Not the film with Charlton Heston

The zealot from last September is now a regular fixture on Saturdays, spreading his bigotry to town and gown from his prime proselytising position between the sausage and pancake vans opposite Next on {Sidney|St Andrew’s} Street. I often sidle up to listen as a poor unsuspecting heathen like myself is trapped by his superior rhetorical skills, despite the patent nonsense he spouts.

He always has followers buzzing around and sometimes engaging with outlying mini-hecklers, the ones like me who mumble under their breath but dare not interrupt the deranged rantings of the central loon lest he smite them with his flipchart. I have never been so smitten (smite, smote, smitten) but occasionally a helper zealot has unsuccessfully thrust godly pamphlets at me.

I feel I ought to go forth into battle for the forces of light one day. I think the Ten Commandments are fair game, since they have a page of the flipchart all their own. The zealot, naturally, believes in their literal truth, and that’s where as a geek I think I could have some fun.

If you look at the bible, as I haven’t, you find that there are more than ten imperative statements in the passage about commandments. Our chief weapon is surprise, surprise and fear, fear and surprise… And naturally enough where two or three religions are gathered together, they shall find some common ground upon which to disagree. So there are at least four different permutations of these statements distilled into ten commandments. Anglicans believe “I am the lord thy god” to be merely a “preface” to the commandments, whereas others consider it a fully fledged commandment – number one, in fact.

But the zealot would have an answer to that: he’d say that his chosen interpretation is right, and the others are wrong, and that god would judge him when the time came, like Simon Cowell on a silver cloud.

My next tactic would be this: are the commandments in priority order? I’d assume so, as they’re numbered. It’s not a bulleted list, a holy PowerPoint slide with each commandment animating hi-lariously onto the screen accompanied with some dodgy clip-art and a stolen sound sample of a lightning bolt.

What would god’s PowerPoint template be, in any case? TABSTON.POT probably, it would have to be 8.3 as they didn’t have long filenames in Windows in the olden days. Four colours: black, grey, red, white. Red for the clip-art devil.

Let’s assume they’re in priority order, and let’s assume we’re talking about the Anglican commandments as opposed to the Roman Catholic ones or Jewish ones or whatever.

So why are the first four about god? No other gods but me (“Simon Cowell or else”), no idols (“No photos”), no wrongful use of god’s name (“That’s Mr Cowell to you”), and keep the sabbath holy (“X Factor repeats on ITV2 only”).

Are those four more important than the other six? Is it really more important to “keep Sunday special” than to covet thy neighbour’s telly or kick a tramp to death?

And why does god need four commandments, anyway? Why is fully forty percent of god’s holy mission statement devoted to navel-gazing? Does god, in fact, have a navel at which to gaze?

Aren’t there more important things to include in the ten commandments than “the name’s god, buster, and don’t you forget it.” How about a positive one, like “Look after the old, as you’ll be old one day”. Or more fundamentally, “Treat others as you would expect to be treated”. Yes, that’s in the bible, and it appears in the works of many faiths, as you’d hope: it’s a fundamental moral principle known as the Ethic of Reciprocity. Why isn’t it one of the ten commandments?

There should be a new reality show. One week the public could vote for their favourite commandment, and the least favourite would be struck from the record. The next week ten celebrities could propose replacement commandments: David Dickinson on the importance of a tidy house, Ronan Keating on nurturing talent in the young, Ricky Gervais on not letting arrogance go to your big fat head. The public would vote again, and we’d be back up to a full complement of ten commandments. Repeat for eighteen weeks, see what you get.

It’s a sure-fire ratings hit.

Anyway. The zealot would probably say that the first four commandments are about god for purely administrative reasons. First rule of Fight Club, etc. He’d explain carefully that they’re not actually in priority order. So my next question would be, in that case: what do we do when there’s a clash?

It’s not unheard of for my parents to have a party on a Sunday, have a few drinks. Not exactly holy, a great deal of idleness, debatably sinful. If I don’t go because I want to keep the sabbath holy, I’m dishonouring them. Break one commandment to keep the other. But which?


In this scenario I imagine I’d be able to invoke one of the holy get-out clauses. “You must do what you think is best, and god will judge us all in the end.” That is an ecumenical matter.

Apparently “thou shalt not murder/kill” (there’s debate over which word is correct) is helpfully suspended if you do so in self-defence; I heard the zealot say it, so it must be true. So presumably I can steal, if I do so for the greater good: imagine unlawfully liberating a crucial piece of whistle-blowing evidence. And surely I am free to covet my neighbour’s assets, if doing so makes me work harder to be able to buy newer models of them (benefiting myself and others in a positive way) and thus later gloat (the prohibition of which is not a commandment).

Let’s be honest: these aren’t commandments. They’re guidelines, common sense, “don’t eat yellow snow” with beards and togas. I’m surprised a happy-clappy archbishop hasn’t already repurposed them into “Your Ten Rules for Living”, a new paperback in the shops for Christmas, only £6.99, with a cover photograph of a smiling woman eating muesli.

I ought to try all that on the zealot. What harm could it do; I’m going to hell anyway.


1 Comment

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One response to “Not the film with Charlton Heston

  1. Anonymous


    I’m worried that you know too much about the X Factor…

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