will not look into a dark pool for fear that a beast will steal their likeness and they will die. Even today many superstitious mothers object strenuously to having their children look into the mirror.
The Basatos believe that crocodiles have the power of killing a man by dragging his reflection under water. In Saddle Island, Melanesia, there is a pool supposedly inhabited by a malignant spirit. Those who gaze into it are sure to die, runs the belief, because of the disappearance of their reflection in the water. [*47]
Clemens of Alexandrinus was of the opinion that ladies broke the Second Commandment by using looking glasses as they thereby made images of themselves. [*48] This sympathetic relationship with the reflection is probably the origin of the belief that if you break a mirror it will shatter your own fortune as it has shattered your likeness.
These superstitious beliefs, in addition to explaining the prohibitions of making graven images, also account for the custom of covering up mirrors or turning them to the wall after the death of a member of the household. It is feared that the soul, projected out of the person in the shape of his reflection in the mirror, may be carried off by the ghost of the departed, commonly supposed to linger about the house till the burial. It is a common belief that if a person sees his image in a mirror after a death, he will soon die himself.
Not only among the Hebrews today, but also among peasants of Germany, Belgium, England and France, the custom prevails of either turning mirrors to the wall or covering them with cloth after a person has died. Nor is this superstitious belief confined only to mirrors; it is extended to all shiny articles and particularly clocks and windows.
In the opinion of a sect known as the Raskolniks, the mirror is considered an accursed thing, invented by the devil.
Because of this very Commandment, there are thousands of Christians who even today refuse to have their pictures taken, standing in mortal fear of the consequences. This is also true of many natives within our own sphere of travel. Recently, on a visit to the island of Haiti, I wanted to take the picture of a family group particularly representative of the island. The mother clutched her children in terror lest evil befall them if photographed. Nor is this prevalent only among the Haitians. Women of the Carpathus in the Greek Islands refuse to have likenesses made of them, fearing that it will cause them to pine away and die. The superstition still prevails in certain parts of Germany that if you have your portrait painted you will surely die; [*49] while in the west of Scotland there are many who claim they have never had a day's health after being photographed! [*50]
The Tepehuances of Mexico believe that he who takes your picture and possesses your image has the power of life and death over your person. Villagers of Skihim believe that if their pictures are taken they give away their souls. Ethiopian tribesmen of French Somaliland believe that they will "lose their souls" if they are photographed. Recently a Paramount News cameraman was beaten and his camera smashed because he tried to take pictures of some officials. [*51] A group of Mennonite families who sought to leave the country were in a dilemma because of their refusal to take passport pictures. [*52]
As with images, so with shadows and reflections. If a shadow was the cause of so much concern, we can now understand with what trepidation an image was held in awe by the primitive mind.
What has been the effect of this Commandment on those who came under its influence? What has been the result of its observance? What of its violation?
Iconoclastic Fanaticism and Idolatry
When Christianity came into power, the era that was to be known as the Dark Ages began. Not only were the cultures of Greece and Rome destroyed, but with them went every vestige of that high civilization which is still the envy of the modern world.
Art was not exempt from the blind fury of this religious madness. The magnificent statues and paintings of Greece were irretrievably lost when this Second Commandment became the guiding influence under the new dispensation. Every known piece of art was destroyed as a "graven image," and the few statues that we possess today as the valuable heritage of that Golden Age were preserved not because of, but in spite of Christianity. These were buried deep in the earth to avoid the destructive onslaught which was believed to be the most solemn duty of every faithful believer.
The early Church Fathers condemned the making of images and image worship in accordance with the provisions of this Commandment. It was Celsus who said that the Christians "could not tolerate either temples, altars or images." Origen stated that it was on the basis of this very Commandment that Christians abhorred all worship and use of images, and added that "it is not possible at the same time to know God and to address prayers to images."
In Canon XXXVI, of the Synod of Elvira (A.D. 300), we read:
"It is ordained that pictures are not to be placed in churches, nor is that which is worshipped and adored to be painted on the walls."
