2. No Other Gods
There Are More Idols than Ever
Today, the idea of idol worship feels ancient and remote to many people. Thus, the Second Commandment, "You shall have no other gods," doesn't seem applicable in modern society. But the opposite is true. We have more false gods than ever -- art, education, fame, money, to name just a few. Over the past century the worship of false gods has led to massive evil; Communism and Nazism are just two examples. On a personal level, the worship of false gods leads to unhappiness.
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Let's discuss the Second Commandment according to the oldest, that is the Jewish, enumeration of the Ten Commandments. In Christian tradition it is the First Commandment. The most common translation begins: "You shall have no other gods before me." The commandment then goes on to prohibit both making idols and worshiping idols.
Most people, when they think of this commandment understandably think that it only prohibits the worship of idols and the worship of gods such as the ancient pagan gods of rain, of fertility, all the other nature gods and chief gods such as the Roman Jupiter, and the Greek Zeus. However, there is a major problem with this understanding of the commandment. Since no one today worships these gods, let alone worships idols made of stone, most people think that this commandment is irrelevant to modern life. The irony, however, is that this commandment is not only relevant to modern life, it is in many ways the mother of all the other commandments.
Why is it so relevant today? Because today we have as many false gods as the ancients did. And why it is the mother of all the other commandments? Because if we identify false gods and avoid worshipping them, we will eliminate one of the greatest barriers to a good world -- false gods. So, let's begin by defining a false god. The point of biblical monotheism is that there is only one God and that only this God, the Creator of the universe who demands that we keep these Ten Commandments, is to be worshipped. Why? First, because one God means one human race. Only if we all have the same Creator, or Father, as it were, are we are all brothers and sisters. Second, having the same parent also means that no person or group is intrinsically more valuable than any other. And third, one God means one moral standard for all people. If God declares murder wrong, it is wrong for everyone, and you can't go to another god for another moral standard.
When anything else is worshipped, bad things result. Not only things that can obviously lead to evil such as the worship of power, or race, or money, or flag. But also things that are almost always seen as quite beautiful -- such as art, or education or even love. Yes, any of these often wonderful things, when worshipped, can lead to terrible results.
Take art. Many of the cruelest humans in history loved beautiful music and art. But, as a music lover, I learned early in life the sad fact that great music can be used to inspire people to follow evil just as much as it can be used to inspire people to do good. The great Hollywood director Stanley Kubrick vividly made this point in his classic 1971 film, A Clockwork Orange. In it, men rape and murder while classical music plays in the background.
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