The Ten Commandments — #10

TenCommandmentsA StubbornThings Symposium   6/6/14
Introduction  •  Probably most of what I’ve learned about The Ten Commandments is from watching Charlton Heston in the movie by the same name, as well as from listening to Dennis Prager’s radio program where he has gone into great and wise detail.

The good writers and thinkers in this symposium can tell you far more about them than I can. But the central aspect that occurs to me — other than doing a useful exegesis of the Commandments themselves — is why we should even bother. Who cares, in this day and age of ever-cycling fashions and cultural fads, what someone wrote thousands of years ago?

Today, thoughts are completely disposable. If you don’t like the one rumbling around inside your head now (or that’s stuck to your back bumper), just wait, it will change — especially if someone finds it politically expedient to do so.

In a world rapidly changed by science and technology, with the emphasis on the new and the novel, with words disappearing as fast as you can hit “send,” and with ideas and language intentionally being bent for political ends — what use are old things? Old things just sit there. They can’t change with the times. They can’t defend themselves. But, perhaps like St. Thomas, a few of us here can breath life into those old things and show how they are just as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago.

That is the challenge. The other challenge is digging into the meaning of these Commandments, for the deceitful Cultural Marxists have not let religion alone and unmolested. Religion is a prime enemy of those who would run our lives from a central, all-powerful state. Many misconceptions abound and have been implanted — and believed by many devout religious people without question. After all, it says “Thou shalt not kill,” right? So therefore many good Christians know that there should be no wars and no death penalty (but somehow abortion is still okay). Or does that Commandment actually say “Thou shalt not murder?”

There is plenty of room for disagreement about the meaning of these Commandments. But there is no disagreement (at least here) that these Commandments are worth taking a second and third look at. After all, a society based upon “Thou shalt not covet” is radically different from one based upon covetousness which leads to Communistic-style forced wealth distribution.

Dennis Prager made an observation on his radio show the other day that puts these Commandments into perspective: “Do you know what the biggest difference is between a religious education and a secular education? . . . In a religious education, you are taught that the biggest battle you have is with yourself. In a secular education you are taught that your biggest battle is with society.”

One can thus see that the entire thrust of The Ten Commandments is not just a religious imperative, per se, although the Commandments certainly do represent the Judeo-Christian moral view. Those Commandments represent the very idea that man is a moral creature who comes with certain ethical responsibilities. He is not, as the Left sees him, a blank slate, helplessly and inevitably formed — for better or for worse — by his environment. He is, and must be, a proactive creature in this regard.

Blaming others, blaming “society,” just won’t cut it. The Left tends to blame poverty for the depredations of man. But the truth is that our values are what make us who we are.  We have our own stuff to work on. And these Commandments are an extremely important guide for this endeavor.

The Editor


Number 10: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.”


 

DEANA CHADWELL

Last, but not Least

The 10th  Commandment  — Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.  Exodus 20:17  (KJV) – sums up all the other commandments, yet stands apart from the other instructions in the Decalogue.

Let’s start with realizing that this set of commands were, according to Moses, who was there, scribed on the stone slabs with the “finger” of God right at the time that Israel was becoming a nation. These laws were not laws in the sense of prescribing punishments for breaking them. They are not only limits to actions, but also cover spiritual and mental attitudes – something only God would necessarily know. The Ten Commandments are the directions for forming a vital, prosperous, free nation.

How can following rules produce freedom? If we choose to police ourselves in regard to these laws, then we will have little need for government. The more we control our own attitudes, speech and behavior, the fewer laws we need.

The 10th Commandment is the most important, save the first three. Why? Because:

  • It controls all the others. Eve coveted the knowledge of God and look where that got us. If you indulge in covetousness, i.e. envy and jealousy, you are far more likely to end up killing, stealing, committing adultery, lying; we don’t do those acts without first engaging in envy. According to R. B. Theime, one of the most effective theologians of our time, there’s a distinction between envy and jealousy. Jealousy, he said, was being miserably desirous of what others had; envy was wanting to deny others their possessions, which is even worse. Both attitudes lead to sin and crime.
  • Covetousness ruins any chance we have of happiness. Nothing is more damaging to our happiness as the nasty habit of concentrating on what other people have. We are aware, those of us who spend any time on line, that bandwidth is limited. We are aware that there is only so much time in which to make our point. But we are seldom aware that each of us has a limited mental bandwidth. Thoughts take time and energy; if we squander that time and energy on hating others because they have what we want, if we wile away hours tabulating the wealth, accomplishments, relationships, and experiences of others, we have no time to notice what we have. We have no energy left for appreciating our own blessings.
  • A nation that wallows in covetousness will ruin its self. That’s what we’re seeing today. Envy is the signature policy of the Obama administration. Only those who are envious are concerned about financial equality, are willing to gin up hatred of the “1%,” are worried about “redistributing wealth” and “leveling the playing field.” These attitudes make victims out of people who could be out there striving for their American Dream; it makes villains of those who have already accomplished their dreams.

