The Missing Five Commandments
Popular theologian Sam Keen gives us a clue. He states that the big questions like “What is the meaning of life?” or “Why is there evil?” have been around forever, but that today there is a new, unprecedented “big” question—Will the earth survive?
So, if the first five commandments deal with the relationship between humans and God (e.g., do not worship other gods), and the second with the relationship between humans and others (e.g., do not steal), I propose that the missing five commandments deal with the relationship between humans and the environment, including our immediate “environment,” the body. So here’s my attempt at reconstructing those missing five commandments, complete with extensive commentary. (What else would you expect from a know-it-all professor?) Please recite the boldface commandments out loud in a deep, Jehovian voice:
11. Thou shalt not harm the environment, My creation. This means not polluting the air, water, and land; not exhausting resources; eliminating waste by recycling virtually everything; replenishing the soil; reforesting to prevent soil erosion and desertification, and so on. Put more positively, it means living much more lightly on the earth. This shouldn’t necessitate going back to tribal living; there are many developing eco-technologies, such as free energy, which would allow a fairly high standard of living without taxing the environment.1 However, if we continue the way we’re going, tribal society may be all that survives!
I once came across the case of a schizophrenic man who suffered from the delusion that all the scraps of paper, all the used razor blades, bubble gum wrappers, and tissues, and all the hundreds other sorts of trash littering the world would be gathered together and stuffed into his body. Of course, like all schizophrenics, his mistake was to construct reality with his own ego autistically located at the center of the universe—all the trash in the world is going into just his stomach! But if he had had the ability to think systemically and expand his sense of identity, he would have seen that his concern for where the garbage was going was legitimate. His mistake was in believing that the trash was going into his individual body, rather than into his “larger body,” i.e., the environment. As philosopher Alan Watts once observed, when we throw things away, there really is no “away;” what we really mean is that we throw trash where we don’t immediately see it (or smell it). But if the environment is truly our larger body (just as for many Native American cultures ones real mother was the Earth Mother, not just one’s individual mother), then we are simply moving trash from one part of our “body” to another, which is not a very wise thing to do!
Thus that poor schizophrenic, in a distorted way, was actually tuning into a real problem most of us ignore every time we throw things “away.” As a result of socialization by our highly individualistic society, we unfortunately tend to construct our identities far too narrowly. Could it be otherwise? I once heard a story about a Native American youth who went off to college. When he returned after a year, his father took him out on a lake in a canoe and asked his son, “Who are you?” The son responded with his English name, then his Indian name, and a few other conventional definitions, such as student of anthropology, member of such and such clan, etc. Each time his father rejected his definition. The frustrated son finally asked who he in fact was, and the father responded, “You are the lake, the sky, the trees, the moose, the beaver, the birds, the land.” Well, you can extend this list, but the point is clear. The father was reminding his son not to forget his “natural identity.” Most of us are too much like the son. If we identified with the land and the water and the sky, we’d think twice before polluting “ourselves,” wouldn’t we? Until we can regain this sensibility, we need this 11th commandment!
12. Thou shalt limit thy population and thy growth. The 12th commandment supports the 11th, because with fewer people living more lightly on the earth, we are far less likely to harm the environment. Now, the 12th commandment seems to contradict the very first command in the book of Genesis—“Be fruitful and multiply”—but, hey, times have changed! The world population at the time Genesis was written was perhaps 4-5 million; today it is more than 1000 times that number! Furthermore, the actual cost to the earth is proportionally far greater, given the demands most of us in industrialized countries place on the environment.
Depending on the technological base, there is probably an optimal number of humans the earth can safely support. Tribal hunting and gathering technology can support only a few million people worldwide, while the introduction of agriculture and, more recently, industrialization allow for many more people. But not 6 billion and not for long, given our current patterns of consumption, pollution, and waste. In a real sense we are living on “credit,” and if we persist on living beyond our ”means” we will be “bankrupt” at some point. This was the thesis of the pioneering book The Limits to Growth, which caused such a stir in the 70’s, and yet it should be obvious, even to a child, that things can’t keep expanding indefinitely.
How many people should there be on our planet? One source I read cited two billion as a workable number; I think one billion would be better—why not err on the side of caution! Wade Frazier feels that we could support as many as 10 billion people at a high level if truly radical innovations, such as complete recycling and free energy, were developed. But should we? Is the earth a better place to live with more people on it?
On my office bulletin board I have a handout from the Sierra Club entitled The Twelve Big Myths of Growth. We always hear about the economy growing as if this were inherently a good thing. Beyond some optimal range, however, growth is not a good thing. Growth for its own sake, as has been noted many times, is the ideology of the cancer cell! Eventually the parasite kills its host and dies too.