St. Augustine, who denounced the heathen for justifying his worship of an image by claiming that he worshiped what the image represented and not the image itself, replied, "He who worships an image turns the truth of God into a lie." [*53]
So for the first five centuries of the Christian era the art of the preceding civilizations was destroyed because making and worshiping images was prohibited as provided by this Commandment. It was considered obnoxious and repulsive to make representations of Jesus nailed to an instrument of punishment. The cross as a religious symbol was unknown until the time of Constantine. In art, it was rarely used except for decorative purposes. [*54]
The early Church Fathers regarded the cross as a sacred talisman possessing remarkable efficacy in producing miraculous results. It has since become a fetish in Catholic dogma. In addition to its use as the crucifix, the sign of the cross was instituted as part of the Catholic ritual, not only as a reminder of holy recollections and as a mark of reverence, but also as a means of supernatural protection. [*55] It became an obsession to such an extent that the cross was seen in every form of life: the shape of man, the mast on a ship, the plow, the hoe, the spade and even the face.
The temptation to picture Jesus on the cross became stronger as the prohibitions became weaker. For the first five centuries of Christianity, a lamb was the symbol of the Christian creed, proving that it was a religion based upon a blood sacrifice. The sadistic impulses produced by a religion that was founded on the belief in a revengeful god who demanded blood sacrifice were beginning to manifest themselves.
The realistic picture painted by the early Christian preacher of the crucifixion of Jesus, with his hands and feet nailed to the cross, his head mutilated by a crown of thorns, and his agonized face stained with blood, was becoming too vivid to remain only in the imagination. In one breath the early Christian Fathers thundered forth their denunciation of the Hebrews for their alleged crime of killing Jesus, and in the next they went into unrestrained ecstasy in praise of their brutal God who permitted the sacrifice of "his only-begotten Son" as an expiation for the sins of mankind.
After destroying "the glory that was Rome and the grandeur that was Greece," the sadism of the Christian religion triumphed over the superstitious stupidity of the Hebrew ritual.
The doctrine of image worship, however, was not finally adopted without a bitter struggle as there arose within the Church a powerful group which opposed it as a heathenish rite. They were called the Iconoclasts, or image breakers. So violent was the dispute that Emperor Leo III issued an edict declaring images to be idols and forbidden by the Commandment as recorded in Exodus, Chapter 20, verses 4 and 5, and ordered all such images in churches to be destroyed. [*56]
Those who reverted to idolatry won the battle. The Church considers this victory of such great significance that a day was set aside to perpetuate the memory of the event. It is called the "Feast of Orthodoxy," and is celebrated on the first Sunday of Lent. Later, it was broadened to include all victories of the Church over heresies. [*57]
In the year A.D. 692, the crucifix was officially authorized by the Council of Constantinople to be the symbol of Christianity: "hereafter instead of the Lamb, the human figure of Christ shall be set up on the images." [*58] Thus began the worship of images that was destined to become inextricably woven and interwoven into the ritual and tenets of the Catholic dogma of salvation.
Image worship was settled as a Christian doctrine in the year 787. The Council of Nicea was convened by the Empress Irene, who was acclaimed by it as a model of Christian virtue and devotion. In addition to being an ardent image worshiper, she murdered her husband, provoked her son to blind and mutilate his uncles, and finally plotted the death of this very son in the bedchamber in which she gave him birth. [*59]
What the Catholic Church condemned as idolatry in the heathen who "in his blindness bows down to wood and stone" it now, with sanctimonious approval, claims as an act of piety. There is, however, one important difference between the two. The "heathen" worshiped images because of ignorance and fear, while image worship by the Catholic Church is a piece of rank imposture. It made the worship and adoration of images a commercially profitable proposition. To disregard the provisions of this Commandment in the pursuit of artistic endeavors and the development of art as a medium of expression, is quite different from making gruesome and grotesque statues to awe and terrify the credulous and the ignorant for a fraudulent purpose. The Catholic Church violated the provisions of this Commandment not for the sake of art, but for profit; while debasing art, it put a price tag upon religion.
During the Middle Ages, this practice became so profitable that despite outspoken opposition and condemnation, a leading abbot, when confronted by a monk who had a dream in which he was lashed for his worship of the image of Mary and Jesus, issued this peremptory reply: "Better that you visit every brothel in Jerusalem than abandon this worship." [*60]
While the Reformation destroyed the strangle hold of Catholicism on the world, it brought with it a destructive influence on art by its very reversion to the strict interpretation of this Commandment. It would be unfair to castigate Catholicism for its detrimental influence on art because of its resort to image worship, and not condemn Protestant Christianity for returning to the literal provisions of this Commandment. Although the latter deserves credit for its efforts to destroy idolatrous worship in the Church, it deserves no praise for the purpose which prompted those efforts.
