Sunday, November 13, 2011

Chris Hedges vs. Christopher Hitchens: On the Ten Commandments

You.  Who are on the road.  Must have a code.  That you can live by. --"-Teach Your Children," Crosby Stills, Nash, and Young

In Christopher Hitchens' newly published collection of essays, entitled Arguably, one nine-page essay is devoted to the idea that the Ten Commandments include no such code.  Allowing only a fundamentalist interpretation to argue against, the author of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything wastes no time in dismissing the first commandments.  

Hitchens says that Thou shalt have no other gods before me only implies that God is jealous and that there are other gods to worship, and that Thou shall not make a graven image "appears to forbid representational art."  Hitchens gives us no enlarged discussion of false idols but instead allows only  a minimalist, fundamentalist interpretation.  

Chris Hedges, on the other hand--in his book, Losing Moses On The Freeway--takes a secular approach.  He sees the Ten Commandments as a guide to the way we should live, here on this material road.  To Hedges, God is love, a spiritual force rather than the material god that Hitchens argues against.  Hedges sees Americans errantly placing material riches above spiritual love, worshiping the almighty dollar, bowing to the gods of money, power, and celebrity.  False idols.

"It is the unmentioned fear of death and obliteration, the one that rattles with the wind through the heavy branches of the trees outside, which frightens us most, even though we do not name this fear.  It is death we are fleeing.  The smallness of our lives, the transitory nature of existence, the inevitable road to old age, are what idols tell us we can avoid."

We lose ourselves to the addiction to material things in an effort to seek control over death.  The more we obtain, the more we covet in a futile effort to fill the bottomless emptiness inside.  If only we had a different car, or a different house, or a different spouse.  Or we try to escape into drink and drugs, subordinating our free will to animal compulsions.  "These impulses, carefully manipulated, intoxicate us with patriotic fervor and a lust for war.  They lead us to support certain candidates or to buy certain products or brands.'

"Politicians, advertisers, social scientists, television evangelists, the news media, and the entertainment industry--all have learned what makes us respond.  It works.'

"We follow the idol and barter away our freedom.  We place our identity and our hopes in the hands of the idol.  We believe we need the idol to define ourselves, to determine our worth.  We invest in the idol.  We sell ourselves into bondage."

Hedges says, "The commandments are guideposts.  They bring us back, even as we stray, as we all do, to the right path.  They are our protection against the siren calls of glory, wealth, and power..." those illusionary idols that take us away from what is real and eternal.  Love itself.

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