Transcript

332:

The Ten Commandments
Transcript

Originally aired 05.04.2007

Note: This American Life is produced for the ear and designed to be heard, not read. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that's not on the page. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Full audio: http://tal.fm/332

Prologue.

Ira Glass

In 1853 during the California Gold Rush, a leafleteer out west published the Ten Commandments for Gold Miners who had come out to prospect. Commandment number four in the traditional Ten Commandments tells you to observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Commandment number four reads like this, "Thou shalt not remember what thy friends do at home on the Sabbath day, lest the remembrance may not compare favorably with what thou doest here." Commandment number eight, the commandment about stealing in the traditional Commandments-- commandment eight: "Thou shalt not steal a pick or a shovel or a pan from thy fellow miner, or take away his tools without his leave, nor return them broken, nor remove his stake to enlarge thy claim, nor pan out gold from his riffle box."

There's the Ten Commandments of Umpiring written in 1949 by the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. Commandment number one: "Keep your eye on the ball." Four different commandments on this list are basically about not getting mad at the players.

There are the Ten Commandments of Tractor Safety. Number one: "Know your tractor, its implements, and how they work."

The Ten Commandments of Paris Dining, assembled by Fodor's Travel Guides, which include number two: "Thou shalt not be too familiar with a waiter. Don't expect to hear, 'My name is Gaston, and I will be your server tonight.'" Also number eight, "Thou shalt not assume that the customer is always right." And number ten, "Thou shall never use the term 'doggy bag'." Let's see what else.

The Ten Commandments of Cell Phone Etiquette. Number four, "Thou shall not wear more than two wireless devices on thy belt."

The Ten Commandments of Sports Betting. The Ten Commandments of Protecting Your Million Dollar Idea. The Ten Commandments of Good Historical Writing. My favorite: number ten-- "Thou shalt write consistently in the past tense." Interesting to think that you would need that.

The Ten Commandments of Bilingual Blogs. The Ten Commandments of Pastors Leaving the Congregation. The Ten Commandments of Working in a Hostile Environment. The Ten Commandments for Communication with People with Disabilities. This includes the very \ number six, "Don't lean on a person's wheelchair," and number ten, "Don't be embarrassed or freak out if you accidentally use a common phrase like 'See you later' with somebody who can't see, or 'Did you hear about that?' with somebody who can't hear."

The Ten Commandments of Being a Math Teacher: these actually reveal a lot about the internal life of being a math teacher. Number one, "Thou shalt recognize that some students fear and dislike math, and be compassionate." And then there's a long list that's basically different ways to encourage the math teacher to keep patiently explaining over and over in different ways things until your students understand them. Then at the end of that list there's the rather mournful number ten, "Though they may at times seem few, thou shall count thy blessings."

Then of course as Peaches & Herb remind us, there are "The Ten Commandments of Love." [MUSIC - "THE TEN COMMANDMENTS OF LOVE" BY PEACHES & HERB]

I think there's so many different versions of The Ten Commandments because ten commandments are such a perfect way to get across an idea. There's ten of them, so it's enough that you feel like you're getting a comprehensive view. And yet at the same time, there's just ten, right? Ten-- manageable, not too overwhelming. Sure, I could do ten. Ten, sure.

You know, the Biblical commandments have one important thing that all these imitator commandments don't, and that is they're about much more basic stuff, primal stuff that's in our lives: honoring parents, and murder, and lying, and wanting things we don't have. It doesn't get bigger than that. People struggle with all of that, struggle with it enough that we are devoting today's program to The Ten Commandments, the real ones, and just some of the ways that they're in our lives today.

From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass. Today's show: The Ten Commandments. Stay with us.

Commandments One, Two, And Three. Honor God.

Ira Glass

Different denominations attach different numbering schemes to the Commandments, to which commandment goes with which number, though the commandments are always the same. But however you count them, the first two or three commandments, they cover the same ground. They're all about acknowledging God. "I'm the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not carve idols and bow down to them and worship them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain."

These commandments in particular are ones that Shalom Auslander tried to understand and obey as a boy going to religious school, a yeshiva, a school where they were drilled in all of the Bible's commandments by teachers who could be pretty intimidating, some more than others. Here's Shalom.

Shalom Auslander

Eli said that his big brother said that Rabbi Breyer once broke a student's nose by slapping the student's face. Dov said that his big brother said that Rabbi Breyer had once broken a student's arm when he was dragging the student from the room for talking during prayers. Rabbi Breyer was the scariest rabbi in the whole yeshiva.

He was a stocky man, wide as the doorway, with a long, rough beard and thick, angry hands, and everyone trembled that first day of third grade when he stomped heavily into the classroom, wrote his name on the blackboard, and shouted at Akiva for slouching in his seat. Nobody spoke during class. Nobody doodled in the margins of their prayer books. And when, at the end of the first test at the end of the first week, Rabbi Breyer shouted, "Pencils down," it was as if the commandment had come from God himself.

At recess, we stood huddled together on the concrete slab beside the door, afraid to play, worried that Breyer was somewhere watching. Avi and Eli started flipping baseball cards. Flipping cards is considered gambling, which is forbidden, so we were supposed to return the cards to each other at the end of recess. Nobody ever did. Eli won a large stack of cards from Avi, and I flipped Eli next. I lost an old Willie Randolph and a frayed Lou Piniella, but I won a mint Carl Yastrzemski, whom I was pretty sure was Jewish. I had been trying to win him for months.

