Enduring Green Globe

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Why Pose Yet Another Version of the Ten Commandments?

Pope Francis, Bolivia’s indigenous President Evo Morales, and other less famous people have articulated precepts to address the world’s unfolding ecological crisis. Pope Francis’ remarkable Laudato Si’ (2015) did not posit a new Ten Commandments, though a CNN journalist and a Vatican commentator each extracted ten precepts from his lengthy narrative. Other writers, including Morales, proposed Ten Commandments—a framework understood around most of the world by Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike—on behalf of the environment.

Every such formulation differs from the others. Some lack the concise statements that characterize the originals. No version prior to mine adheres closely to their structure of three or four admonitions about worshiping God and seven or six prohibitions relating to human interactions. The Bible itself includes both versions, prompting scholars to debate the “right” formulation for two millennia.

Not Deifying Nature

Obviously, my version personifies Planet Earth analogously to the Hebrew writers’ personification of one God. I mean no disrespect for the religious beliefs built upon the Bible, nor does my substitution seek to deify Nature. Instead, I want to convey a visceral comprehension of the essential ecological interrelationship between humankind and other species. Indigenous peoples, living close to the land and necessarily understanding their interdependence with other species, view Earth as our life-giving Mother. Western cultures suppressed such an understanding and established a human-centered (anthropocentric) world-view that considers Earth merely as a resource for human consumption.

The result of this world-view is an unsustainable economy. Awareness of the increasingly devastating ecological impact of human economic activity has prompted numerous writers to articulate new versions of Ten Commandments “for”, or even “of”, “sustainability” or “the planet” or “Mother Earth.” I focus on Earth rather than on humanity. And I chose to say “for” because I dare not presume to speak on behalf of Earth by saying “of”. 

Perhaps other writers avoided the personification inherent in the biblical First Commandment precisely because many would assert that to do so violates that precept itself. As I will elaborate in a subsequent post, my goal in offering a novel version of the First Commandment is to counter the anthropocentrism of Western society. Pope Francis does the same, reasserting the biblical themes of stewardship of our planet and care for the poor. However, despite his global stature, rooting his message in Christian scripture and Catholic tradition likely restricts his audience.

Others, invoking ten commandments to address sustainability more narrowly, build upon the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra. One writer even formulated ten “Thou shalt” precepts that all begin with the letter “R”. Such efforts embody directions to help people live more sustainably, but do not address what I perceive as the need for systemic change that would alter the relationship between the human economy and the rest of the planet. As I will also elaborate in a future post, an economy premised on unbounded growth at x% per year is not compatible with sustaining the planetary environment for Native Americans’ proverbial Seven Generations and beyond. 

Comparing with Callenbach

After drafting my own version of Ten Commandments, I researched other variants to answer the question posed in the title above. The version that comes closest to mine comes from Ecotopia author Ernest Callenbach. Interestingly, his “Earth’s Ten Commandments” seem to have appeared for the first time simply as an Earth Day poster by lithographer David Lance Goines. I have found no rationale from Callenbach himself. Perhaps that marks the most significant difference between our efforts.

That said, side-by-side comparison shows many of the same ideas expressed in different ways and in a different order. Mine are more concise than his and closely adhere to one version of the biblical Ten Commandments. Callenbach’s do not. As mentioned above, no other version of ecological Ten Commandments aligns with the originals. I acknowledge that his explicit mention of future generations, which I found elsewhere as well, prompted its incorporation into my Ninth Commandment. However, beyond that, I think we both simply attempt to draw upon the cultural template of Ten Commandments to articulate our mutual concerns for fostering a sustainable society.

Finally, because the biblical Ten Commandments themselves addressed human behavior only through prohibitions—“Thou shalt not…”—neither version makes a positive assertion about human relationships: social sustainability. For that, the template is the New Testament mandate, “Love they neighbor as thyself.” Unpacking that powerful statement or even the simpler version, “Love one another,” also deserves discussion in a future post.

Why Pose Yet Another Version of the Ten Commandments?

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