After the Reformation, there was a revival of the earlier sect of Iconoclasts whose destruction of images in churches became part and parcel of a holy crusade for emancipation from all things connected with Romanism. Fanaticism born of religion, however, has no sense of value. It is just as likely to destroy the good as the bad, to believe the false as the true. Under the heading of "monuments of superstition," beautiful and perfectly innocent statues and pictures were ruthlessly destroyed at the same time that miserable images of idolatrous worship were demolished. [*61]
The first objects of the fury of the Iconoclasts were the statues of the Virgin Mary. With obscene imprecations, they dragged them down, plunged daggers into their inanimate bodies, broke the figures into a thousand pieces, and scattered the fragments along the floors of the churches. Next in line were the statues of Christ, which were wrenched from their places in the churches by ropes and pulleys and shattered. In the choir of one of the Dutch churches, rising three hundred feet above the altar, was a figure representing the body of Christ. It was pulled down, broken with sledge hammers, and trampled into a pulverized mass.
The more statues the infuriated Iconoclasts found, the stronger became their lust for destruction. Every image of the Virgin, every crucifix, every sculptured saint met the fury of their wrath. Hardly a statue or picture escaped destruction. It was a holy war with only one object -- the destruction of graven images. But despite their mad fury, not a single person was harmed nor a single article stolen. [*62] The destroyers were the disciples and defenders of this Commandment, and their acts were a proclamation of its triumph!
Some idea of the fanaticism that prevailed in this matter may be gathered from the "Acts of the General Assembly," July 29, 1640. At a meeting in Aberdeen, there was passed an "Act anent the demolishing the Idolatrous manuments," and worded as follows:
"Forasmuch as the Assembly is informed that in divers places of this kingdom, and specially in the North parts of the same, many idolatrous manuments, erected and made for religious worship, are yet extant, such as crucifixes, images of Christ, Mary and the saints departed, ordaines and said manuments to be taken down, demolished and destroyed, and that with all convenient diligence." [*63]
The influence of this Commandment upon art was threefold. In Christianity it was responsible for the fanatical destruction of art on the one hand, and the prostitution of art on the other. Among the Hebrews it completely destroyed all artistic expression, and is a direct cause for their gloomy outlook on life. Not until the Hebrews began to assimilate alien cultures, particularly those of Greece and the Western nations, were they liberated from the slavery of their creed, which permitted the flowering of natural artistic gifts. The progress and development of the Hebrew people during the past century and their notable contribution to the arts and the sciences are not due to their observance of this Commandment, but to their emancipation from it.
What kind of God is it that would deprive man of the pleasure that comes from artistic expression? To worship a God, must man refrain from picturing the majesty of the rising sun, lose forever the beauty of the full-blown rose, never retain the tender smile of a mother, the loving eyes of a wife and the dimpled cheeks of children? Must these precious things be as ephemeral as the winds because of a tyrant in the sky? To deprive man of the pleasure that comes from the creation of the labor of hand and mind is to murder the joy of living, and kill his ambition to advance. To possess the power to express his aspirations in art, and then be forced to suppress this rare ability on penalty of damnation, is like murdering a child in embryo. What kind of God is it that would murder the nearest thing to what we call the "soul" in man?
A Threat and a Promise
Before discussing the rewards and punishments provided by this Commandment, I should like to quote some additional Biblical passages, re-emphasizing the importance of the observance of these provisions of the Decalogue imposed on the Children of Israel by the Bible Deity. The reiteration of these prohibitions shows them to be an integral part of the primitive culture of the ancient Hebrew tribe, and accounts for the inclusion of these superstitious taboos in the basic law governing their conduct. I quote the Book of Leviticus, Chapter 26, verse 1 (the caption at the beginning of the chapter reads: "Israel's obedience is to be rewarded" and "Israel's iniquity to be punished").
1. Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am the Lord your God.