Anyway, here are just two of the myths cited in the handout. One is that “growth is inevitable.” Although, overall, Americans can’t seem to “just say no to development,” dozens of municipalities have capped their population based on real environmental limits, to their benefit. So “to grow or not to grow” is actually a choice. Usually, myopically, we choose to grow. I was recently in the Tampa, Florida area, and was dismayed at how vast and monotonous the sprawl was. A beautiful environment has been transformed into a seemingly endless stream of resorts, malls, restaurants, and stores. Sometimes we couldn’t tell where we were because so much of the landscape looked the same!
A second myth is that we have to grow or die. Perhaps this is true in the qualitative sense, in that while we are alive and well, we can and should continue to learn and grow, i.e., psychologically and spiritually. In the quantitative sense, however, this is simply not true—many economic studies show that growth costs more than the benefits it brings. Beyond a certain point, the more growth, the poorer we get! As a mundane example, consider that cities require garbage men, whereas here in rural N.H., just about everybody brings their own garbage to the recycling center. Far less in salaries to pay, no trucks to buy—thus, lower tax bills for everyone. True, there is the cost of driving to the dump, but it’s rather minimal.
The problems resulting from overpopulation are psychological as well as material. Research has shown repeatedly that crowding is unpleasant and leads to aggression, both in animals as well as in humans. That’s one more reason why Dr. David and I eventually made our way from metropolitan New Jersey to rural New Hampshire. As I head towards more populated areas, the air gets dirtier and smellier, the traffic gets worse, my mood gets worse, people seem to be “in each other’s way” more and consequently we all get pushier, the noise level goes up intrusively, and the “feel” of the environment gets more impersonal and unnatural. And cities are expensive—recently I paid $39 to park for five hours in New York City! I never have to pay in Plymouth, New Hampshire. Well, OK, maybe a nickel to park downtown if all the free spots are taken!
Finally, although cities can be exciting to visit, living there is bad for your health. Think about the bad air and water, the faster pace of life, the ”noise pollution,” the stress of crowding, the higher risk of being a victim of a crime, etc. Some people even talk about the negative emotional energy or “vibes” emanating from urban areas. Maybe, but do the data support the idea that cities are actually bad for your health in the long run? In one of the textbooks I use, there is a table that allows you to estimate your expected lifespan. One factor is where you live—you add four years to your lifespan if you live most of your life in a rural area, but you have to subtract two years for living in an urban area. That’s a total difference of six years!
Remember, for 99% of our history, humans lived in relatively small groups—tribes, clans, etc. Thus, ironically, although surrounded by crowds in cities and sprawling suburbs, we are apt to be lonely in our isolated apartments, condos, and nuclear family homes. We have social units that are both too large and too small for the 20–500 size groups we evolved in. There have been attempts, going back centuries, not just since the 60’s, to create reasonably sized intentional communities, communes, eco-villages, etc. Although some of these, like Oneida and the Shaker communities, had guiding philosophies that most of us would not choose to live with, I applaud such attempts at creating a more harmonious, human scale-appropriate lifestyle.
13. Thou shalt not harm thy body and the bodies of others. Our body is also “part” of the environment, so that the prohibition against polluting the earth with toxic poisons stated in the 11th commandment also applies to our own bodies in the 13th. Beyond this—on the “thou shalt” side—we are also instructed to eat foods as “God created them,” i.e., only whole, organic foods, with an emphasis on raw foods. This takes some work if you shop at a supermarket, eat at restaurants, etc.2 It also commands us (gasp!) not to eat sugar, white flour, and junk food, smoke, drink,3 or use any drugs that may be harmful to us. It tells us to get adequate water, rest and exercise. So far pretty familiar stuff among the alternative health community. But the 13th commandment goes further and instructs us not to sell any harmful products to others. This is an offshoot of the Golden Rule—if it’s bad for me, I am certainly not going to sell it to you! Thus, growing and selling food is not just a “business” in this view; it is a sacred task. Therefore we should not only eat organic food, we should produce only organic food; we should not make or sell non-organic or junk food, cigarettes, and so on.
I once attended the funeral of a relative who was buried in a cemetery which was the final home for many celebrities (e.g., George Gershwin). I noticed a large tomb emboldened with the name of family known for selling “fine” chocolates and candies. This family became rich and famous, but they persistently violated the 13th commandment by selling sugar-loaded candy to children and adults. By extension, it would also be a “sin” to even advertise the sale of candy or junk food. How can we morally encourage other people to violate a commandment?