The 10th Commandment is also interesting in that it is the only commandment that is gives specific examples. Thou shalt not commit murder, or steal, or commit adultery – all simple and to the point, but No. 10 gives us lists – no coveting of our neighbor’s (those in our periphery) house, wife, servants (appliances), animals (cars) or anything that is thy neighbor’s.  There’s no wiggle room there.

Now a feminist may get all bristly over the wife being listed here. When we covet another’s wife (husband), girlfriend (boyfriend), friend – it doesn’t imply that God sees wives as property, but that those doing the coveting do. To covet someone else’s wife is to see her as nothing more than his ox or his ass (pardon the pun). We objectify persons when we add them to our want list.

Coveting also places too high an importance on ownership. As a woman I must admit to enjoying what I call museum shopping. This is not shopping for the purpose of purchasing anything – that’s no fun at all, but shopping for the joy of looking at and touching all the lovely things laid out for our admiration. It allows us to ‘shop’ in stores we can’t afford, to enjoy the beauty of things we’ll never own.

It’s fun – no decisions to be made, no money to be parted from, no debt to incur. However, I have been M-shopping with those who found the process depressing because they couldn’t buy the $10,000 hand-carved side chair or the $5,000 black diamond necklace. You see, coveting is not only bad for society, but it is bad for our happiness and unhappy citizens are bad for society.

Yes, yes, you say, but this list of rules is over 3,000 years old and pertained to a group of Jewish nomads lost in the Sinai Peninsula; what has this to do with me? This applies to us now because we are nearly drowning in envy. Paul saw this time prophetically when he wrote to Timothy, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy” (2 Tim. 3:1-2). Is that true? Is that what we’re like today? Listen to Elliot Rogers’ diatribe recorded just before he killed 6 random people. If that is any indication, we’ve arrived.

— Deana Chadwell blogs at ASingleWindow.com.

 

ANNIEL

Moses has historically been known as the Great Lawgiver for good reasons. Twice he spent time on the mountain in the presence of the Great I AM, who inscribed the law on stone tablets. In his anger at the Israelite’s fall into idolatry, Moses smashed the first tablets, had to very forcefully reorder the people and return to the mount to receive the law a second time. In an age of great violence these Commandments became the basis for law and freedom in Israel and then, with the spread of Judeo-Christian teachings, to the larger western civilization.

Today there are many people who deny the part those Commandments have played in the development of modern society and seem to hate any reference to them in the public square. In fact they must be scrubbed from sight. The very thought of The Ten Commandments is an affront to their tender sensibilities, and so they demand freedom from religion. This demand means, in their minds, that believers in the word of God must acquiesce to the total surrender of any public statement of their faith. It also means the denial and rewriting of history and the complete obliteration of the very existence of the Word of God.

Unless otherwise noted, I have decided to use the TANAKH Text:

TA=Torah;
NA= Nevi’im [The Prophets];
KH= Kethuvim [The Writings].

This version was translated in the United States from the Hebrew by The Jewish Publication Society. It’s a little different from the King James Version of the Old Testament, but I find the differences interesting, and in some instances very illuminating. Obviously translation is dependent on subjective factors that may lead to different word choices, emphasis and cultural constructs, but I like comparing those differences.

My friendly advisor in Judaic thought tells me that some more Orthodox sects of Judaism teach there are events that occur outside of time, and that the giving of the law to Moses was such an event. They also teach that all those who were, or would ever be Children of Israel were standing < i> outside of time as witnesses to God’s writing of the Law and giving it to all mankind through the Prophet Moses, son of the woman Jochebed and her husband, both of the House of Levi, who was the son of Jacob, who was the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, Father of the Faithful, whose seed is called to bless all the nations of the earth. And so the blessings begin to go forth from Sinai.

—————

This is THE TENTH COMMANDMENT as given in the TANAKH, JPS:

YOU SHALL NOT COVET YOUR NEIGHBOR’S WIFE. YOU SHALL NOT CRAVE YOUR NEIGHBOR’S HOUSE, OR HIS FIELD, OR HIS MALE OR FEMALE SLAVE, OR HIS OX, OR HIS ASS, OR ANYTHING THAT IS THY NEIGHBOR’S. Deuteronomy 5:18.

The use of the word “covet” here is given only to your neighbor’s wife, who appears to be worth more than his house in the TANAKH, while his other possessions are lumped together under the word “crave.” The two words give me very different feelings in this close context. Coveting sounds like it could be a longing from afar, almost like a “strong wish” for something, but a craving sounds beastly and uncontrollable. Once a man has used or abused his neighbor’s wife he can choose to forget about her, but he still does not own his neighbor’s physical property, and his need for that becomes insatiable.