The bell rang and everyone headed glumly back to class, where we sat quietly at our desks, waiting for Rabbi Breyer to return. I took out my Carl Yastrzemski, turned it over, and carefully wrote my name across the back. I didn't want to lose him and didn't plan on flipping him.

"Name of the creator," Rabbi Breyer shouted. I jumped, and turned to find him standing beside me, his face red, his furious finger pointing at the baseball card on my desk. "Name of the creator," he shouted again. He grabbed the card from my desk. Name of the creator? I was confused. Yaz? Rabbi Breyer slapped my hand, grabbed me by the ear, and led me to the head of the classroom. He held Yastrzemski over his head and shook him. "This," he declared loudly, "must never be thrown away. It must never touch the ground. It must never be covered." Then Rabbi Breyer waved the card in my face and told me that my name was the same name as God's, and I must never write it again.

The Jewish God has 72 names, and even though I was only eight years old, I already knew a lot of them. There was Adonai, there was Yahweh, there was Elohim. There was He Who is Full of Mercy, He Who is Quick to Anger, the Holy Spirit, the Divine Presence, the Rock, the Savior, and now, somewhere near the bottom of the list, there was Shalom. Peace. My name.

Rabbi Breyer handed me the baseball card, and told me to take it to the prayer hall upstairs and immediately put it in the Shaimos Box. Shaimos means "names," and it was the place where any old or unusable names of God are left to be discarded. Pages from prayer books, crumbling Talmuds, old Torah scrolls, and from now on, anything I wrote my name on. When the box was filled, the rabbis would take it outside, dig a hole, and bury the pages in the ground. From now on, Rabbi Breyer said, when writing my name I was to replace the last Hebrew letter, the M sound, with a simple apostrophe. I was no longer Shalom. I was Shalo'. I headed upstairs with a sigh.

Life with God's name was more difficult than I imagined. I was annoyed with God for being so selfish with them all. He had 71 other names. I couldn't see why he'd mind so much if I used just one. I didn't want to tell God how to do his job, but I wondered if maybe there weren't bigger things for him to be worrying about than who was using one of his six dozen names without permission. Isn't this, I wondered, what led to holocausts?

The Shaimos Box in the prayer hall filled quickly: my homework, my test papers, my what-I-did-this-summer, even my Highlights For Children. And buried at the bottom of the box, a pair of underpants my mother had written my name on with permanent marker.

It seemed I couldn't go an hour without making something holy, and I wasn't the only one. Every morning my mother wrote my name on my lunch bag, the name of God, in bright red magic marker, with a quickly drawn smiley face just below it. And every afternoon, Rabbi Breyer would grab my lunch bag, shout, "Name of the creator," dump the food out onto my desk, and send me upstairs to the Shaimos Box with my suddenly sacred lunch bag.

It didn't end with writing. I was standing at the urinal one day when Avi came in. "Hey Shalom," he said. "Name of the creator," Rabbi Breyer shouted from inside the nearby stall. "Name of the creator." We heard him fumbling with his pants and ran back to class. Later, as we sat with our heads down as punishment, Rabbi Breyer explained that speaking God's name in the bathroom was also forbidden.

And then a few weeks later, it suddenly all clicked. I began spelling my name with an apostrophe without even thinking. My mother stopped writing my name on my lunch bag, and my friends stopped saying "hello" to me in the bathroom. It had been a hassle at the beginning, but now the whole God thing was growing on me. My classmates were named after rabbis and forefathers. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob? Please. I was named after God.

So I was surprised a few days later when I heard Rabbi Breyer in the middle of an exam on the first chapter of Genesis shout, "Name of the creator." I turned around, expecting to see him standing beside me, but he was on the far side of the classroom standing behind Shlomo's desk, pointing a furious finger at Shlomo's test paper. "Name of the creator," he shouted again, and he slapped Shlomo's hand, grabbed him by the ear, and dragged him to the front of the class.

Shlomo isn't technically a name of God, but it means "his shalom," his peace, and for some reason that day Rabbi Breyer decided that was close enough. But instead of feeling relieved that someone else in our classroom would share the burden of a holy name, I was disappointed. It was a pain in the ass being named God, but it was my pain and it was my ass.

Rabbi Breyer handed Shlomo his test paper, and told me to take him upstairs to show him where the Shaimos Box was. I still didn't quite understand God's reasoning behind the third commandment of "Thou shall not use my name in vain," but I suddenly had a pretty good idea of the reason behind the first, "Thou shall have no other gods besides me." It's one thing to be the only God. It's quite another lesser thing to be one of two.

I headed upstairs with Shlomo two steps behind me. I wanted to push him down the stairs. I wanted to shove him out the window. As we walked toward the prayer hall, I remembered that Rabbi Breyer had told us that Moses had killed an Egyptian by uttering the name of God. Shlomo pushed his way in front of me and hurried to the Shaimos Box. "Adonai," I whispered. Nothing. "Yahweh," I said. Nothing.

I couldn't bear to watch him violating my Shaimos Box, so I turned and headed back to class, Shlomo running behind me, trying to keep up, using my name in vain and calling, "Shalom, Shalom, wait up," as I squeezed my eyes shut and whispered one last time, "Elohim." Nothing.

Ira Glass

Shalom Auslander. He has a book of short stories called Beware of God and the memoir Foreskin's Lament.

Commandment Four. Keep The Sabbath Holy.

Ira Glass

This brings us to the fourth commandment, "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days will you labor, but the seventh is a day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God."

Minister

Good morning everyone.

Congregation

Good morning.

Minister

We're glad to have everyone here today.