14. Thou shalt not harm animals. This really ties into commandment #15 below, for if we respect nature, we would be loathe to cause unnecessary harm to animals. As some eco-activists put it, we should avoid “speciesism,” defined as the belief that the earth and all of its non-human inhabitants are here exclusively for our “use.” Where the Bible speaks of having “dominion” over all the animals and the earth, today the more enlightened members of our species refer to “stewardship,” a term emphasizing responsibility, not hierarchy.
Specifically, this commandment would mean reducing or eliminating the use of animals for vivisection and in the majority of experiments. Many scientists argue that much animal research is unnecessary and even useless, as human physiology is not identical to that of any animal. The idea of caging animals and spraying, feeding, or injecting poisons of various sorts to see what happens seems bizarre to me. Why not avoid using these poisons in the first place? The Aubrey Organics cosmetics line, for instance, uses no chemicals and does no animal testing. We only need to test the chemicals used in other cosmetics because we don’t use all natural products in the first place!
And of course, kindness towards pets and farm animals goes without saying. It pains me to read occasionally in our local paper about someone who has been starving or abusing their “pets.” And the manner in which cows have been selectively bred so as to be little more than “milk machines” is a good example of the speciesism mentioned above. As milksucks.com makes clear, milk, as it is currently produced, is as bad for the cows and the environment as it is for the humans who drink it. Personally, I think we should start breeding cows back to the stage where they produce enough milk for their own calves—as God and nature intended—and nothing more.
As for eating animal foods, this is a controversial issue. You might expect me to state that commandment #14 should make us all vegans or at least vegetarians, but I think the issue is more complex. Humans are omnivorous and some people, depending on age, blood type, and other factors, may require animal foods. Recent studies suggest that during hunter-gatherer times, which comprised most of human evolution, perhaps 65% of our diet was animal based! Some vegetarians harm themselves by excess grain consumption and because they do not ingest enough of certain necessary nutrients, vitamin B-12 being the most obvious. I once witnessed a naturopath trying unsuccessfully to convince a pale, anemic looking vegetarian to have some eggs or liver powder! On the other hand, I am not pushing a “meaty” diet, partly for ethical reasons, and partly for environmental reasons. It takes a lot more land and water to raise 100 pounds of beef than 100 pounds of soybeans, to say nothing of the waste products involved.
A good compromise solution is the “quasi-vegetarian” diet, with the strict vegetarian diet held as an “ideal” that only some will achieve. A quasi-vegetarian will eat less meat, especially red meat, thereby sparing the earth somewhat in the process. Dr. David’s recommended diet allows for some meat products, e.g., poultry, fish, bison (low in fat!), and even some beef—if it is organically grown, that is, without the pernicious growth hormones and antibiotics usually fed to cattle. Interestingly, in light of the Biblical tone of this essay, two types of animal are prohibited by both Dr. David and the Bible: shellfish and pork.
In addition, this commandment dictates that any animals eaten must be treated humanely; that means they must be given sufficient room to roam (“free range”), must be fed an appropriate diet (for example, grass, not grain, for cattle), and slaughtered with a minimum of pain. If you have ever read about the evils of factory farming (see themeatrix.com), which I can’t bring myself to describe, it’s enough to turn you into a vegetarian. I refuse to eat veal, and I try to buy organic, free range chicken.
15. Respect nature and look to it for thy health. Above I mentioned that food production is more than a mere job; it is a sacred task. In today’s secular world, however, we suffer from a serious “desacralization” of life.4 I mean, how can we even think of genetically engineering food? Despite efforts by some far-seeing individuals and groups, our collective lack of respect for nature is all too obvious.5 In contrast, indigenous (tribal) cultures feel they are intricately related to the natural world and thus have great respect for nature. Notice I said that they “feel” this connectedness—it’s not just a nice ecological theory. Indigenous peoples believe that all aspects of nature, even stones, have a form of consciousness, and that humans can learn about life and healing from plants and animals. Many go so far as to give thanks to animals before eating them or to plants that yield medicinal secrets. If this seems “primitive,” consider this: the Hoxsey therapy for cancer was developed by observing what specific plants a horse ingested when it was ill! The horse had an intuitive wisdom or “attunement” to its environment and somehow knew what to eat. This sort of intuitive wisdom will allow one to attend to meanings and patterns invisible to the objectifying and mechanical (i.e., lifeless) methods of science, although occasionally a pioneer like George Washington Carver or Nobel prize winner Barbara McClintock speaks of “communing with plants”.
Regarding health, we are commanded here to use natural means to prevent and treat illness: herbs, natural supplements, good food, massage, acupressure, good exercise, good water. Even good music and good light! And yes, even “spiritual technologies” like shamanic healing, meditation, and laying on of hands. Secondarily, we can use scientific technologies that do not harm the body, such as light therapy or the Rife Frequency device.6 Lastly, “heroic,” i.e. intrusive measures, like drugs and surgery, will undoubtedly be necessary some of the time, but probably 85% or more of our medical ailments could be prevented or treated via natural, supportive measures.
