They're meant to be the divine words of god, handed down from on high by a perfect, unchanging, omnipotent godhead who chose them as the ultimate rules for human life. In fact many Christians claim that the ten commandments are the basis for Western law and morality. They're absolutely perfect!
Now ignoring the fact that actually Hellenic law and morality is as much the basis for Western law and morality as anything else, I think there's a case to be made that the ten commandments are anything BUT perfect. In fact I think you can prove that comic books offer a more interesting, complex and practical guide to moral thought than the ten commandments could ever provide.
Hey, why don't we do that right now?
|You might be able to detect some evidence|
that this is a second-hand copy on the cover.
(Classics Illustrated #135, writer Lorenz Graham, artist Norman Nodel.)
|Good god, who can even read all that? We|
need to break this up into bite-sized chunks.
First there's these three:
|Three times the bragging for your pleasure!|
|Yahweh really wants you to remember that sabbath!|
|Hercules: Also awesome.|
(Incredible Hercules #128, written by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente,
art by Dietrich Smith and Terry Pallot)
|Woo! Go Yahweh. You're|
my hero! Pffft.
|I'm not sure that promise of long life is very realistic|
either, just so you know.
|Y'know come to think of it, the bible is generally|
pretty quiet on how to deal with yellow peril villains.
Doesn't even suggest making them green.
(Cover by John Buscema and Al Milgrom.)
This idea that you need to choose the path that is right, not the path that your parents pick out for you is completely at odds with Yaweh's supposed divine law. Would Christians consider Shang-Chi noble or just if he became a murderous assassin, just like his father wanted? I don't think most of them would -- and yet that's just want the fifth commandment is asking you to think.
|Yes, I edited the panel layouts on Jack Kirby art. I'm horrible.|
(Fantastic Four #8,words by Stan Lee, art by Jack Kirby.)
This is complex stuff, guys. Sure, the comic book scenario is fanciful, filled with time travel and dark government conspiracies, but the core problem of having to choose between parents is a very common one for children in our modern society. The commandments were written a very long ago, and are just not complex enough to deal with modern family dynamics.
|Detailed laws for a complex world!|
Imagine this scenario -- you're attacked by a man pretending to be a priest or a monk. The man tries to stab you and you somehow manage to turn the tables on them and incapacitate them. The man is now at your mercy, completely bound and helpless. This guy is a ruthless killer who was willing to stab you to death for the money in your pockets. In fact, you're positive you're not his first victim; there's been others. Is it okay for you to kill this man so he won't ever kill again? Is it okay to kill a helpless, bound man just because you know he's a killer himself?
Well, we all know the answer to that -- of course it's not okay. You call the police! You don't take justice into your own hands!
But what if the same scenario took place several hundred years ago, would it have been okay to kill this fake clergyman then? Can't imagine that scenario as easily? Well here's a visual aide:
|Man, that "Next Week" caption is hilariously dark.|
(Prince Valiant #319, by Hal Foster)
|A "Hermit" in this sense is actually kind of a proto-monk.|
(Prince Valiant #320)
But wasn't he governed by the same ten commandments as us? Did "Thou shalt not kill" really mean something that different back then?
|Thinking and reacting help you survive? See? I told you comics |
teach you important stuff about life!
(Leatherneck Raiders #1, Writer Gary Friedrich, artist Dick Ayers.)
Some translations change ‘Thou shalt not kill’ to ‘Thou shalt not murder’. This introduces some nuance to the issue (like basically excusing the soldiers in war), but doesn't solve it completely. Remember back to our Prince Valiant example? Is what he did there murder or criminal justice? It would certainly be considered murder if the Punisher did exactly the same thing for exactly the same reasons.
It all comes back to the lack of detail in this commandment. Just changing "kill" to "murder" doesn't fix things because you still need to clearly define what murder is. That puts you squarely back in the realms of common law -- with its strong definitions that are constantly being carefully refined through the judicial process -- rather than divine law.
Okay, I'm moving onto the next one.
|I'm betting Zeus wouldn't support this commandment.|
|Wondering why I called this rape? Then you've|
probably forgotten what we said about Archie and kissing.
(From IDW's Archie's Sunday Finest collection
art and story by Bob Montana)
|He forgot the part where it's okay to steal ideas|
and culture from the Sumerians.
|Gone! Gone! The form of man! Rise the... uhh... Prince Valiant.|
(From Prince Valiant by Hal Foster and The Demon by Jack Kirby.)
|Man. I wonder where that idea came from...|
(Fantastic Four #91, written by Stan Lee, art by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott)
|"Hero"? Shouldn't that be, "Soldier"?|
(Incredible Hulk #286, words Bill Mantlo, art Sal Buscema and Kim DeMulder.)
|The red-faced apology for stealing from Harlan Ellison,|
from Incredible Hulk #289.
|Even in the jungle Whitey gets all the breaks!|
(From The Beachcomber by Lee Falk and Ray Moore)
What about people who benefit from stealing? Earlier in the commandments god rambles on about cursing people for the crimes of their fathers. Does that extend to things like stealing, or does it only count when you're talking smack about Yahweh?
Scrooge McDuck financed his fortune with golden false teeth that legally belonged to someone else. Does that count as stealing? Or was it theft when the descendant of the person who owned those teeth (admittedly thanks to a scam) threatened to take Scrooge’s fortune? After all, Scrooge might have staked his fortune with those teeth, but everything he earned after that point was thanks to his own blood, sweat, and tears. Shouldn't he be able to just pay for the price of the teeth, and settle the debt?
|This always reminds me of that one Sesame Street skit.|
(From The Horse-Radish Treasure by Carl Barks)
Duck law systems are very complex and the ins and outs of legal contracts can create all kinds of wildly unfair forms of completely legal theft. Where does the divine law of Yaweh fall on this? Is the outrage Scrooge feels at the unfairness of being bound by his ancestor's actions a morally defensible response? If so, why do the commandments demand similar bondage to the actions of long-dead relatives?
|Thou shalt feel free to lie about your people ever being |
slave in Egypt though, if thou dost feel like it.
|Spidey you horrible man! |
(She-Hulk #4 (2004), written by Dan Slott, art by Juan Bobillo and Marcello Sosa)
but the fact that I am able to rewrite Yahweh's supposedly perfect laws to make them better is kinda sad. Doesn't give me much confidence in his abilities as a supreme being.
|His ass? Is this one of those anti-gay|
sections of the bible?
|Communists are all liars! So says Iron Man -- picture of honesty.|
(Tales of Suspense #46, written by Stan Lee and Robert Bernstein, art by Don Heck)
Coveting other people’s property, their wives, their ox, their servants, etc. can lead to problems, of course. If you take it too far, and devote your life to wanting other people's things it can lead to depression, and even crime. Especially if you're a beagle.
|Or at least all the stories and art created after Peter and MJ got married|
are evil and trying to condemn people to hell for her hotness.
(Amazing Spider-Man #350, art by Erik Larsen and John Romita Sr.)
|(Transformers UK #180, cover by Lee Sullivan.)|
Stories are great for modelling behaviour and for allowing you to imagine scenarios before you experience them. But in the end they’re just stories and Yaweh isn’t any more relevant in the real world than Spider-Man. Yahweh has nothing more to offer the reader than any other piece of fiction ever written, despite all the people out there telling you that the bible is some sort of divine truth.
(Just for the record, plenty of people have stolen from Kirby, Stan Lee and Bill Mantlo over the years, too.)