The above verse repeats the warning contained in the Second Commandment and elaborates on the nature of images. Here, as a further explanation, the worshiper is admonished to make "no idols, nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall you set up any image of stone in your land."
Leviticus, Chapter 26, verses 2 to 13:
2. Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord.
3. If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them;
5. And your threshing shall reach unto the vintage, and the vintage shall reach unto the sowing time: and ye shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely.
6. And I will give peace in the land, and ye shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid: and I will rid evil beasts out of the land, neither shall the sword go through your land.
7. And ye shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword.
8. And five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight: and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword.
9. For I will have respect unto you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you, and establish my covenant with you.
10. And ye shall eat old store, and bring forth the old because of the new.
11. And I will set my tabernacle among you: and my soul shall not abhor you.
12. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people.
13. I am the Lord your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that ye should not be their bondmen; and I have broken the bands of your yoke, and made you go upright.
If the Children of Israel observe the provisions of this Commandment, keep the Sabbath, and "walk in my statutes and keep my Commandments," then this Bible God will give them peace and courage, and drive out evil beasts from among them, and their enemies shall fall by the sword, and five Israelites will be able to chase a hundred, and a hundred will be able to put ten thousand to flight, and there shall be perfect seasons for harvest, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. That seems a fair bargain: the terms are plain and definite, the conditions not impossible to observe. Before we see what results follow, there is a warning against disobedience. I quote Leviticus, Chapter 26, verses 14 to 17:
15. And if ye shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but that ye break my covenant:
16. I also will do this unto you; I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart: and ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it.
17. And I will set my face against you, and ye shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you; and ye shall flee when none pursueth you.
This Bible God negates all his fair promises to the Children of Israel if they fail to observe the Commandments. Instead of chasing their enemies, it will be the enemies who will chase the Hebrews if their Deity sets his face against them. But that is not all.
I quote Leviticus, Chapter 26, verse 18:
18. And if ye will not yet for all this hearken unto me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins.
The figure seven, mentioned here for the first time, has superstitious significance for the Bible Hebrew. It would appear that to punish the Children of Israel only once would have been sufficient, but so determined was this God to wreak vengeance upon them for their disobedience that their punishment was to be multiplied seven times!
Now what were these punishments that were to be sevenfold? I quote Leviticus, Chapter 26, verses 19 and 20:
19. And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass:
20. And your strength shall be spent in vain: for your land shall not yield her increase, neither shall the trees of the land yield their fruits.
To destroy the courage and energy of a people is indeed a severe penalty, but in addition thereto God will "make your heaven as iron and your earth as brass." That is, the earth shall prove barren and fruitless, and all "your strength shall be spent in vain." It is difficult to conceive of a greater punishment. But there is more in Leviticus, Chapter 26, verses 21 and 22:
21. And if ye walk contrary unto me, and will not hearken unto me; I will bring seven times more plagues upon you according to your sins.
22. I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number; and your high ways shall be desolate.
If the Children of Israel continue to "walk contrary unto me, and will not hearken unto me, I will bring seven times more plagues upon you according to your sins," so says this God of the Bible, and proceeds to elaborate upon the details of the plagues he will send. Let me repeat what he will do: wild beasts will rob them of their children and destroy their cattle, their highways shall be desolate, and they shall be few in number! But this is not all! I quote Leviticus, Chapter 26, verses 23 to 26:
23. And if ye will not be reformed by me by these things, but will walk contrary unto me;
24. Then will I also walk contrary unto you, and will punish you yet seven times for your sins.
25. And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall avenge the quarrel of my covenant: and when ye are gathered together within your cities, I will send the pestilence among you; and ye shall he delivered into the hand of the enemy.
26. And when I have broken the staff of your bread, ten women shall bake your bread in one oven, and they shall deliver you your bread again by weight: and ye shall eat, and not be satisfied.