Of course, we collectively have a huge problem obeying the ten commandments we already have! Take, for example, the prohibition against idolatry, which in essence means valuing something relative in place of that which is Absolute or Ultimate. This commandment is being violated on a massive scale by our civilization, with its rampant materialism and worship of wealth, status, power, technology, science, ego—you can add your own favorite “idols” to the list.
And as for the second tablet, didn’t we steal virtually the entire Western hemisphere and kill the majority of the natives who were here first? So how likely are we to observe the missing five commandments, especially since they are not (yet) carved in stone?
On second thought, I take that back a bit. The majority of Americans are concerned about the environment and are increasingly participating in holistic prevention and treatment. A small but growing percentage of Americans are truly serious about following commandments #11–#15 and choose to live a “green” life, which I envision as a synthesis of postmodern sophistication and technology with indigenous attunement to the natural world. The vital issue, as Sam Keen noted, is whether the Earth can survive. Can we create a green society in time to prevent environmental collapse?
You’ve all heard of the Ten Commandments, right? Maybe you’ve even seen the movie (it was good, but the book is better!). On the subject of movies, did you ever see the old Mel Brooks spoof The History of the World, Part One? There’s a scene in it where Moses comes down from Mt. Sinai with three tablets containing fifteen commandments, but it’s awkward and unfortunately he drops one of the tablets! The upshot is that today we are short five commandments. What could those missing five commandments have been about?
1Once again, Wade Frazier, especially in his essays The Energy Racket and Visions of What Can Be, and in his own Links section, provides copious information about a free energy based, alternative future. He also has a short essay on vegetarianism.
2At the end of my last column I promised an essay on “stupid markets.” I will get to it next, but the missing commandments idea just, well, took over. I’ll also do one on fast foods and dining out.
3Ah, alcohol…Haven’t we all heard that drinking a glass of red wine daily is good for you? That lifespan expectancy chart I referred to above says to subtract 5–10 years for heavy drinking, but also to subtract one year if you are a teetotaler and to add two years if you are a light drinker (1-3 drinks a day)! How can this be? Well, there are two benefits from (red) wine—there are certain compounds found in grape seed, antioxidants called “flavonoids,” that are good for you. But you can get these antioxidants from grapes, grape juice, or grape seed supplements, without canceling the benefits by imbibing the poison of alcohol! And then there is the “relief from stress” factor. But, again, you can relieve stress by exercising or doing TM or yoga. The point is you can obtain the benefits of wine without the many negative effects of alcohol. See Tim O’Shea’s Sugar essay on his thedoctorwithin.com website. See also: Grape Juice Provides Health Benefits Without Alcohol for a detailed comparison of wine and grape juice. Guess which comes out better?
I also suspect that the reason teetotalers live, on average, a bit less than light drinkers may have little to do with alcohol per se, but more to do with the uptight lifestyle of some non-drinkers.
4Nothing seems sacred these days except money. Remember “In Gold We Trust” from the Inconvenience Stores essay? Here’s a statistic I found which illustrates how the system prioritizes money over health: In 1979, U.S. government appropriation to fight smoking: $29 million; In 1979, amount U.S. government spent in price subsidies, farm loans, and other direct support for the tobacco industry: over $1 billion. (On a sheet found in the ACS [American Cancer Society] distribution shelf.)
5As a striking example of our collective lack of respect for the environment, here are several facts gleaned from just one magazine, the latest issue of Sierra, the house journal of the Sierra Club: The Bush administration is pushing to resume nuclear power, despite all the ecological and economic problems that have already been observed; climbing the Matterhorn is now more dangerous than ever due to the increased likelihood of avalanches, a result of global warming; the same global warming is held responsible for the spread of West Nile virus and soybean munching Asian aphids; The Bush administration has opened up hundreds of thousand of square miles of former wilderness area to logging, mining, and oil extraction; and the same administration is trying to strip endangered species status from the manatee and other threatened animals. There’s more, but you get the point.
6In a later column I will offer a categorical analysis of the different types of natural, psychological, spiritual, and technological healing modalities that we could ideally use first, before resorting to allopathic medicine.
Joel Funk, Ph.D.
|About the Author:
Joel Funk, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychology at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire. A certifiable health nut, Dr. Funk holds a BA in Chemistry from Rutgers U. and MA and PhD from Clark University (in Psychology). At 57, Joel is married and has three children. Hobbies include reading whodunits, baseball lore, music (including writing musical comedies, piano playing, and choral singing), and sometimes gardening.
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