This was very interesting, Mike, especially your idea of responsibility. I suspect many if not most of our readers will read your comments and think in terms of our responsibility toward the commandments: to keep or not to keep, that is the question. But I would like to suggest a deeper and more horrible responsibility: not responsibility to the commandments but responsibility for the commandments.
If, as I maintain, the Bible is a human document, then it is we humans who invented the Ten Commandments. It is we who said there is one God whose essence is found in the liberation of slaves. It is we who said that this God cannot be imaged, even as we imagined it so! It is we who said don’t murder, lie, steal, etc. But on what basis did we say these things? Were they just good ideas? And who is to define “good” for us?
So we placed these ideas in the mouth of God. Doing so was the ancient equivalent to Papal Infallibility. But if you aren’t Catholic, Papal Infallibility is meaningless. Similarly, if you believe that God gave the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, then the ten commandments God gave are inviolable. But if you don’t believe that they are not really commands at all. It all depends on the story in which the commands are embedded, and the willingness of people to believe the story. It is the story, and not the commands themselves, that has the power. But only if we choose to give it power.
Even if we claim that God gave the Ten Commandments, our claim is rooted solely in our faith in the story that says so, which is little more than an assertion of one idea in the face of alternatives. A Jew might assert that God wrote the Hebrew Bible but not the New Testament. A Christian might assert that God inspired both, but not the Qur’an. A Moslem might assert God dictated the Qur’an but not the Vedas of the Hindus—and none of us have any proof of our assertions whatsoever. We simply assert, and sometimes insist, and, when we can get away with it, kill those who resist our assertions. But the simple, awesome, and horrible truth is that we invented all of it! We just cannot stand this idea, so we run from it and do our best to close our ears to anyone who tries to tell us differently.
This, of course, leads to the comment about story posted by Aaron. I love the idea of "owning your story." The elements of the story are givens, but how you arrange them and the meanings you derive from them is yours. Since you own your story, you can change it. I would argue that is what psychotherapy is all about. We can't change the elements of the story, but we can change the story we create from them and the meanings we derive from the story. The task of the therapist is to help you reinvent your story.
My question is this: Can we drop the story altogether? I think that there are moments when the story drops away and we are radically, awesomely, fearsomely, free. My own experience is that that this freedom is spontaneous and temporary; an act of fierce grace from outside my egoic mind.
I would suggest that if therapy is about learning how to create more healthy, fearless, loving stories; spirituality is about how to live, if only for a moment, without story altogether. I have had glimpses of this story–free liberation, and, while I believe it leaves on naturally just, kind, and humble, it doesn't allow for the creation of an ethical system. And since I cannot maintain that story–free life, I do seek out ethical systems and the stories that sustain them.
I, too, need to hang my ethics on Something greater, so, with equal lack of proof, I assert that there have been and continue to be spiritual geniuses among us who experience the absolute story–free nonduality of all life, and then translate that experience into a story that supports a personal and communal code of conduct designed to help us become more just, kind, and humble. The teachings of these rare geniuses are what Thomas Jefferson called the diamonds of wisdom buried in the dung of scriptural tribalism, xenophobia, misogyny, politics and power plays. Our job as clergy is to liberate the diamonds from the dung, and align our lives and the lives of our communities with their wisdom.
The first step toward doing so is to recognize our responsibility for wisdom. There is no escaping it: we are the creators of our own story and the ethics they compel.