Minister

It is awesome to see you tonight. Thank you for coming to worship with us. The ushers are going to come forward now.

Minister

We're going to be reading from the 48th division of Psalms. "Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised. And the city of our God--"

Minister

We also begin with words of blessing at the bottom of page 104. [SPEAKING HEBREW]

Minister

[SPEAKING LATIN]

Ira Glass

There are six congregations in six different cities remembering the Sabbath and trying to keep it holy.

Minister

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Minister

Lord, we pray for our sick and shut-in everywhere, Lord. There are sick among us Lord Jesus that need you. Lord, we pray for the homeless on today. The men--

Minister

United now in faith we pray--

Minister

May the Lord look with kindness upon all efforts to uphold the dignity of marriage and of family life. We pray to the Lord.

Congregation

Lord, hear our prayer.

Minister

We pray especially for the Neely family. We pray for the loss in the Golumbiski family on the loss of a cousin.

Minister

And here all of us can learn something from an ancient text which seemed so irrelevant. When someone has for whatever reason had to separate themselves from society, the priest has to get involved and help this person get back into the community.

Minister

People claim nowadays that they are the first one who are asking for the women's right. Islam, about 15 centuries ago said, "All people, you must consider the rights of your wives." Be kind and nice to them. Feel Allah in your wives and be good to them. Oh Allah, be my witness.

Minister

Do I have a witness? We are the bride of Christ. Why? Because Christ died for us. He's married to us. And we need to understand what marriage means. You can't be married and cheating. And there are far too many of us cheating on Jesus. Nobody comes before Jesus.

Minister

Turn to our hymnals on page 154, "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name." We'll all stand.

Minister

Amen. Amen. Thank you all for coming. You're all welcome to stay.

Singers

[SINGING] Speak oh Lord as we come to you to receive the food of your holy Word.

Ira Glass

This is the Bent Tree Bible Fellowship in Carrollton, Texas. Before that, the Northwest Venice United Methodist Church in Corunna, Michigan, Faith Tabernacle Baptist Church in Chicago, the Muslim Community Association mosque in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Virginia, and Our Lady of Angels Monastery in Hanceville, Alabama.

Commandment Five. Honor Your Father And Your Mother.

Ira Glass

If you're just tuning in, we are devoting our show today to The Ten Commandments. We are at commandment number five right now, "Honor your father and your mother."

When he was 11 in Charleston, South Carolina, Jack Hitt and his friends back then formed a little club where they would hang out at this one backyard that was all overgrown, and which they thought of at the time as a jungle. It had a big brick wall along one side. They started doing things that did not honor their fathers and their mothers.

Jack Hitt

Anyway, we had we declared it to be our land. We were squatters. And so we started painting things on the wall. One of us painted a naked woman, and one of us wrote his name and then "loves" and then the girl he had a thing for that time. And that's how he got caught because he wrote his name on the wall. And then I wrote all these bad words. I just wrote every bad word I could think of.

And so I came home one day, and the police came to my house and told my parents, or called my father at work or something. Anyway, he came home early from work. He sat me down in his big study and said, "I understand you've painted some words on a wall." And I was like, oh my God, just burst into tears. I was just beyond control. My father never cursed, at least not in front of us and he was very strict about language.

And so he asked me what words we painted-- I painted on the wall. I think I choked out, "H-E-double hockey sticks" or something. He kind of looked down, very grave indeed. "Anything else?" I was like, "Yeah." That was just the warm-up. And so then I said, "I painted the other words. I can't say them. I can't say them." And then he said, "Tell me what it started with." He was going to get it out of me. I coughed up the letter S. He was just-- his eyes blazed, and he bowed his head, "Oh my God. Anything else?" I could not be contained. I was wailing around on the sofa. I said, "There's only one word left, and yeah, I painted it." And he was just-- I think he was actually thunderstruck. And then he sat there in silence for a few minutes. And then he looked up at me, and he said-- [SIGH] He said [SIGH].

Now you have to understand, my father comes from the rural area, marries the southern belle in Charleston, South Carolina. It was a marriage of two kinds of families in the South. And he said, "Son, I've worked all my life to make sure that when you or your sisters or your brother walk down the street people say, 'There goes a Hitt. They're good people.' I don't think anything that anybody in this family has done has damaged that reputation as much as you have today." He said, "That is your punishment. You may go now."

I was 11. I was floored. I asked him, I think, to spank me, because of course part of me wanted an explosion that would end it. But he said when he dismissed me from the room, he said, "This has been your punishment." And then of course a couple of months later he dies. That's one of my last memories, is him telling me that.

Ira Glass

Do you think he was being sincere?

Jack Hitt

Well I'll tell you, years later we had a little family reunion. I might have been 20. I was in college. All my siblings got together. They were all married at this point. We dismissed all the in-laws to go see the movies, and the five of us stayed up really late talking. I don't think we had ever really talked about our father in any deep way since he had died.

I started telling that story. I had never told that story, because I was ashamed of it. It was the black mark on the family that I had done this. I couldn't bring-- I'd never told anybody that story. I started telling that story, and all my sisters start wailing with laughter, and then they all start telling the story that what they had done that had prompted essentially the exact same speech. Like one of them had been caught shoplifting in Atlanta, and he had to fly there and get her. It was just a terrible story. I'd never heard that one before either. I thought hoo-ee, painting a few bad words on a wall, that's nothing compared to shoplifting in Atlanta.

Ira Glass

And was this the first time that everybody else was realizing that he had said the speech to them too? Or were you the only one who didn't know?