The King James Version is different still and uses the word “desire” in relation to your neighbor’s wife. At any rate, the commandment is very clear that we are not to desire, crave, or covet our neighbor’s family (think of the stolen and abused children of today), property or goods of any kind. That should cover all the bases.

I cannot help but think that of all the commandments dealing with our relationships to our “neighbors” or fellow men, this particular one is last in order of presentation as a reminder of those already given. This one warns us to consider the beginnings of sin that lead to the greater sins, that is, in order from most serious to least: murder, adultery, stealing, and false witness, the ways we can harm our fellow humans, and we have already been told not to do those things. But all the grosser sins can be avoided if we control our appetite, our jealousy over what belongs to another. When we wake up and find ourselves taking the path of covetousness, while we still have the capability and strength to see clearly our need to repent, we must do so and stop our downward slide into those greater sins.

When we are young and often insecure, it is common to succumb to jealousy over the beauty, poise or apparent riches of others. Teenagers may feel ugly, unloved and stupid, their clothing is unfashionable, they have zits, no one will ever date them – the woes of adolescence are long. This is one of the reasons youth require much positive training and reinforcement in proper behavior. Jealousy can become addictive if it isn’t recognized while personality traits are being formed, and jealousy is the little sister of covetousness.

At any age we all need to recognize and restrain jealousy. Keeping any of The Ten Commandments takes self awareness and self control, virtues disdained in our society today. Many of our fellow beings seem to have fallen into a dangerous degree of jealously, covetousness and greater sins. This is the same course that has led to the destruction of great societies of the past.

Do not covet anything that is thy neighbor’s has political repercussions as class warfare is used to divide us as a people. Do you think a person’s money and property should be confiscated by tax policy to be given to you or anyone else? Do you really believe that redistribution of wealth is a worthy goal? Who or what fosters covetousness in certain segments of the population? Who gets to decide what you do with what you have earned? How should charity be handled, by the heavy hand of government, or by individuals acting freely out of love for their fellow men? Where is the most individual growth fostered?

It seems our national leaders themselves covet every cent, every right private citizens hold. The lust for power and the greed engendered in some citizens of our nation are appalling.

Do not covet or crave that which is not yours. Stand up straight, like free men and women. Become the kind of adults who see work itself as a blessing, who are willing to earn their own daily bread.

— Anniel is a frequent contributor to StubbornThings and suggested this symposium.

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32 Responses to The Ten Commandments — #10

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Not to cast a gloom over things, but I think we’ll be lucky to ever make to #1. There’s a lot of work involved in this quality of writing. But the intent is to do this every couple of weeks or so with the next topic being The Ninth Commandment until we get to #1. I’ve yet to check in with the other participants to see what frequency they think is best. Should we perhaps save this instead for once a month for the next nine months?

    One thing to remember is that these writers are doing this because they see a higher cause than just selling books — although I hope you all will run out and buy Linda’s latest book, if only to snub the pink mafia. And I hope Glenn, Deana, and others do indeed write a book or three and share their wisdom with the world. There’s no harm in that and much potential benefit.

    But we live in a media circus world where nothing is real and everyone has a self-serving angle. One of the naive founding principles of this site was to just do the right thing. I don’t make any money off of this. And none of these writers in this symposium are angling to get on a Fox News panel, although, again, we’d all be the better for it if they were.

    This is such an outstanding collection of essays (minus my own, but I knew I was punching above my weight) that it defies the entire gist of popular culture. Normally such quality is reserved for Premium Members if you’ll just sign on the dotted line, and certainly not for free. And yet, such a spirit is what it will take to repair this nation — each person stepping up, and not for immediate profit, but for love of liberty, for love of America, for love of Western Civilization, for love of our Constitution, and for love of God.

    With the quality of these essays, who can deny that there isn’t the spark of liberty, courage, and wisdom in the bellies of these participants? I thank them. They have already surpassed anything I had ever envisioned for this site.

    And a special thanks to Anniel who conceived of this idea regarding The Ten Commandments.

    • Brad — I would agree that slowing this down might be a good idea. As I am reading through these I want to savor and ponder each one — so many wonderful thoughts to meditate on, to digest, that I want time to do that before the next installment and I think our readers may feel the same. That way the momentum won’t swallow us. Thank you again for the opportunity and encouragement — I am amazed to be part of this.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        How does two-and-a-half to three weeks sound? This will be a bit ad hoc by the very nature of it anyway. Or should we be more organized than that? 😀

  2. pst4usa says:

    Brad, as far as punching above your weight, I will have to disagree with you on that one. I however must admit to a certain amount of this very feeling myself, (well deserved from my perspective anyway). It was an honor to be included with such a wonderful collection of authors. Thank you one and all for letting me be a very small part of this terrific project.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Right back at ya.

      Pat, I actually contacted Dennis Prager to join this list of authors. I never heard back. Even so, between you and me, he will be well represented.

