The Ten Commandments
The average church-going civilizee realizes, one may say, absolutely nothing of the deeper currents of human nature. — William James
These days of Christmas are the days when professing Christians should be contemplating the meaning of their faith; the meaning of the birth of their spiritual progenitor and author; the purposes for which he took on the cloak of the flesh and entered into physical existence. Very few do, it seems. Moreover, they even seem eager to ignore or forget all these things, perhaps from bad conscience.
I am not a Christian. At least, I am not a Christian in any conventional sense of the name. Therefore I do not suffer the disquiet of nagging doubt or the anxieties of a bad conscience. I might be called “post-Christian” or irreligious, but that is likely to be misconstrued as faithlessness. But the truly faithless are the forsaken and the suicidal, and I am far from being a suicide or a nihilist. I would have to be a Christian to feel truly guilty about being alive, or to look forward to the end of the world.
One should not confuse Christianity as a historical reality with that one root that its name calls to mind: the other roots from which it has grown have been far more powerful. It is an unexampled misuse of words when such manifestations of decay and abortions as “Christian church,” “Christian faith” and “Christian life” label themselves with that holy name. What did Christ deny? Everything that is today called Christian.” — Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, 158.
Most of what is today called “religion”, let alone “Christian religion,” is god-forsaken, and has become, itself, “the abomination of desolation” described in Revelation. It has no spiritual content whatsoever, which is what Nietzsche meant by “the death of God” and in describing the churches as “the tomb of God” and the tombstones of God. For Nietzsche, Christianity had become empty of all positive or progressive spiritual content or direction.
Many of “the Faithful of the True Faith” hold that mere observance of the 10 commandments, the Decalogue or Mosaic Law, suffices to be recognised as Christian or “religious” or even “spiritual”. I have heard this and read this with my own ears and eyes. In fact, the so-called “ten commandents” (in Hebrew, they are called “the 10 terms” or “10 matters”) have no positive spiritual content whatsoever. They are the minima moralia of a political and social constitution, called “the covenant”, designed to fuse twelve fractious Hebrew tribes into a functioning national collective called “Israel”, and in more comprehensive terms, are instruments for overcoming man’s more apish ways.
- Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
- Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
- Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
- Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.
- Honour thy father and thy mother.
- Thou shalt not kill.
- Thou shalt not commit adultery.
- Thou shalt not steal.
- Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
- Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s goods
That the ape in man is inclined to do the exact opposite is why these commandments are framed as negations — “thou shalt not“. The “natural man” is, in fact, an ape in his natural condition or “state of nature”. The point of the 10 commandments is merely to deny the ape. It is in that respect that Nietzsche wrote
“I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?
“All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape.” — Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra
The Decalogue is a formula for ape-taming, and little else. That this came to be seen as even the essence of a spiritual or religious life is one of the great perversions of history.
The “new dispensation” brought by Jesus was this, and it is why we divide history between A.D. and B.C. or between New Testament and Old Testament: The Old Testament is concerned with ape-taming. The New Testament with godman-making. This is the essence of what is called “conversion”, or having one’s face turned in a new direction. The Old Testament was concerned with beating back or disciplining the ape-man or “natural man”, and the Old Testament prophets were continuously calling back the lapsed to remembrance of “God” because of man’s tendency to revert to the ape. The whole mood of the Old Testament is “thou shalt not…!” But the whole thrust of the New Testament is “thou shalt…!”
“Be thou therefore perfect, even as thy Father in Heaven” (Matthew 5:48) is a completely different imperative or commandment than we find in the Old Testament and in the Mosaic Law. It is not a negation, but an affirmation, no longer to fight against the ape in man, but to transcend it. It is for this reason that Jesus said, “I come not to change the law but to fulfill it” or “the Law is made for man, not man for the law”. While the Old Testament was obsessed with Origin, the New Testament is obsessed with Destiny. And this is what got Jesus condemned, executed, and martyred as a blasphemer and a heretic, as it has many a great Muslim visionary, such as Mansur a-Hallaj, as well.
Jesus had a casual attitude towards the Mosaic Law because he recognised it as purely utilitarian and not as complete in itself. His call to mankind to transcend itself was a greater and more creative challenge than constantly merely beating back the ape or obsessing about the reversion to the “natural man”. And this is the vocation or calling that both William Blake and Friedrich Nietzsche responded to, but who were considered lunatic and even evil for doing so.
William Blake’s manifesto “There is NO Natural Religion” is a response to the degeneracy of religion and the mistaken assumptions of Christian Deism and the Age of Reason just as much as Friedrich Nietzsche’s. “overman” is a call for the resumption of the process of history as godman-making. Nietzsche’s and Blake’s attacks on religion and Christianity are misunderstood as long as this distinction between Origin and Destiny are not understood. Man is called upon to transcend himself.
Such are the ironies of what is today called “religion” that the last faithful men were denounced as devils, lunatics, heretics, and as anti-Christ. But it is in this context that we need to appreciate what they were trying to say. So consider well, in that regard and in proper context, what Blake tried to communicate about the Lion and the Ox,
Once I saw a Devil in a flame of fire, who arose before an Angel that sat on a cloud, and the Devil utter’d these words:
‘The worship of God is: Honouring his gifts in other men, each according to his genius, and loving the greatest men best: those who envy or calumniate great men hate God; for there is no other God.’
The Angel hearing this became almost blue but mastering himself he grew yellow, & at last white, pink, & smiling, and then replied:
‘Thou Idolater, is not God One? & is not he visible in Jesus Christ? and has not Jesus Christ given his sanction to the law of ten commandments, and are not all other men fools, sinners, & nothings?’
The Devil answer’d: ‘bray a fool in a morter with wheat, yet shall not his folly be beaten out of him; if Jesus Christ is the greatest man, you ought to love him in the greatest degree; now hear how he has given his sanction to the law of ten commandments: did he not mock at the sabbath, and so mock the sabbaths God? murder those who were murder’d because of him? turn away the law from the woman taken in adultery? steal the labor of others to support him? bear false witness when he omitted making a defence before Pilate? covet when he pray’d for his disciples, and when he bid them shake off the dust of their feet against such as refused to lodge them? I tell you, no virtue can exist without breaking these ten commandments. Jesus was all virtue, and acted from impulse, not from rules.’
When he had so spoken, I beheld the Angel, who stretched out his arms, embracing the flame of fire, & he was consumed and arose as Elijah.
Note: This Angel, who is now become a Devil, is my particular friend; we often read the Bible together in its infernal or diabolical sense which the world shall have if they behave well.
I have also The Bible of Hell, which the world shall have whether they will or no.
One Law for the Lion & Ox is Oppression.
The Lion is what Nietzsche called “the free spirit”, the Ox is the “natural man” still mired in his apish (and ape-shit) ways.
There is nothing sacred about the law of 10 commandments. The “covenant” is a purely pragmatic and utilitarian matter to create a true “public” — peace amongst “neighbours”, who are clans and self-interested ones, too. It was designed, in effect, to prevent the very thing that is today considered the “norm” and the natural order of things — the war of all against all in the exaggerated pursuit of “rational self-interest” and egoistic individualism.