Jack Hitt

I think I was the only one who didn't know. I mean, they're much older than I am. I'm a mistake. My oldest sister is 16 years older than I am. So I think what was kind of moving about that whole encounter was that all of them had long ago forgotten their particular crime that had prompted daddy to give them the big reputation speech. But when I brought it up, it suddenly-- for all of them that all flooded back. It just created this great little moment where we all suddenly realized we were-- the whole family was just so defined by my father's rather Baptist sense of morality.

Ira Glass

Jack Hitt is a contributing editor to our show.

Commandment Six. You Shall Not Murder.

Ira Glass

Well the Sixth Commandment seems like it could not be more straightforward: "Thou shalt not kill." But of course even this is one that is not always so simple to know how to obey.

Army Reserve Chaplain Lieutenant Colonel Lyn Brown is back in this country from Iraq, where he has served two tours. When he was in Iraq, he would run services for his unit once a week, but most of his ministry was just talking to guys one on one. The main issue they have, he says, is about missing their families, but often they talk to him about killing. He spoke with one of our producers, Alex Blumberg.

Lyn Brown

I did meet with one soldier on several occasions to just work through the Commandment. This young man had actually, along with another soldier, had gone forward when the vehicle in front of them had been blown up to hold the hand of a soldier who was not going to survive. Somebody had told me that he was having a tough time.

So I went over to him, and I just said, "What are you thinking?" He said, "I never thought about the killing that would be going on." When you're firing at a target to practice, you think of those things as targets, not as people. For him to be there and to see that he had some buddies that were on the receiving end, he was just saying, The Ten Commandments and the Bible says, "Thou shalt not kill." And he says, "I'm not certain I can go out and kill."

Alex Blumberg

His concern was that like God wouldn't forgive him, or that it was wrong.

Lyn Brown

Well it was that God wouldn't approve of him doing that. And he also brought up if you were to do it, who could he tell? Because he said, "I wouldn't want to tell my girlfriend about this. I wouldn't want to tell my children." And that's why I went ahead and had a little Bible study with him.

It was a kind of thing that I did meet with him on several occasions to find out what God had to say about war, and where did the commandment "thou shalt not kill," where did that come in? But also to work through other instances where, for example in the New Testament, where Jesus meets an army officer who has a child who's dying. He asks Jesus if he would heal his daughter. But the interesting thing I would point out is that Jesus never condemned the soldier for his job.

I also know that when King David wanted to build a temple, that God said no. He said, your son's going to do it because you're a man of blood. So there's a lot of controversy, as you can imagine, as to trying to interpret what God was talking about there. And of course that seems to reflect on even my role as a chaplain. Why am I wearing an Army uniform and trying to deal with people who are out to kill people?

Alex Blumberg

Are there times that you feel that faith and the US military are sort of at odds?

Lyn Brown

Yes. We preach the love of God and the fact that we ought to be at peace with each other. In the same time, I'm wearing a uniform that says US Army on it. I'm there to support them in their mission of winning a war and that means taking lives. So I do wrestle with that. There's times that you just kind of go, "God, can I resign here? Can I get away from this?" Rather than having to deal with the questioning that people have, and often not having answers.

I think that's probably the biggest challenge that I've ever had, was I couldn't just say, "Just think this way and you'll be fine." There were times that they were asking the same questions that I would be asking.

Alex Blumberg

Such as?

Lyn Brown

Well, should we be here? Should we be killing people?

Alex Blumberg

Do you think that you have a different understanding of this particular Commandment, the Fifth Commandment, "Thou shalt not kill." Do you feel like you have a different understanding of it after serving in Iraq than perhaps somebody who didn't serve?

Lyn Brown

I think I'm much more hesitant about having a definite opinion about who should die. Just seeing the brutality and the-- people have got body parts missing, or there's big holes. They died a violent death. It's not pretty. It just doesn't seem normal, which it isn't.

But also even with the Iraqi culture, there were times that people just said, whatever group it was they didn't agree with, they just said, [SHOOTING SOUND] kill them all. I was going uh, these are people. I didn't like that attitude. And then I was seeing it even among the armed forces. There was people that would just kind of say, well we just need to kill them all, and then that will take care of it. I was going, "whoa." Who nominated you to be God?

We all have a tendency to interpret the Ten Commandments in a way that's convenient for us. There's the interpretation of thou shalt not murder. It shouldn't be a premeditated killing. It has nothing to do with war. Those kinds of things. But it just makes me-- I'm looking at it as a principle that God says, you need to value life, and don't take it lightly. Just don't condemn people to death just because it's easy to do. You've got to stop and think about it seriously. This is something that God himself doesn't take lightly.

Ira Glass

Army Reserve Chaplain Lieutenant Colonel Lyn Brown talking with Alex Blumberg.

Coming up: adultery, thievery, lying, envy. No, it is not an afternoon of daytime TV. It is the last four commandments. We have one story for each of them. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International when our program continues.

[MUSIC - "KISH" BY DAVID BYRNE]

Commandment Seven. You Shall Not Commit Adultery.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our show, of course, we choose a theme. We bring you a variety of different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's show: The Ten Commandments. We're doing one story for each of the Commandments. The first few commandments, of course, about how to relate to God. Then there's one on relating to your parents, and the rest are all direct injunctions about how to act, basically a list of things that you are not supposed to do. We are at commandment number seven, "You shall not commit adultery." Yes, we are at the commandment that is about sex, and while there is going to be nothing explicit in this next story, it does acknowledge the existence of sex. A little warning there.