      Seriously, I think I’m more of a Jewish scholar because of him than a Christian one from listening to his radio program. Maybe you could lend me of few of those mp3’s you have of his commercial courses. I think I need a refresher.

  3. Glenn Fairman says:

    this is funnnnnnnnn…..

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      And educational. I got to cheat and read all these in advance. I would read one and think, “Geez, that’s the best summary-summation of this topic that I think is possible.” And then another would come along that would enliven other aspects.

      I was particularly moved by Patricia’s very biblical and Christian approach…and you (Glenn) probably said what Pope Francis meant to say about consumerism without letting in the Communists.

      The rest are extraordinary as well. John (and his background info), Deana (excellent points about objectifying), and Pat have some amazing thoughts on the subject. And Anniel captured the essence of it all, perhaps the very reason we need to do this at all:

      Today there are many people who deny the part those Commandments have played in the development of modern society and seem to hate any reference to them in the public square.

      And I’ll pat myself on the back because I may have been the only one to mention Marxism. But rare is the day when I don’t invoke Marxism…even when pouring milk onto my Corn Flakes.

  4. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    I believe the intent of this commandment is to avoid discord in the community, discord with oneself and discord with God.

    If one covets something of one’s neighbor and acts upon this desire, discord in sown in the community.

    If one covets something of one’s neighbor, but doesn’t act on this desire, one is still stunted by the desire eating at one’s soul. To some degree, one’s life is diminished by a distraction which should not have any bearing on one’s own being. A certain amount of energy is wasted on a negative emotion.

    Finally, to covet a neighbor’s goods puts one on the wrong side of God.

  5. Timothy Lane says:

    Anniel’s analysis of the language helps explain why the Catholics actually split the 10th Amendment in 2 (the first dealing with not coveting your neighbor’s wife, the second dealing with not coveting any [other] of your neighbor’s property). I think they combine what most of us call the 1st 2 amendments, thus leaving them still with 10.

    As for Linda Harvey’s concern that wanting the same riches as your neighbor, this is only covetousness if you want theirs, not if you would like to match them. Coveting your neighbor’s property involves not only greed but malice, and I think the latter is more important.

    And, quite obviously, covetousness ranks with false accusations (bearing false witness against your neighbors, at least those who are politically incorrect) as the keys to liberal politics. This is why they hate the Ten Commandments. Of course, they’re none too happy with the religious strictures, either, since whatever gods they choose to worship (most commonly Moloch, the god of human sacrifice) have nothing to do with Yahweh. But those would be inappropriate in a secular society anyway.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      As for Linda Harvey’s concern that wanting the same riches as your neighbor, this is only covetousness if you want theirs, not if you would like to match them. Coveting your neighbor’s property involves not only greed but malice, and I think the latter is more important.

      I tried to cover some of that in my essay. It’s probably okay – it’s certainly understandable – to get a little jealous when see your neighbor driving his new BMW. But I guess as others perhaps pointed out, jealousy isn’t necessarily the same thing as coveting, nor is wanting the same things as your neighbor (keeping up with the Joneses).

      Maybe that’s splitting hairs (or hares). But one could say that the very meaning of “covet” is not jealousy or even stirrings of the competitive instinct to want to have the same thing. It’s wanting to take what the other has, a point that Pat has made to me before (if not also in his essay…I forget).

      Glenn made some excellent points (he ought to write for the pope) about the problems with commercialism, of keeping up with the Joneses. But I am quite sure his antidote for that is not Big Government but abiding by (at the very least) this 10th Commandment.

      And this makes sense because it is generally agreed by conservatives (but not by libertarians) that in order to live in a free society, we must limit ourselves. There is a personal moral element, and if we don’t put the lid on it we pave the way for Big Government to try to be our nanny.

  6. Anniel says:

    This is so wonderful, to feel the reach of each person’s thinking makes my heart sing. Yes, I think we do need time to ponder and digest what is presented. I do believe our survival is in the hands of God, and that He is still in charge. We need hope more than ever when the mirror is very dark. And yes, Glenn, this is fun.

  7. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    From Glenn’s essay:

    The Tenth Commandment, therefore, was not legislated merely to restrain cupidity, but covetousness. Both vices arise from a motivation to add to oneself; but the latter, in its fully realized form, grounds itself in something more sinister than base acquisition . . .

    Free Enterprise may be looked upon as an aggregate boon to the uplift of humanity’s material estate, but in the subterranean regions of the beast one finds Conspicuous Consumption: the desire to possess and display the finest and to be the object of another’s admiration and desire. At this end of the spectrum, the itch for human magnificence or magnanimity becomes paramount, and men rank themselves within the pecking order of homo economicus. Here, one’s station and accoutrements are to be coveted – even as one covets what is held by others further up on the treadmill. Such a worldview is founded in the spirit of spiritual dissatisfaction, as men assure themselves: “If only I had this woman or this bauble or gadget, I would be complete —at least for a time.” How many of us have dreamed over and finally acquired our “precious,” only to have soon tossed it in a drawer while setting our caps for the next in a long train of dubious treasures?

