Punishing the Innocent
by Joseph Lewis
from his book "The Ten Commandments"
Chapter: "The Second Commandment"
Equally prevalent as the fear of a jealous god by primitive man was the superstitious belief in sympathetic magic. He thought that if one member of the family was guilty of evil, the whole family was contaminated and that the punishment suffered by the father would also be inflicted upon the children.
What would you think of a person who insisted upon punishing the innocent children of a man who had supposedly committed some wrong? What would you think of a person who insisted upon punishing innocent children of the second generation of a man who had supposedly committed some wrong? What would you think of a person who insisted upon punishing the innocent children of the third generation of a man who had supposedly committed some wrong? What would you think of a man who insisted upon punishing the innocent children of the fourth generation of a man who had supposedly committed some wrong? You would undoubtedly think that such a man was a barbarian and a savage.
If a man with such a character is condemned as inhuman, what should be thought of such a god? If you recoil from this kind of deity today, remember that millions in the past not only accepted this sort of god as the supreme being of the universe, but paid him unrestricted homage.
One of the aspects of the belief in sympathetic magic was the resemblance of the son to the father. An inherited resemblance was presumed to denote inherited character, and guilt if there had been any.
Among the Ewe-speaking people of the Slave Coast, a man found guilty of a vicious crime is not only put to death, but his family either meets a like fate or is imprisoned. The same system of punishment prevails among the Matabele.
The Shilluks of the White Nile vary the punishment. The culprit is put to death for his misdeeds, but his wife and family are given to the Sultan, who retains them in bondage.
The Kafirs have a similar code of punishment; members of the whole household are punished for the misdeeds of one.
In some parts of the Malay Archipelago, a father and child are considered so inseparable that when one is punished the other seldom escapes a like fate.
The law in Bali is similar to the provisions of this Commandment. It prescribes that for certain kinds of sorcery the offender shall be put to death, adding the following: "If the matter be very clearly made out, let the punishment of death be extended to his father and mother, to his children and grandchildren; let none of them live; let none connected with one so guilty remain on the face of the land, and let their goods be in like manner confiscated."
In ancient Mexico, traitors and their children and relatives were made slaves to the fourth generation.
In Athenian law, a man who committed a sacrilege was banished with all his children. Aristotle mentions a case where the body of one who was guilty of sacrilege was disentombed, his ashes cast beyond the borders of the place, and the living members of his clan condemned to perpetual exile as a measure of purification for their sins.
Among the Anglo-Saxons, before the time of Cnut, the child, even the infant in the cradle, was liable to be sold for payment of penalties incurred by the father, being "held by the covetous to be equally guilty as if it had discretion." This belief was carried through the Middle Ages. A person condemned as a heretic lost not only his own property, but his family was subjected to a like penalty on the ground that his impiety had contaminated them.
The Sibuyaus, a tribe belonging to the Sea Dyaks, "are of the opinion that an unmarried girl proving to be with child must be offensive to the superior powers, who, instead of always chastising the individual, punish the tribe by misfortunes happening to its members."
In some parts of China, even today, the belief prevails that a child suffering from sickness or disease is paying the penalty of spiritual vengeance for its parents' impiety. When a maimed or deformed child is born, the Japanese say that its parent or ancestor had committed some great sin. Many superstitious people in Western countries, perverted by the influence of this Commandment, make similar explanations for such tragedies.
The primitive Greeks had a theory of divine retribution similar to that incorporated into this Commandment. They believed that the community had to suffer for the "sins" of some of its members, and the children for the "sins" of their fathers. When Theseus was informed of the death of his wife, he exclaimed: "This must be a heaven-sent calamity in consequence of the sins of an ancestor, which from a remote source I am bringing on myself."
In Scotland, until quite recent times, it was believed that the misconduct of a person descended as a curse to his children until the third or fourth generation. In Christianity this belief is carried to its ultimate in the doctrine that the sin of Adam and Eve caused the entire human race to be cursed.
Not having the divine inspiration of infallible knowledge, Confucius taught the very opposite to what the Bible God threatened. He said that the vices of the father should not discredit a virtuous son, and Plato laid down the rule that the disgrace and punishment of the father should not be visited upon the children. Seneca said that nothing is more unjust than that anyone should inherit the quarrels of his father. And Socrates said that we ought not "to retaliate or render evil for evil to anyone, whatever evil we may have suffered from him."
The infliction of suffering as a retribution for the misdeeds of others has long since passed from the ethics of civilization. To punish the innocent for the guilty is the height of injustice, the Bible Deity to the contrary notwithstanding.
Taking God's Name in Vain
by Joseph Lewis
from his book "The Ten Commandments"
Chapter: "The Third Commandment"
One of the most heart-rending sights ever witnessed was that of a mother in fervent prayer to save her dying child. Her prayer went unanswered; her child died; her appeal to God was in vain.
A girl who loved not wisely but too well found herself abandoned by the boy she had trusted. She appealed to God to save her from what she felt was inevitable disgrace. Never did a human being plead more strongly for divine assistance in her hour of trial, but the only answer was the "echo of her wailing cry." She took the name of God in vain, for she found solace not in prayer but in a poison potion.
When crops fail and famine stalks the land, in vain do the starving people appeal to Heaven for a morsel of food to stay the agonizing torture of death by starvation.
The maimed and the crippled, the heavily burdened, the despondent and the depressed have all taken the name of God in vain when they appealed for assistance to help them meet the emergencies of life.
What is more pitiful than the drowning man as he sinks below the water, his prayer to God for help in vain?
The whole human race has taken the name of God in vain for centuries. When man has appealed to Heaven to help solve the problems of the race that have caused so much misery, suffering and injustice, it has been in vain. If God would answer but one prayer and stop human beings from murdering one another, we might forgive him his callous attitude toward our other requests.
Three little innocent, playful children wandered aimlessly into a vacant house. Unconscious of the time and busily amused, they were unaware that night had fallen. It grew darker and darker. The smallest child became frightened and began to cry. The oldest groped her way from room to room in search of light. She came upon some matches. The anguished sobbing of the other children filled the empty and abandoned house with terrifying sounds. Frightened almost beyond the endurance of her childish mind, the oldest girl, in her eagerness to lead the others out of the darkened house, stumbled and fell. The lighted match ignited her dress and in a few moments she was aflame. She screamed for help. Her cries, mingled with those of the other children, reverberated with such hideous noise that the already terror-struck children became paralyzed with fear. Within a short time the house was on fire and the flames swept the building. In the meantime the frantic parents were looking feverishly for the children, uttering prayers to God for their safety. The whole neighborhood was aroused. Alarms were sounded. They finally came upon the burning building. The children had been taught that in an hour of trial they should pray to God for help and their prayers would be answered. There they found the charred bodies of the three children. One was lying flat upon the floor, the other two were found in a kneeling position, indicating that the little ones, in a last desperate moment, fell upon their knees and prayed to God to save them from so horrible a death. These children took the name of God in vain!
Do you want me to tell you why appeals in the name of God are uttered in vain? Do you want me to tell you why prayers are not answered? I will tell you. There is no such thing as a God who answers the prayers of man. The sooner we come to that realization, the sooner the human race becomes cognizant of this fact, the sooner will man set about to accomplish for himself all that he has appealed to God for in vain. "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain...." Thou canst not take the name of God in any other way.