In 1976 in an interview with Playboy magazine, then-presidential candidate Jimmy Carter admitted kind of famously that he had committed adultery in his heart many times, meaning of course that he had had lustful thoughts. There's this thing that Jesus says in the book of Matthew, "Whoever looks at a woman lustfully has committed adultery in his heart." Dave Dickerson grew up going to an evangelical church in Tucson, Arizona, and he remembers hearing about what Carter said about committing adultery in his heart.

Dave Dickerson

I was eight years old, and I knew just what he was talking about. He was just saying the same thing I had read in my Bible dozens of times. As an evangelical Christian, I wanted desperately to please God, so for my entire adolescence and up into my twenties I literally tried to avoid having lustful thoughts. I was taught this was possible. Paul says in Second Corinthians that we take every thought captive in the name of Jesus, which means that any spiritually healthy person ought to able to control every thought in his head.

Of course, in practice this is even harder than it sounds. So for young evangelicals like me, there's a whole sub-industry of sex advice columns and books with titles like Every Man's Struggle or Taking Thoughts Captive. You can find them in the For Men section of any Christian bookstore.

The first thing they always tell you is that sex is a beautiful gift from God, even though it's a gift they don't want you to touch or even think about, because you're just going to ruin it with your filthy paws. Any physical pleasure, even pleasure you give yourself while alone, is completely forbidden. Then they tell you how to survive until marriage. They all run some variation on you can't help the first glance, but you can prevent the second.

Josh Harris

You can obey God with your eyes. They don't have to see everything around them. If an attractive girl walks by they don't have to survey her body, but they must obey Jesus Christ.

Dave Dickerson

This is Josh Harris in the audio version of his book Not Even a Hint: Guarding Your Heart Against Lust. It's full of practical tips.

Josh Harris

I don't know about your house, but at our home all kinds of sensuous and provocative clothing catalogs arrive in the mail uninvited. I've come to realize that I have to view even getting my mail as a battleground. Will I throw them away immediately or steal glances and flip through them for a quick thrill? If you're a guy with a similar struggle, ask your wife or mother to help you in this area by ridding your home of these unnecessary temptations.

Dave Dickerson

Other tips: these books tell you to watch TV with the remote in your hand, so if a sexy beer commercial comes on, or when the sports camera cuts to the cheerleaders, you can immediately jump to another channel. And be honest with yourself: when you watch ESPN2, aren't you hoping to see gymnastics? And guys need daily quiet time to read the Bible and pray for strength in the fight against temptation.

I don't know why, but in my case none of this ever worked. I wanted it to work, longed for it desperately, but every week or so late at night, I'd give in. "M happened again," I would write in my journal, as if it weren't an action but an event, something that could just engulf you like a flash flood or a car accident, something so terrible it could only be referred to in code.

I was an adulterer. That's what the Bible told me, and I struggled with the guilt of that every day. After high school I went to a huge state college in Tucson, and on warm days I would walk across campus feeling like a monster because I believed that noticing a girl's body was the spiritual equivalent of something like sexual assault.

I assumed all this was the same for all of us fundamentalist kids. At every all-guys prayer meeting I ever went to, someone was always asking for help with their thought life. But I'd never actually asked if anyone had quite the same problems I did. So I called my friend Derek, a missionary's kid who was my best friend from church back then.

Derek

You're right, it wasn't your own obsession at all. I developed a technique of seeing girls as just floating heads. You just learn you're just not going to look below the neck, because it's like--

Dave Dickerson

There's only bad news there.

Derek

Yeah, it did have this funny effect on-- I mean, I was a cartoonist for my college newspaper, and I didn't actually know how to draw girls really. You can see when I would draw a female figure top to bottom in a cartoon, there was an awkwardness to it, because I didn't actually know what they looked like. Those kinds of things are kind of-- it's funny to look back and talk about them now, but it was all very dead serious back then.

Dave Dickerson

Oh yeah, that's the other thing. It seems so trivial and silly, and yet it caused actual agony. We felt depraved.

Derek

Yeah, and there's this terrible-- a real anger, a sense of unfairness at the media. Like Coors Lite put up these billboards with women in swimsuits on them, and they were very well-designed swimsuits. There they would be, right up in the sky. So you just felt like the devil was just absolutely this very wily opponent, and it's just in your face all the time. It's so frustrating if you're trying not to go out of your way to look for it, but then it seems like everybody's pushing it in your face.

Dave Dickerson

Do you ever wish you could go back?

Derek

Yeah. It's funny you should ask that, because I have actually had that imaginary conversation before. You see some time travel movie. You fantasize like, wow, if I had a chance to go back, what would I tell that kid? I think I would tell myself, you know what? You spend so much time straining over this one issue that you are avoiding or overlooking the whole rest of your spiritual journey.

I wasted a lot of time. There was a lot of time wasted obsessing. I think that's kind of what you found out yourself too, right? It just gets to the point where things crack instead of bending.

Dave Dickerson

He's right, they do crack. And for me they cracked worse than for Derek. I couldn't buy porn. That was obviously forbidden. I didn't have a girlfriend. I couldn't even watch MTV. So the only sexual experiences I had had were the ones that happened by accident: a woman bending over in a low-cut shirt, for instance.

And then at 22, I started finding myself walking slowly on campus, or in supermarkets or the library, hoping to see another accidental glimpse of something. It took more and more of my time. My grades started to suffer. I was like a stalker, but a shy one with incredibly low standards.