    While Capitalism might stoke the fires of inconsolable acquisition, those Social Engineers that bloom like weeds from Modernity’s lust for equality are less forthcoming in their self-appraisal. While a covetous man might have acknowledged and come to terms with his wretchedness, the Collectivist is so immersed in his project of evangelizing universal peace and plenty that he is blind to the truth that his entire enterprise is one of redeeming covetousness into a public virtue. Having inverted the economic poles so that justice is now defined as the commandeering and dissemination of goods that had once been the fruit of another’s labor, the Socialist’s artificial moral universe has sanitized covetousness.

    Had that come out of the mouth of the Pope a few months back, instead of the pro-Marxist, anti-capitalist screed that did, I would be praising Pope Francis.

    I agree with Glenn. Commercialism, “keeping up with the Joneses,” materialism – or whatever you want to call it (even “homo economicus) – is rightly due a harsh rebuke. But when that rebuke comes in the form of “The state should manage these urges,” that then is a recipe for a socialist/Communist disaster….if only for the reasons Glenn stated. In a Communist/Progressive/socialist scheme, covetousness does not go away. It becomes a society-wide obsession, and one sponsored (and inflamed) by the state which promises to equalize and (perhaps most of all) to soothe the mind which has been fed the promise of a new “right” to be tranquil always.

    Apologists of Islam state that Jihad is a “personal struggle” instead of the heart and soul of that fascist totalitarian system. But the idea of a “personal struggle” is exactly what we need and is at the heart of this, and the other, Commandments. Where we agree, for instance, with libertarians is that this struggle (at least ideally) should be on the personal level (or family level, or church level), not something enforced by the state. It may be wrong for me to want to have three BMW’s (and, no, I don’t have a fixation on BMW’s) just because my neighbor also has them. But it is a worse evil for the state (under the guise of “equality”) to disallow my quest for three BMW’s.

    This is why I’m a defender of the free market and suspect – rightly, from experience – that most of those who criticize “capitalism” do so from the perspective that Marxism (or some form of state control of the economy) is the answer. Glenn’s essay is a very rare example of an ethical treatment of the subject and not a dumb Marxist-derived “social justice” one.

    That is, I have absolutely no bone to pick with Glenn. I’m even impressed that he had the bravery in a staunchly conservative environment to take a shot or two at consumerism.

    But this site, let alone Christianity, would not exist if the premise of materialism (of having the most stuff, having the most influence, having the most prestige) was the be-all, end-all of our existence. I almost pine for the small-c communist existence of a monastery, for example (if only because it’s where one could get some heavy reading done in peace). I readily acknowledge that the free market – even with all its vices – is so stunningly superior to any other form of organization that its vices are damn near a blessing by comparison. But that’s not to say that those vices don’t add up and grate on one’s being and soul.

    It is absolutely necessary that we do live on a higher level than mere homo economicus, even if such a creature is a major step up from homo plunderer, homo serfdomicus, or homo ignoramus. And we must recognize this before doing any lengthy rebuke of commercialism. Things could be much worse than some dumb-ass wanting the latest and greatest iPod.

    But I very much reverberate with what Glenn is saying, about one of man’s prime vices arising from the “motivation to add to oneself.” They say you are what you eat. And, even worse, if we are no more than what we own, we are doomed. This is simply man as the low animal, even if he is a well-dressed one by comparison to the caveman.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      As far as I know, jihad can be used to refer to the personal struggle for faith, but it also is more commonly used for the struggle against the infidel. Islamists who insist that jihad only refers to the first meaning are being dishonest, much like liberals who play tricks with vague expressions such as “global warming” (which they use to refer to CAGW, but if you disagree they imply that you refuse to accept the reality of the warming since the end of the Little Ice Age) or “affirmative action” (which they use to mean pro-black discrimination, but if you oppose that they imply that you oppose anti-black discrimination). This second meaning used to be more widely accepted; for example, in Sarkhan by William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick, a Sarkhanese Buddihist leader is discussing with General Hajn the problem that Muslims have an advanatage in the Army because their belief in jihad makes them better suited to the military.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        That’s kind of like “Theoretically, Marxism is about empowering the workers against the oppressors.” But, in practice, it is about something altogether different.

        I’m still looking for the Muslims whose personal struggle is against Islam(ism).

  8. Glenn Fairman says:

    That was very, very good, Brad. My piece will be in Sunday’s American Thinker. My hope is that some of their readers will come here for this Beautiful banquet of Thought. I am so impressed at what I have been reading from you all. I am almost tempting to demand wages, since Brad is an unwavering aficionado of free enterprise…..jk.