And if the Children of Israel continue to "walk contrary" to him, he will "walk contrary" to them. I do not know whether he means he will walk on one side of the street while they walk on the other side and go in opposite directions from each other like two small school children who have had a recent quarrel. It is just about as sensible. But, in addition, the Israelites will be punished "seven times for your sins." And what are they? I quote Leviticus, Chapter 26, verses 27 to 29:
27. And if ye will not for all this hearken unto me, but walk contrary unto me;
28. Then I will walk contrary unto you also in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins.
29. And ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat.
If the Children of Israel continue to walk on the opposite side of the street to this God, he will not only continue his contrary walking, but -- and here is a significant statement -- he will "walk contrary to you also in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins." Here we have a damaging admission: the acknowledged fury of this Bible God and his resort to chastisement to secure obedience to his Commandment. This is the monstrous part of the whole system of religion based upon the belief in such a God. And what will that chastisement be? "Ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat." Even a cannibal would hesitate to inflict such a punishment, and yet this God wants slavish obedience. But that is still not all.
Leviticus, Chapter 26, verse 30:
30. And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your images, and cast your carcasses upon the carcasses of your idols, and my soul shall abhor you.
This verse deserves an individual comment because it specifically deals with the making of images and the intensity of the hatred of the Bible God for such a practice: not only will he abhor you with all his soul, but he will cast your carcasses upon the carcasses of your idols which you so arrogantly presumed to make. But that is still not all. Leviticus, Chapter 26, verses 31 to 39:
31. And I will make your cities waste, and bring your sanctuaries unto desolation, and I will not smell the savour of your sweet odours.
32. And I will bring the land into desolation: and your enemies which dwell therein shall be astonished at it.
33. And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste.
34. Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemies' land; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy her sabbaths.
35. As long as it lieth desolate it shall rest; because it did not rest in your sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it.
36. And upon them that are left alive of you I will send a faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies; and the sound of a shaken leaf shall chase them; and they shall flee, as fleeing from a sword; and they shall fall when none pursueth.
37. And they shall fall one upon another, as it were before a sword, when none pursueth: and ye shall have no power to stand before your enemies.
38. And ye shall perish among the heathen, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up.
39. And they that are left of you shall pine away in their iniquity in your enemies' lands; and also in the iniquities of their fathers shall they pine away with them.
In verse 32, quoted above, it is stated that the land of the Israelites will be brought "into desolation" and that their "enemies which dwell therein shall be astonished at it." The astonishment is that people today still believe in this monstrous Bible Deity and hold sacred the book in which these frightful maledictions are recorded as an inspired work.
A God who will kill nearly all of a nation and cause the few that are left alive to be so weakened with "a faintness into their hearts" that the "sound of a shaken leaf shall chase them ... as fleeing from a sword; and they shall fall when none pursueth," is the cherished Deity of the Children of Israel.
Surely this is reversing the order of the blessing by seven times, and with a vengeance. Remember that "five Israelites were to chase a hundred, and a hundred ten thousand." Now their strength was to be so sapped that a mere leaf was to frighten them as if defenseless before an onrushing army; and "they shall fall upon one another, as it were before a sword," and "shall have no power to stand before your enemies." But if, after all this, they are willing to perform the provisions of the Commandments ... I quote again -- Leviticus, Chapter 26, verses 40 to 46:
40. If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against me, and that also they have walked contrary unto me;
41. And that I also have walked contrary unto them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity:
42. Then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land.
43. The land also shall be left of them, and shall enjoy her sabbaths, while she lieth desolate without them: and they shall accept of the punishment of their iniquity; because, even because they despised my judgments, and because their soul abhorred my statutes.
44. And yet for all that, when they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant with them: for I am the Lord their God.
45. But I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the heathen, that I might be their God: I am the Lord.
46. These are the statutes and judgments and laws, which the Lord made between him and the children of Israel in mount Sinai by the hand of Moses.
It cannot be denied that the Children of Israel faithfully performed the tenets of their religion and scrupulously observed the provisions of these Commandments under the most adverse conditions and the severest kind of persecution. Nor was this merely temporary devotion on their part. Through the ages they have shown their loyalty and devotion to their God and his Commandments in the face of torture upon torture, sacrificing their all in the hope of fulfillment of his promises.
What were the results? What have the Children of Israel gained for scrupulously obeying their God and observing these Commandments?
Glorified Punishment and Perverted Justice
The Second Commandment as recorded in the Douay Version of the Bible reads as follows:
Thou shalt not have strange gods before me. Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth.
Thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them: I am the Lord thy God, mighty, jealous, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me:
And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. [**64]
In the last two lines quoted above, there is a solemn promise by the Bible God to those who faithfully keep his Commandments. The value of a promise depends upon its fulfillment. Moral integrity is a jewel of far greater value than precious stones. It is the very cornerstone of an ethical philosophy. Consistency is of a "true-fix'd and resting quality" for which there is no greater "fellow in the firmament." If a precept is formulated; if conditions of performance are prescribed; if punishment is provided for violation, and reward for observance; and then no effort made either to enforce its provisions, punish its violators, or reward its observers, what moral or ethical value can such a precept have?
A regulation which is not enforced is completely valueless, and if its violation is regarded with indifference, insolent disregard is naturally encouraged. To reward those who violate the law and punish those who obey it is a prostitution of justice. A rule the value of which lies in its breach rather than in its observance, does not possess the slightest ethical value, and makes its repeal morally obligatory.
Let me repeat the words of this Commandment, which distinctly specifies and enumerates the things to be done and how they are to be observed. The Bible Deity demands:
"Thou shalt not have strange gods before me. Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth. Thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them...."
Here are very definite and specific orders: their meaning is unequivocal and they do not admit of a different interpretation. There can be no exceptions or modifications. They are absolute and peremptory, and leave only the alternative of observing or violating them, to be rewarded for the former or punished for the latter.
What are the facts? Have those who have observed this Commandment been rewarded, and have those who are guilty of violating it been punished? Let us see.
The Roman Catholic Church has defied the command that "thou shalt not have strange gods in my sight" by substituting the worship of Jesus Christ as God in place of the Bible Deity. It has made graven images of him, and not only have its devotees adored them and served them by supplication and prayer and adoration, but they still do. It has made graven images of Mary -- the "mother of God" -- and not only have its devotees adored them and served them by supplication and prayer and adoration, but they still do. It has made graven images of the saints "in the heavens above" and "on the earth beneath," and not only have its devotees adored them and served them by supplication and prayer, but they still do. It has made graven images of things "in the waters under the earth," and not only have its devotees adored them and served them by supplication and prayer, but they still do.
The Catholic Church has done these things not only in defiance of this Commandment, but for the sole purpose of perpetuating idolatry as a means of exploiting the ignorant and the credulous.
From the point of view of this Commandment, the Catholic Church is twice guilty, for it uses the things prohibited for a purpose directly opposite to that for which they were forbidden. Has it been punished for this crime?
It is known that at one time the Catholic Church was the most powerful organization on earth. It enjoyed absolute domination over hundreds of millions of people. It possessed wealth beyond calculation. Rulers of nations were subservient to its will. Slave and potentate bowed the knee in subjection to it. If an all-powerful God wanted to confer his "kindness" and "blessings," as a manifestation of his "love," he could not have done it with a greater degree of generosity than to the Catholic Church. Even today, despite its diminishing power, it still possesses great wealth. If this was "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me" and "who did not keep my Commandments," then truly this is the quintessence of glorified punishment.
Our concern for the moment is not, however, so much the use of idolatrous worship in the ritual of the Catholic Church in violation of this Commandment, but rather the truthfulness of the words of this Commandment. Since we have seen what has happened to those who violated its provisions, let us see what fortune has been bestowed on those who have accepted this Commandment and sought to observe its tenets to the very letter.
The plight of the Children of Israel during the past nineteen centuries has not been due to their desertion of their God. They did not abandon him to worship another God, nor did they flout his Commandments. With every cause to repudiate him, they have continued to worship him even more blindly and more fervently than ever before; in fact, too blindly and too fervently for their own welfare. The reward "heaped" upon them for their loyalty might well be termed perverted justice, as we shall see.
... chapter continued on next file ...
The e-text conversion and critical editing of this book is copyright ©1998 by Cliff Walker. The text is watermarked. If you intend to commercialize on this book in any way, please do your own e-text conversion work. This is a labor of love, honoring the role that the works of Joseph Lewis have played in my life and in the hope that the unique presentation of Joseph Lewis's works, available only on Positive Atheism, will bring the dignity to the Positive Atheism project that only this unique presentation of the writings of Joseph Lewis can bring. We hope that our readers, supporters, friends, and others can understand and appreciate the role that this -- privilege -- of being able to present the Joseph Lewis material brings to the people who have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to make Positive Atheism's online presentation possible.