Then after a couple unbearable months of this, I begged my pastor for help. He suggested Sex Addicts Anonymous. At my first meeting we all told our stories. There was a guy who'd spent thousands of dollars on prostitutes in a single long weekend. There was a woman who had slept with a different guy almost every night for years. There was a huge tattooed biker who was so ashamed to be there that a friend led him in blindfolded. And then there was me, a 22-year-old virgin. When I told my story, there was an awkward silence. Even here, nobody understood my problem.

A few days later I went to a Christian counselor, expecting he'd just tell me to pray harder, look for answers in the Scripture. I explained my problem, and he looked at me and frowned, and he asked if I ever did the act, the one that I found so horrible I only referred to it in code. "Trust me," he said, "let yourself do it. Give yourself permission and see what happens."

This was shocking. That a Christian would give me this kind of advice, that it's possible to obey too much, that you could lead yourself astray by following the Bible's rules. That very day I took home my first Playboy magazine, and that was that. After five minutes I was no longer desperate to glimpse random women bending over the freezer cases at the grocery store. It felt like a miracle. It was so fast, so life-changing, that it was like converting all over again.

Ira Glass

Dave Dickerson. He's working on a book called How to Love God Without Being a Jerk.

Commandment Eight. You Shall Not Steal.

Ira Glass

Commandment number eight.

Hassan

This is your Sprite. Here's a Coke for you.

Ira Glass

You shall not steal.

Hassan

Ready to order, or do you need more time? What can I do for you?

I work as a waiter. I've been here since 1994. That's almost 13 years working in this place.

Ira Glass

Hassan works the afternoon shift at a neighborhood restaurant.

Hassan

Well people, usually they steal a lot of things. They steal different stuff. Some of them, they steal umbrellas from another customer.

Ira Glass

Really?

Hassan

Oh yeah. I saw it with my eye. The guy was lawyer. He stole-- he had a broken umbrella. In the umbrella box there was a good umbrella. He took it away with him.

Ira Glass

Do you think it might have a been mistake?

Hassan

I don't think so. Lawyers, they don't make mistake.

There was two couples. One of the couples, the wife, she used to sit on the right side corner.

Ira Glass

She'd sit in this booth.

Hassan

Yeah, this booth. She used to take salt and pepper from table. No matter what we did, no matter what we said, no matter what we act, she never changed. She always took it. I believe that she took at least two dozens during the two years period.

Ira Glass

Two dozen?

Hassan

Yes.

Ira Glass

They stole two dozen salt and pepper shakers?

Hassan

Yeah, total during the two years period. At one second I miss-- one second I miss-- gone.

Ira Glass

And she was a regular customer?

Hassan

Oh yeah, regular customer. I believe she was doing everywhere, wherever she goes.

Ira Glass

What I don't understand is what will she do with two dozen salt and pepper shakers?

Hassan

I don't know. I don't know. That's what I wanted to know too. Maybe she has a store.

Ira Glass

He says it doesn't happen often, the stealing, but there is a pattern he's noticed. One woman walked over to a display and took some food, and then sat down and ate the food. When he tried to charge her, she argued with him. When a man tried to take a huge stack of napkins, like this huge stack, and Hassan caught him, he didn't even seem embarrassed.

Hassan

He got mad. He got mad at me because I said, "You are not allowed to take it."

Ira Glass

The people who steal, are they good tippers or bad? Like the woman with the salt and pepper shaker, will they tip?

Hassan

Well, they were good tipper.

Ira Glass

And the lawyer with the umbrella: good tipper or bad?

Hassan

No way.

Ira Glass

No way? A lawyer?

Hassan

That's why he has two houses.

Commandment Nine. You Shall Not Bear False Witness.

Ira Glass

Which brings us to the Ninth Commandment. This hour is going so fast. Ninth Commandment: "Do not bear false witness." Don't lie.

To understand this next story you have to understand this idea of a mitzvah. For religious Jews, a mitzvah is a good deed. They're supposed to fill their days doing these good deeds. But "mitzvah" is also the Hebrew word for commandment, and when religious Jews count the commandments in the Bible, they don't just have the big 10, they count specifically 613 commandments they're supposed to follow.

Well the woman in this next story wanted to do one of the biggest of mitzvot ever. She was going to save somebody's life, a stranger's life. But to do this, she was going to have to break another one of the Commandments, the one about lying. In this case she was going to be lying to her own mother. Sarah Koenig tells more.

Sarah Koenig

Chaya Lipschutz does all her mother's shopping. She prepares all her meals for her, does all her cooking. And they're extremely close-- best friends, Chaya says, and she means it. And they also live in this tiny space together, a two-room basement apartment in Borough Park in Brooklyn, where they share a tiny bedroom and sleep in two tiny beds, really cots, that are about a foot apart from each other.

In this kind of set up it's unimaginable that you could keep anything from your mother. But Chaya had this whopper of a secret. She wanted to donate a kidney to someone, to a stranger, after seeing an ad in a Jewish newspaper taken out by somebody who needed one.

Chaya Lipschutz

The ad was like screaming out to me. It said, "Save a life, be m'chaim," which means to fulfill a once-in-a-lifetime mitzvah.

Sarah Koenig

It would be an uber-mitzvah, and she was going to do it unless her mother found out first. Her mother has a kind of phobia about surgery, and also like any parent, she would worry about all the things that could go wrong. So Chaya didn't tell her mother about her plan, which took many, many months to put together. She got away with it until her mother found some ads about kidney donation that Chaya accidentally left on the kitchen table. She lectured Chaya about it.

Chaya Lipschutz

"It's not for you." Like I think she said to me that I could do any other mitzvah except this one. She just like-- I didn't answer her.

