Many traditionalists claim that The West was founded on “Judeo-Christian” values. Specifically, they say, “The Ten Commandments”. The Daily Wire, PragerU, and Louder with Crowder are just a few of the respected media platforms which broadcast this argument repeatedly. Along with these outlets, there is a large group of individual commentators who also push this idea of The West to their audience. There has been enough dismissal of the Christendom angle for years now, but what is seldom addressed is how and why The Ten Commandments were not a foundational document of Western Civilization.
What are The Ten Commandments?
To start off with, there are no less than three sets of the ten commandments. This is including Exodus 20, Exodus 34, and Deuteronomy 5. If The Ten Commandments are to be defined as a list of ten divine laws given to Moses, only two can fit this bill. Both Exodus 34 and Deuteronomy 5 are written on stone, but only Deuteronomy 5 and Exodus 20 are both referred to as “The Ten Commandments”, despite both documents containing only nine actual commandments. These sets are what most people are referring to when they bring up The Commandments. But what is very interesting is the grouping of laws against idolatry with laws against murder, suggesting that in this God’s eyes, they are somewhat equal.
Exodus 34 diverges from the other two sets in an important way. It doesn’t lay out prohibitions on adultery, murder, theft, and bearing false witness. Instead, it gives directions for sacrifice, demands the celebration of the festival of unleavened bread, and delivers rules on the preparation of certain meat and dairy. It is part of the guidelines of a kosher diet.
The Foundations of The West
A Cherrypicked Set of Values
It should be more than obvious that The West was not founded on the values of unleavened bread, animal sacrifice, prohibitions of language, and not building statues. This does occur to most people who proclaim The Ten Commandments as a founding document of The West. The PragerU video praising the Ten Commandments only bothers to mention a world without killing, theft, lying, dishonor, or coveting; wisely ignoring the other less practical and more oppressive commandments.
The claim that The West was founded on The Ten Commandments ignores the fact that every civilization in the history of Man has had prohibitions on murder, theft, and lying. The Ur-Nammu Law Code, the oldest set of written laws on record, has laws against all of these things. It also has, although weak, a code against rape which The Ten Commandments does not. Ignoring the slavery regulations as commentators so often ignore idol and vanity laws, Western society could have just as easily been based on The Ur-Nammu.
But of course, The West wasn’t based off The Ur-Nammu Law Code. The laws of The Ur-Nammu resemble not just all ancient middle-eastern doctrines, but also all major pieces of archaic legislation on Earth. The Ur-Nammu isn’t special and neither is The Ten Commandments. Pretending as if they are is a discount to the morality of each culture that managed to come to these same conclusions. It is an insult to the cultures that managed to outlaw rape and slavery, along with omitting regulations that protect God’s self-esteem. Indeed it is an insult to Western Culture itself, which was founded on secular enlightenment thought. Directly doing away with the constraints the authors of The Bible and Torah placed on their citizens.
A Misinterpretation of “Judeo-Christian” Values
Many of the people who circulate this notion of Judeo-Christian values founding The West bring up racial and sexual equality and the abolishment of slavery as examples of good deeds done in the name of God. This ignores the fact The Ten Commandments does not mention any of these things. It also ignores the way The Bible and Torah directly allow slavery, the subjugation of women, and a sort of pre-race nationalism.
The West wasn’t founded on equality and it certainly wasn’t founded on abolitionist ideals. The West, in its infancy, began with the pre-socratic philosophers in Ancient Greece. It then continued to spread with the rule of the Romans and mixed with Christendom in the Mediterranean. That fell out of favor as The Age of Reason began and the Modern West took over. Yes, it was the enlightenment which gives The West its modern and egalitarian charm. It was not the propagation of specific values or laws, but the implementation of a system of thought, reasoning, and justice in order to decide those laws. It was the Enlightenment’s philosophy which leads to gender and racial equality, and the abolition of slavery.
This is a simplification of both the modern and post-classical incarnations of The West to boil down its values to simply “Judeo-Christian”. To boil it down to values at all will not cut it. The West did not appear out of thin air through the existence of four pieces of Bronze-Age morality. Rather, The West’s values– free speech, liberty, and individualism– are a result of a philosophical system.
We cannot deny that The West was undoubtedly influenced by Christianity. There have been so many pieces of great Western art, literature, and music that are divinely inspired. But Western art is not the same as “Western Values”. What is important to remember about The West, is that it cannot be defined in culture, value, or morality by any one doctrine. Once we reduce it to such, it removes the utility of Western culture as a force for good. It reduces it to a sort of false cause fallacy and ignores what is really important. We must keep in mind the enlightenment-era methods of thought in order to grow with a changing world.
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