The Ten Commandments are supposed to be a summary, directly from God, of the most basic moral code. Most of them are obvious “biggies”: Kill, Steal, Adultery, disobey parents, swear. A few of them deal with God (honor the Sabbath, don’t pray to anyone else, don’t make fun of his name). All of these are basically understandable -- do it and you harm somebody. Not good. But one of the Ten Commandments -- two, if you follow the Catholic numbering scheme ( different religious traditions number the Commandments differently) -- has nothing to do with actual harm to anyone else. In fact, the people around you could be violating this commandment right now and you’d never know it.
Two of the Ten Commandments, devoted to nothing more than thought. Which commandment is that?
Thou Shalt Not Covet.
Okay, contrast this with, say, adultery, where you have a clear, obvious reason why it's a sin: a spouse is harmed, there is potential for paternity lawsuits, etc. I mean, I get that one. But an equally numbered commandment deals simply with coveting your neighbor’s spouse. Coveting? You mean, I’m not even supposed to imagine, in the privacy of my own mind, what it would be like to have my neighbor’s wife? And that’s right up there, commandment-wise, as adultery? Come on!
This seems especially anomalous because you see covetousness all around us. Some people think a certain amount of greed is good, depending on the circumstances. What is an interest in income inequality, for example, if a concern that the have-nots will become envious of the haves? Is Thomas Picketty endorsing covetousness? Or take the umbrage that people feel over racism or sexism or the other “hate-isms” — isn’t that also another form of covetousness? I covet your station in life. I covet your status.
With the right circumstances that seems like a good thing: when I make others aware that they have more than I do, I help society treat everyone more fairly. If nobody ever coveted, there'd be no reason to change the situation, right?
Help me, I'm confused.