Retroactive Xenophobia

The Ten Commandments appear three times in the Bible. Each entry is different. The Jewish, Protestant and Roman Catholic versions of the Ten Commandments are similar but not identical. The precise intention of the original text was subject to interpretation as the sacred words of the Ten Commandments were translated into new languages and cultures.

So what about the fifth commandment, Honor thy father and mother? (Roman Catholics and Lutherans count it as No. 4.) Most commentators accept that grandparents, stepparents, those who played a role in raising you, contributed to your survival, and helped you formulate values, whether living or dead, deserve biblically mandated honor.

Honoring Our Ancestors

Are we meant to honor our ancestors? The fossilized remains of two individuals who lived about 2 million years ago were discovered in a cave north of Johannesburg in 2008. They may or may not be related to humanity. If they are direct ancestors, are they, in some sense, family?

Reactions to this discovery are predictable. Many reject the practical significance of connections between people living today and humans who lived 100,000 years ago.

Xenophobia in History

A xenophobe is “a person who is fearful or contemptuous of that which is foreign, especially of strangers or foreign peoples.” Some people are xenophobic about human history. Fear and hatred of foreigners includes denying the ancestors of humanity.

If you’re willing to translate “Honor thy father and mother” to mean “Honor our Founding Fathers and Mothers,” the question of how far back you’ll go is important for you to consider. One hundred, 100,000 or 2 million years ago, an ancestor is an ancestor. Does denying the ancestors of humanity violate the fifth commandment?

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