  9. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I found this analysis of Patricia quite extraordinary:

    The definition of “covet” is to feel immoderate desire for that which is another’s. When we are throwing around the word covet, it is easy to assume that we ourselves are immune to covetousness. If we scratch the surface of covetousness, we will find some of its root causes. The main root causes are ungratefulness, unbelief, laziness and greed. In Hebrews 13:5, God tell us to be content in what we have and that He will not forsake us. A constant desire for things is a sign that we are not thankful for what we have. Always desiring more will eventually lead us to compare ourselves to others, which can easily lead us to begin coveting the belongings of others.

    Note that unlike some of my weak arguments that fudge toward secular or pragmatic arguments, Patricia notes the deep existential nature of covetousness. This is sort of along the lines of what Dennis Prager says about Woody Allen:

    In a recent interview in the Wall Street Journal, Woody Allen, an honest atheist, made this point in his inimitable way. Allen told the interviewer that, being a big sports fan, and especially a New York Knicks fan, he is often asked whether it’s important if the Knicks beat the Celtics. His answer is, “Well, it’s just as important as human existence.” If there is no God, Allen is right.

    That is to say, all this talk of “covetousness” is nonsense unless there is a possession, or orientation, larger than having the latest and greatest iPhone. “A constant desire for things is a sign that we are not thankful for what we have. Always desiring more will eventually lead us to compare ourselves to others, which can easily lead us to begin coveting the belongings of others.” True. But thankful to whom?

    Note that I’m not necessarily buying the theology completely. I’m a bit of a fence-sitter in this regard. But the logic is inescapable. If covetousness is a bad thing (which surely seems so), and it arises from being ungrateful for what we do have, then that gratitude must be directed to some source higher than just the free market, and I don’t mean Obama the Messiah.

    • Pokey Possum says:

      “If covetousness is a bad thing (which surely seems so), and it arises from being ungrateful for what we do have, then that gratitude must be directed to some source higher than just the free market, and I don’t mean Obama the Messiah.”

      “For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” -Matthew 5:45 (ESV)

      God’s Word confirms (and this is Jesus speaking in the scripture above), it is He to whom all gratitude is due. For without the sun and the rain, where would we be? And looking beyond the material, without the Son and His reign, where would we be?

  10. Glenn Fairman says:

    @ Brad…..Capitalism reveals man’s inhumanity to man. With Socialism, it is the other way around….

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I’m not sure I totally catch your drift, Glenn.

      The way I view the free market is that it channels man’s competitive instincts into a healthy avenue. On top of this, government is needed to not only promote trade (the true meaning of “regulate commerce”) but to be an impartial umpire of law — as well as an overall umpire regarding managing resources that otherwise would be depleted if the free market were the only element involved.

      Steve Jobs was not a particularly nice guy. But with business as an avenue, his Genghis Khan instincts could be channeled into something productive. And with the free market, we are free to say “No thanks” to someone’s product or service (which is certainly not true of a Big Government, socialist or otherwise).

      That’s not to say that the free market is the only ethics we need. The free market does produce an ethics of its own (generally good, if the trade is free). And most of its warts are simply due to the nature of man (which might have been what you were saying). But it all works better if the men and women involved are men and women of integrity.

      On the other hand, socialism is a decrepit and evil system by nature because it puts utopian nutjobs who think the sun shines out of their own bottoms in charge of decisions that are best left to individuals. Man is reduced to a cog inside a machine. He is diminished, made stupid, which fits the needs of those who require man to be dependent on them.

      And putting a moniker of “social justice” on this doesn’t change this situation. The ethics of government can never be the ethics of, say, the Christian church. And those Christians who go around saying “social justice” should know they are forwarding Karl Marx, not Jesus.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      In other words, both are like most everything else to do with humanity.

  11. Glenn Fairman says:

    It’s an old joke….read my comment again……..

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      LOL. Okay. I get it. I palindrome I. I was being too serious and wasn’t in a jovial mindset I guess.

  12. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    The radical statism of the Left is a secular religion, one that Dennis Prager calls the most dynamic religion of our time. It proposes to solve the two great problems of our existence: man’s corruption and man’s alienation. We’re not right, and the Left wants us to look to political revolution for our salvation. Each of us is alone, and we are to look to the government for our sense of belonging. We are to hope for change wrought by our political leaders, and we are to recognize that the government is “just the name we give to the things we choose to do together.”

    That’s an excellent summation by John Kirke of the “Progressive” world view. I was wrong earlier when I said that I was the only one who mentioned Marxism in his essay. John did as well.

    It’s very important to remember in a discussion such as this (if the discussion is meant to ripple out like the waves of a pebble hitting a pond) that this discussion is breaking upon the generally mean shores of a society molded by Karl Marx, not Jesus Christ (and not even Adam Smith). It’s important not only to know why these Commandments are important but what has come to replace them.

