Ricky Gervais’ cheeky diatribes against Christianity must really boost circulation for the Wall Street Journal, since they’re opting to give him air time again as we come up on the biggest Christian celebration of the year, Easter. Nothing like a bit of controversy before Christmas and Easter to up the subscription or per-copy sales rates, I guess.
First we need to draw a distinction – one that Gervais only half delineates. Christianity is not first and foremost a moral or ethical system. It is not at it’s heart a means of telling us what to do. Rather, it is at it’s heart a means of telling us who we are, and what our proper relationship is to one another, creation, and our Creator. This is a distinction that is lost on many Christians, unfortunately. When you ask many Christians what Christianity is, they default to the Ten Commandments and a listing of things that we should and shouldn’t do, with Jesus tossed in to the mix. Christianity does provide a moral and ethical system, but this is largely a secondary issue. It is secondary in part because Biblical Christianity also insists that we are unable to keep this system and are frankly in full rebellion against it.
So the idea that Jesus could ever have been the influential teacher and preacher he was if he didn’t also back up his teachings with some pretty powerful actions is rather simplistic, to say the least. And it asserting otherwise makes Gervais guilty of the thing he likes to attack Christians for – cherry-picking the Bible, pulling out the teachings from Jesus that he likes and ignoring the rest of the stuff. Stuff like Jesus raising people from the dead, rising from the dead himself, proclaiming himself the Son of God and equally divine to God the Father, and stuff like that. I side with C.S. Lewis – if you want to be honest about Jesus, you have to look at all of what he said (and did), and not just the parts you like or find reasonable. Doing this ought to give every Christian and non-Christian in the world plenty of reason for pause and self-examination and repentance!
So Gervais is right – keeping the Ten Commandments is not the same as being a Christian, and hopefully at the very least this article will prompt that sort of thinking among Christians. Then, we have to examine how he chooses to define and apply the Ten Commandments to himself to find out if he’s even very good at the moral/ethical aspects of Biblical Christianity.
Also, before we begin, let’s be clear. I’m scoring Gervais here because he has the audacity to score himself. I don’t believe that most any person – Christian or otherwise – is going to score well enough for bragging rights on this list. We all struggle and fail with some or all of these commands. It’s a matter of how honest we intend to be about it.
One – I would disagree with Gervais here. If we go with Luther’s assertion that a god is what we place our faith and hope in, then Gervais indeed does have another god. Gervais makes it clear that he puts his faith and hope in humanity itself. We are ourselves, in other words, the only suitable source of hope and faith, and the final interpreters of reality. Minus one point for Gervais.
Two – Gervais apparently relies on a typically short-sighted idea of the nature of an idol. I have mentioned several times in the past month or so that as I think about it more and more, the debit card in my wallet in my back pocket is as potent an idol as ever was. I tend to think that if Gervais is willing to think a bit more thoroughly about this topic, he’d find that he’s as guilty as most everyone else on the issue of idolatry of one form or another. Minus one point for Gervais.
Three – First off, Gervais has some interesting reinterpretations on this commandment. His interpretations seem to blur the line between this commandment and the ninth commandment. And while I’m willing to grant that perhaps Gervais never uses God’s name as an epithet or short-cut emphasis, I’m also going to go out on a limb and say that when you use God’s name to argue against the existence of God, you’re probably violating this commandment. Minus one point for Gervais.
Four – While he’s right on a great deal of this, his conclusion is still overly simplified. Verse 9 that he quotes indicates that the Sabbath is not our day, but God’s. It is God that makes the Sabbath day holy as a day of rest, and our failure to acknowledge this, even if we’re enjoying a day of leisure, would be a violation of this command. Minus one point.
Five– He’s honest, and I’m willing to grant him that. However, I’m sure that he – like most people – have had moments where he’s been less than honoring of his parents, even if only in his thoughts and only briefly. That’s the nature of commandments, Ricky. Breaking one of them once is the same (by Biblical Christianity’s standards) as breaking all of them regularly. It’s only between us humans that the distinctions of frequency or severity hold any meeting. God has only two categories for us – total and complete and absolute obedience, or disobedience. I’m glad you love your parents, and I pray they love you two. But still minus one point.
Six – Check with Matthew 5:21-23. Murder is not only a matter of the hands, it is a matter of the heart. Jesus makes it very clear (is this one of those teachings of Jesus that you respect or believe, or one you’d prefer to skip over, Ricky?) that breaking of the commandments begins in our hearts and minds as far as God is concerned. Ever been angry with someone and thought them a fool or a moron or a stupid Christian? Minus one point.
Seven – See Matthew 5:27-30. Ever marveled or fantasized about another person? Strike. And also remember that in the Biblical context that we translate as ‘adultery’, there were no permitted sexual relationships outside of marriage. The classical translation of ‘fornication’ was closer to the mark here. Having sex with anyone you aren’t married to violates this commandment. Minus one point.
Eight – It’s possible that Gervais has never stolen anything, but more likely – as with pretty much everyone else- it means that he’s limiting the definition of stealing to something more culturally or societally defined. I used to steal sugar or peanut butter or other items from the cupboards as a child. I’m sure there were times when I swiped toys from other kids or my sister. We don’t culturally consider these as theft, but at their base, the motivations are the same – I’m taking something that is not mine to take. I’m glad Gervais is not a thief by our cultural standards, but I’m still going to assume his memory is just selective at a certain level, and dock him a point.
Nine – I’m going to assume the same thing here. Ever said something that wasn’t true about someone else? Ever sat idly by while someone else said something untrue about someone else? This command is not only broken in a court room or some other official forum. &
nbsp;Minus one point.
Ten – Again, I’m fairly positive that a comprehensive review of Gervais’ life would reveal times where he has coveted these things. I’m glad that he’s not obsessive about it – some people are consumed by covetousness. But the commandment doesn’t stipulate an acceptable level of covetousness. And as such – as with all the commands – even once is a strike against you. Minus one point.
So, on the whole, I’d argue that a more faithful and honest effort at examining one’s conscience in light of the Ten Commandments is likely to show that they *are* very consistent, that the only interpretation that goes on is when we try to weasel out from under the indictments of each commandment, and affirming that God is most definitely intolerant of evil and rebellion. We like to make distinctions in severity and frequency, but these are for making us feel better by and large. While we’re free (and even have to) cut each other slack on these points, there is no such slack with God. Either you keep every command perfectly, or you fail in all of them.
This is the big deal about Jesus. Not his good teaching, but his perfect obedience on our behalf. I pray that Gervais come to realize that Jesus is quite a bit more than a decent teacher with delusions of grandeur, and that Gervais – along with so many other people – come to see the huge significance of Easter, and the immense love of God behind it.