Sarah Koenig

But how old were you at this point?

Chaya Lipschutz

This was only-- I mean, right. I'm an adult. I'm a grown-up.

Sarah Koenig

She can't forbid you to do anything really.

Chaya Lipschutz

But you know what? I didn't want to cause her any pain or any suffering. Don't forget, she's an older lady, and people sometimes can have heart attacks and die. I wanted to give a life. I dind't want to take away a life at the same time. But even if she didn't have a heart attack, it would give her so much suffering and I didn't want to-- I never, ever like to upset her.

Sarah Koenig

Chaya tried to follow the commandment about not lying. For her, lying's a sin, never mind lying to your own mother. She could argue that not saying anything about the kidney transplant wasn't strictly lying, but as the surgery date got closer, Chaya couldn't cling to that technicality. She was getting a lot of phone calls. She had to go for medical tests all the time.

Sarah Koenig

When you would go out and get tests and do these things, where would you tell her you were going?

Chaya Lipschutz

I had to say other things. You're dragging it out of me. OK, OK. You know what? I did have to give little white lies.

Sarah Koenig

And what were the white lies? Like what kinds of things would you say?

Chaya Lipschutz

I don't even want to go into details. I'm like embarrassed. It wasn't bad. I don't tell her anything all that bad.

Sarah Koenig

Chaya feels so guilty that she lied to her mother, she can barely talk about it, and the lies just became more overt as the day of the surgery arrived.

Chaya Lipschutz

I had to spend the night before near the hospital.

Sarah Koenig

What did you tell her?

Chaya Lipschutz

Oh gosh. I told her I was going to go to a friend's house. It was a house, and my friend was there. My kidney-- my person I was donating the kidney to, she was like a friend already.

Oh gosh. I had this huge bag to bring with me to the hospital. Because like I didn't want her to see how much I was taking, when my mother went to the bathroom that night before I left the house, I took my stuff actually out to the side of the house and left it there, and then I went back in the house. So this way I just went-- I didn't leave with that much, maybe a shopping bag, to go. Oh gosh.

But you know what? That was hard for me because I don't like to lie. But that, it was all to do a good thing. It wasn't anything selfish. You know what I mean? It was all-- you know, sometimes you're-- listen, I don't want people to think you're allowed to do white lies, but sometimes you have to. Sometimes you have to. You have no choice in it. I'm doing this to save another person's life. I'm sure you know as a result of what I did, God's going to forgive me for all those white lies.

Sarah Koenig

It's one thing to plan to donate your kidney and not tell your mother. It's another thing to actually have your organ removed and not tell your mother. So Chaya had to figure out some way to break it to her once it was a done deal. And her scheme for doing this is so complicated, it makes all the earlier lies look really junior varsity. What happened is that by chance, the same week of her surgery, somebody told Chaya about this 23-year-old Hasidic woman who had also donated a kidney to a stranger.

Chaya Lipschutz

And I met this very lovely young woman, Feigi. I said to her, would you be willing to tell my mother-- to come over to my mother's house after the surgery and tell her that she donated a kidney, and then tell her, by the way I donated a kidney, and I'm in the hospital right now. Let her be the one to tell her, because my mother will see that she's healthy, she looks healthy, and she's young, and she doesn't look like she had major surgery a few months earlier. And so I told her, call my mother and tell her this way, that you have tzedakah, charity, to give to one of my mother's charities. And that was a good way to get into the house.

And I arranged it that my kidney recipient's family is going to call her after Feigi-- after the surgery. So she called my mother, and my mother was like almost out the door. And she says, no, please, please wait, I have tzedakah to give, charity to give to one of your charities. Of course, my mother waited. And so she sat down with her, and she said she donated a kidney. And my mother looked at her, panned down, and sees she's normal, and healthy, and she just did something like three months earlier. And she came with a cute little baby. And then she said to her, by the way, your daughter's right now in the hospital, and she did the same thing.

Sarah Koenig

To everyone's relief, Chaya's mother did not have a heart attack.

Chaya Lipschutz

My mother smiled, and she says, it's mena shamayim, it's from heaven. It's heavenly thing that was meant to be. And she took it very, very well, just like I thought. It was just exactly according to my script, the way everything worked out. She was happy. She was happy, and I was like, [RELIEVED SIGH]. I was like so happy it was like all over, that she took it well, and she was proud of me. It was like such a relief.

Sarah Koenig

It sounds like dealing with your mother was so much harder than actually doing anything.

Chaya Lipschutz

Exactly. Donating a kidney was easy for me. The hardest part was not telling my mother.

Sarah Koenig

Chaya's mother never said anything to her about the white lies, and Chaya's still not sure she even knows about them. And she never chastised Chaya for keeping the surgery from her. She's just proud of Chaya, which is what Chaya wanted all along. Last month Chaya's brother, inspired by her, donated his kidney to a stranger. He said his mother had no problem with it at all.

Ira Glass

Sarah Koenig is one of the producers of our show.

Commandment Ten. You Shall Not Covet.

Ira Glass

And so we arrive at the end of our list, the end of God's to-do list for humanity, Commandment Number 10.

Amy

iPods, everybody wants iPods. iPods, iPods, it's really important.

Ira Glass

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass.

Amy

You want phones, you want iPods, you want shoes, you want clothes. It's a lot of things that's really important.

Ira Glass

You shouldn't covet anything that is thy neighbor's.

Girl

So it's kind of hard for a lot of people to fit in, because they want that same stuff.