    And what has come to replace them is just what John describes. And, frankly, it nauseates me a little thinking about people giving a spiritual-type of allegiance to government bureaucrats. As John also said:

    The Left’s attempt to deify the state is pitiful by comparison, but it’s still poisonous for society, and we should not be surprised that the new faith comes with a new ethical system.

    Also of interesting is this part:

    They are statist in their goal of endowing the government with power for which there is no limiting principle…

    I was astounded one time when I talked to the typical product of a university education. He said he did not believe in limited government. Who knows what “limited government” means in the mind of someone indoctrinated into the mean cult of Progressivism? But it should be self-evident to any thinking person that an unlimited government is obviously a bad thing. But there you are. People have been indoctrinated into this idea of the state being, for all intents and purposes, their God (and their envisioned God knows no bounds as well). And we should note again what John said: “The radical statism of the Left is a secular religion…”

    And I would say the not-so-radical “Progressive”/socialist element is equally part of that religion of the state. These are the people who think no limits should be placed on their religion.

    Contrast that with the Judeo-Christian tradition. These Ten Commandments can never be the product of a “Progressive” mind because all ten of them are limits on our behavior (thus they can never be the product of a libertarian either). Christians (at least traditional ones) are not naive like those on the Left. They do not believe man is born good and only deformed because a society isn’t being run by Progressive experts. They understand we need to limit our behavior.

    Thus the Ten Commandments. It hardly matters if you believe in God or not in regards to rejecting them, as they are typically rejected today. The “Progressives,” socialists, Marxists, and Communists (one blending into the other, with no real difference as to the end goal) do not believe that human nature needs to be limited. They do not see people as a creature with an inherent moral element. They believe the naive visions — the romantic visions — that go back at least to Rousseau wherein humans are thought to be inherently good. Under this paradigm, the Ten Commandments (or any other idea meant to address man’s moral shortcomings) are irrelevant.

    And what you end up with under the Religion of Leftism is adult children (children naturally chafe at any limits). And much of this ethic (such as it is) has infected mainstream Christianity as well. The idea of judging people is out. What is in is the idea that judgment itself is a bad thing. This loosey-goosey conception of society has no need of Commandments. And, frankly, Jesus is turned into Karl Marx. Rather than to seek justice (inherently related to the idea of objective moral standards) many seek (inside or outside of the church) “social justice” which turns man from a moral creature to a mere economic creature. And for this creature, the greatest “injustice” is that he is poor (or, in practice, that someone has more than someone else…covetousness defined).

    There is no Commandment that says, “Thou shalt not make your neighbor feel bad because you have worked your ass off to build a business and provide for your family.” But if the Left were to have a commandment, that might be one of them.

  13. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Deana said something superb here in her essay:

    Covetousness ruins any chance we have of happiness. Nothing is more damaging to our happiness as the nasty habit of concentrating on what other people have. We are aware, those of us who spend any time on line, that bandwidth is limited. We are aware that there is only so much time in which to make our point. But we are seldom aware that each of us has a limited mental bandwidth. Thoughts take time and energy; if we squander that time and energy on hating others because they have what we want, if we wile away hours tabulating the wealth, accomplishments, relationships, and experiences of others, we have no time to notice what we have. We have no energy left for appreciating our own blessings.

    Were The Ten Commandment written to make us happier? Maybe that was a factor. But perhaps nothing makes us unhappier than obsessing over what other people have.

    To some extent (perhaps a large extent, as Glenn, I think, proposed), much of our Western economies are based upon “keeping up with the Joneses.” And we can strain and quibble over what is “envy,” what is “greed,” and what is “covetousness,” and how these things are different and why it matters. We can wonder over which are good (or at least less harmful) and which are unequivocally bad. Some can even be turned to productive uses.

    But at the end of the day, there is a certain amount of built-in covetousness that makes our modern world go ’round. One could say that Cultural Marxism found easy root in this society that valued nothing but the material, where the most egregious crime wasn’t murder, voter fraud, abortion, illegal immigration, or political malfeasance but someone having more than you.

    And although I argue there are far worse aspects in this world than “keeping up with the Joneses,” if this desire turns excessive, it may let into the door things far worse than the old-fashioned larcenies of mankind, for no system of thought has killed more people than Communism-socialism. And we see that mob already being unleashed upon us.

    This is bizarre if you consider that people today – even supposedly “poor” people – live better than kings of a hundred years ago or less. We’re turning from consumers to narcissists. Being somewhat in the retail business myself, I’ve seen it go from “getting what you want” (a central component of consumerism) to “getting what you want now.” And I’ve found myself more than a time or two getting worked up because some vendor didn’t produce his product soon enough or in the perfect condition that I (and other consumers) have come to expect.