Ira Glass

Amy and her friends Selena and Kayla are in seventh grade. During a lunch break, they explained that the latest thing that they all covet is a Sidekick 3, which if you haven't seen it is a kind of souped-up cell phone. They want Sidekick 3s so bad that they cannot help but notice every single person who has one.

Amy

Well she's not in my class. Her name is Arlene.

Girl

My friend Amanda has a Sidekick. My cousin has a Sidekick. Arlene has a Sidekick.

Amy

Christine has a Sidekick.

Girl

Yeah, Christine has a Sidekick. Who else got a Sidekick? This girl on the train got a Sidekick. I saw her Sidekick. Yeah. Almost all my family got a Sidekick. I want a Sidekick. I don't have a Sidekick. I lost my phone, actually. I want a Sidekick, but haven't got it yet. See, yeah, she has one. She has one.

Ira Glass

You have a Sidekick? Can we see?

This girl, Christine, pulls out her Sidekick and shows it around. The photo on the Sidekick's little display is herself, which definitely is one of the things that is normal when a kid does it but would be so weird if an adult tried it. She hasn't had the Sidekick for very long.

Christine

I don't really remember. I think it was in the beginning of April.

Ira Glass

Oh, so just a couple weeks ago?

Christine

Yeah. It's cool actually, because I get to go on the internet, and I get to go on AOL, text message, all of that. It's really good. It's like a extra computer, a little computer for myself to carry around. A portable everything. A portable everything, basically.

Ira Glass

And did you want one for a long time?

Christine

Yeah, I actually did.

Ira Glass

Now were there people who didn't talk to you before the Sidekick, who when you got the Sidekick--

Christine

Yeah, there was a lot of people that didn't talk to me. And now that I have my Sidekick, they like every day want to use it.

Ira Glass

So they just want to use the Sidekick? They don't want to actually--

Christine

Yeah, they just want the Sidekick. They don't want me, they want the Sidekick.

Ira Glass

These girls actually had very grown-up attitude about all the stuff they covet. This stuff matters to them, but it doesn't totally matter. Kayla wasn't wearing Nikes or Cons, and nobody cared. Sweena and Amy recently got iPods, and they're the first to admit it didn't change how anybody saw them. They joke about how they waste a lot of time thinking and talking about this stuff, and I reminded them that it's in the Bible that we're not supposed to want stuff, or be jealous of people who have stuff we don't have.

Ira Glass

Do you think it's realistic that people aren't going to want stuff?

Christine

No, because everybody wants stuff at some point.

Girl

I think it's just natural. Everybody is going to want something in life. You're not going to go through life not wanting anything. You're not going to just go through life, OK, I have this and I have that. I don't need anything else, or I don't want this. I think it's just natural for people to want things.

Ira Glass

But then you're saying in a way it's natural, that we're always going to be breaking one of The Ten Commandments.

Girl

Basically, yeah.

Ira Glass

If we needed any proof of this, that we're always going to want stuff, and sometimes we're going to want stuff that we probably shouldn't, it was just a few feet away. A girl named Nadie had written on her arm, down the length of her arm, Nadie n' David. That's the letter N, with a heart underneath it.

Nadie

That's my boyfriend.

Ira Glass

And is he in your grade?

Nadie

No, he's older than me. He's two years older than me.

Girl

Talk about him.

Ira Glass

That's her girlfriend, egging her on.

Nadie

He's nice. I broke up with him once, but we're going back out.

Girl

He broke her heart, but I don't think she should be going out with him, because she's messed up. I'm mad at her.

Nadie

People were saying that he talked [BLEEP] about me.

Girl

Yeah, it's true. It's true.

Nadie

But I love him.

Girl

You don't know what love is, Nadie. That's until you get to 16. Look, that's David over there. That's David over there. Look. He's with another girl.

Nadie

With the one in black sweater.

Ira Glass

He's walking arm in arm with another girl.

Girl

That's it, right there. See, that's what make us mad, right there. [INTERPOSING VOICES] That's messed up. Yo, that's messed up.

Ira Glass

Catechism of the Catholic church says the Tenth Commandment concerns the intentions of the heart. The catechism talks about desires that are often good, wholesome desires that come to exceed the limits of reason, and make us want things too much, especially things that really belong to somebody else. Wanting things too much, it says, is a form of sadness. The Tenth Commandment? That's what it's trying to eradicate.

Our program was produced today by Jane Feltes and myself, with Alex Blumberg, Sarah Koenig, Lisa Pollak, Alissa Shipp, and Nancy Updike. Our senior producer is Julie Snyder, our production help from Seth Lind, Tommy Andres, and Emily Youssef. Music help from Jessica Hopper. Mary Robertson produced our story about the Ninth Commandment. Thanks today to Liebman's Deli in the Bronx, where we taped the story for the Eighth Commandment about stealing. Thanks to Middle School 51 in Brooklyn, where we taped our Tenth Commandment story, and especially to one of the seventh grade teachers there, Andrew Ravin.

This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International. Support for This American Life is provided by Saab, founded by 16 Swedish aircraft engineers who sought to bring the spirit of flight down to earth. Saab: born from jets. Learn more at SaabUSA.com.

WBEZ management oversight for our program by our boss, Mr. Torey Malatia. He says that when he goes home, he sees the mailings from our own public radio station piling up in his front hallway asking for money, and he cannot help himself. He never can help himself. He just sees the pictures of the car guys, and he just has to pledge.

Josh Harris

If you're a guy with a similar struggle, ask your wife or mother to help you in this area by ridding your home of these unnecessary temptations.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

Announcer

PRI: Public Radio International.