    And I didn’t like the way I looked when I looked into the mirror. And this surely has helped to foster my love for old, cast-away things. I like refurbishing old video games systems, for instance. I hang onto my old (very old) Windows XP computer because, well, it still does work. I’m trying to unhinge myself mentally from this narcissistic train.

    Consumerism has turned to narcissism, all based upon and run, to some extent, by covetousness. In proper measure, and reasonable amounts, the pursuit of a better life is the essence of The American Dream. But in no definition of The American Dream was it ever entirely about keeping up with the Joneses. There was a spiritual component as well. That is, the fullness of man’s life was measured not just by how much he nurtured his desire for material things. He had other wants and needs.

    But now the narcissist-consumer has been unleashed. And this narcissist consumer has tainted both religion and politics with his need to know no limitations and to always have a happy ending for his senses.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I’ve long suspected that morality is long-term pragmatism. For example, lying is useful in the short run (as politicians have always known), but once it costs you your credibility you’re worse off. (This doesn’t matter to politicians due to their focus on the short-term concern of their next election.) Of course, we see liberals choosing to believe pathological liars, but this is a reflection of their tribal morality. True morality is an individual matter, and thus irrelevant to pure collectivists such as liberals.

  14. Because of the way the English language has changed over the years, I think it’s useful to think of coveting in terms of resentment. We don’t simply want what another person has, but we resent that they have it and we don’t. Envy and jealousy are components of coveting, rather than equivalents. Looking at a nice car and saying, ‘gosh I wish I had one,’ isn’t the same as resenting the car’s owner. As a joke I often say ‘what is that guy doing with my Jeep?’ But in fact I don’t resent his ownership–I want one, too, not instead of him.

    It reminds me of something I read from the historical consultant on the film “Windwalkers.” He said that competition is the ugly sister of opposition; that one cannot succeed unless the other fails, whereas with opposition, one wishes for the opponent to be all the greater, because it then requires more effort to equal or surpass him. Competition rejoices when the competitor fails, opposition rejoices when the opponent succeeds. And what’s more, a competitive heart CANNOT rejoice UNLESS the competitor fails; it wants to destroy the other, whereas opposition allows one to be happy in all cases, whether the opponent succeeds or fails.

    When coveting, it is not enough to acquire an equivalent or better item or relationship or whatever; it includes wanting to take away what the other person has, to deprive them of it, which is one reason, I believe, that the left sees everything as a zero-sum game. They don’t want a tide to lift all boats, because their resentments are more important than their desire for improvement or progress. They want their boats to rise, while others sink. They cannot be happy if everybody’s boat rises.

    Covetousness is an insidious thing, and I reckon is placed in the anchor position of the 10 Commandments for a reason.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Close, very close. But in fact many on the left don’t even care if the boats rise, as long as those they hate sink. If the choice is between economic progress with the wealthy benefitting, and economic stagnation or even decline with the wealthy suffering, Barry Screwtape Obama and his Gang would choose the latter. Arguably they already have.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Mr. Nerd, I commend you for expressing an opinion on this interesting and complex subject. Given what I think are some excellent opinions on the subject, it can be a little intimidating entering the fray.

      One thing I’m not clear on is your evaluation of “competition” and “opposition.” I don’t see how competition is the ugly sister of opposition. And I don’t see how opposition “allows one to be happy in all cases.”

      I would have thought that competition is inherent in all of life. We can have “healthy” competition — even the kind where winners and losers shake hands afterwards in a sense of sportsmanship (or the competition in the marketplace which brings us ever-better products and services). Or we can have “unhealthy” competition whereby one side or another cheats and despoils.

      And regarding opposition (which my dictionary defines as “resistance or dissent, expressed in action or argument”), it would seem to be a somewhat morally-neutral concept. It depends upon what one opposes and how one opposes it. Opposing slavery, for instance, you would think would be a good thing but opposing the emancipation of slaves would seem to be a bad thing. And one can oppose abortion, which one would think would be a good thing. But one can oppose it by bombing abortion clinics, which one would think would be a bad thing.

      And that’s a great point about the zero-sum game. The Left believes in dividing a limited pie while the right believes in expanding the pie. Truly, the “Progressive” mind is regressive in practice, no matter how they scent themselves with cheap dime-store euphemisms.

  15. Anniel says:

    Dear Nerd – Yes, I did love writing that. I thank you for reminding me of the rising tide lifting all boats. I think both you and Timothy are right. There are those who don’t want all boats to rise, only theirs. And there are others who would hate enough to sabotage the boats of their perceived enemies, even if they sink their own to achieve that end. Such are the times we live in.

  16. Timothy Lane says:

    Glenn Beck made an interesting comment tonight on Hannity that fits in well with this discussion. He pointed out that the natural way is to love people and use things — but that now we’ve reversed this. We use people and we love things. (This applies in more places than America, obviously.) Naturally, people who reverse this natural order will tend to be very covetous.

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