The greatest commandments, reduced to a bumper sticker


Saw this bumper sticker on the road, and was intrigued by the degree to which its creator reduced the two greatest commandments to the briefest possible expression. Here’s the previous record-holder for brevity:

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

38 This is the first and great commandment.

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

I’ve gotta say, I prefer Matthew. But I give the maker of the bumper sticker points for effort.

35 thoughts on “The greatest commandments, reduced to a bumper sticker

  1. Peggy

    in today’s political climate, i think this passage needs highlighting!

    1 Timothy 6:10
    For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

    i don’t know how much sorrow the greedy has endured but their greed has hurt the least of us.

  2. Karen McLeod

    Greed is ultimately destructive to both society and self. That’s why most cultures have considered it a vice.

    1. Doug Ross

      But you’d agree that the acquisition of wealth through ethical behavior is acceptable, right? It’s not a function of how much you have but of what you do with it and how you obtain it.

      1. Mark Stewart

        Of course it is, but that’s not greed. Greed is when one “wins” unethically – which is very different than learning to color outside the lines. Finding new ways is creating success. Exploiting people and society is not.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I thought greed was the thing that the Baron Harkonnen was talking about when he said:

          “Show no mercy. Never stop. Mercy is a chimera. It can be defeated by the stomach rumbling its hunger, by the throat crying its thirst. You must be always hungry and thirsty.” The Baron caressed his bulges beneath the suspensors. “Like me.”

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Government can’t be greedy. It has no consciousness, and no appetites. It’s just a process, an arrangement between humans.

        Ditto with corporations, except when we mistakenly try to designate them as persons.

        But if government and corporations did have such moral qualities, it would be rather ridiculous to call government the more greedy one, since corporations exist to maximize profits.

        1. Silence

          Government grows every year. It’s sort of like “The Blob” consuming everything in its path and growing larger and larger as it moves. Sure, it cannot be greedy in as much as it doesn’t have thoughts, but the officials at the helm do – much like the oft maligned corporation.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Oh, I’m quite familiar with “The Blob.” Steve McQueen’s finest work, prior to “Wanted: Dead or Alive.”

            I loved that show. I coveted — and received, for my birthday or Christmas or whatever — a toy replica of that sawed-off rifle that McQueen carried in a holster instead of a revolver. Man, I thought I was cool with that on my hip. This was when I was in the first grade.

  3. T.J.

    Greed does not necessarily equate with accumulation of wealth. I view it more as being covetous of wealth above all other things. I believe the order of operations is 1. Love God. 2. Love your neighbor as yourself. If you get rich doing those two things more power to you!

  4. Silence

    Hmm, so it’s a virtue to be poor, and a vice to be rich? That’s ridiculous. Greed improves human creativity, productivity and ultimately the human condition. Much good can come from having money. Little good comes from not having it.

    1. Steve Gordy

      That’s not correct. In Jewish morality, there are fewer strictures against wealth, but more emphatic imperatives about being charitable toward those less fortunate. Christian morality is traditionally more skeptical of wealth, but recognizes that poverty is an eternal problem. I’m not as sure of the ethical teachings of other religions, but as far as I know none recognizes greed as a virtue. Greed is the motivation, wealth the result. It’s the motivation, not the result, that’s the problem.

  5. bud

    But you’d agree that the acquisition of wealth through ethical behavior is acceptable, right?

    I would consider that an oxymoron. At least beyond a reasonable level that doesn’t depend on exploiting workers and/or customers. And that’s exactly what is happening all to often in this country, especially when it comes to CEO compensation.

    1. Silence

      So bud, assume that you and I work at the same job, equally successfully for thirty years. Each of us makes the same amount of earned income from the job, takes home the same amount, let’s say $150,000 a year, which is a really good income, but not a 1% income.

      Every year, I save as much as I can possibly save – eating at home, watching broadcast TV, getting a cheap cell phone, driving a beater car, living in a less desirable neighborhood, etc. Maybe I save 50k a year.
      Every year, you spend about what you make, leasing a new car every few years, having all of the latest gadgets, taking nice vacations, eating out every day, buying fancy clothes et cetera. You save little to nothing.

      Over the course of our careers, I saved $1.5 million dollars, plus compound interest and earnings on my investments, so let’s say that my pile is about $3 million.
      Your pile is whatever your employer or social security forced you to save, assuming that you have a pension plan at all. You have no actual cash savings or investments.

      You were the one who overconsumed, always had a new car, travelled, lived to the fullest extent of your means, did not plan for their own retirement, and are likely to be a burden on society or family members.

      So tell me again how my wealth was acquired unethically? How am I the one who did things wrong? That’s what I fail to understand, and why I think you and I can’t see eye to eye on wealth.

  6. bud

    Silence, I think you understand that’s not what I’m talking about. But I’ll take a shot anyway. If you fail to spend you’re not doing your part to stimulate the economy. Hence folks are denied the opportunity to create and sell goods because they lack customers. As a result people end up without work and on the street starving. Desperate, these people resort to crime and in the extreme killing in order to survive. The result of your lifetime of “savings” is the needless death of many innocent people.

    1. Scout

      Oh my goodness. Bud, I am often in your corner, but that’s a lot of consequences to put on one guy making responsible choices.

      The answer is somewhere in the middle I suspect. The excessively frugal guy and the instant gratification guy making the same salary are both extremes. But they both are valid choices – I don’t really see why either guy has the right to cast moral aspersions on the other. They both have to deal with the consequences of their own choosing – austerity now or austerity later.

      I think we need some kind of cultural market correction. I don’t know how that is supposed to happen. Silence clearly thinks that instant gratification dude is at fault, yet he honestly is just living as cultural norms and messages would have him live. If he has no innate financial sense or training and no tradition of such in his immediate family upbringing or socioeconomic cultural niche, is it any wonder that he may make choices that lead to instant gratification if he lives in a popular culture that screams at him to live that way. Meanwhile, people who do have such traditions or training in their family and make different choices just blame the people who make what they think are bad choices thinking they should know better (how? they don’t address) because they personally would have made different choices, instead of acknowledging that it is a larger systemic problem and looking for solutions on that level. I don’t know the answer, but I do think it is a larger systemic problem.

  7. bud

    I don’t think either is immoral. The wealth concentration issue really isn’t about morality or ethics. I was really being sarcastic. But in a general, pragmatic sense the concentration of the nation’s wealth into fewer and fewer hands is making it very difficult for the vast majority of the population to make a decent living and save for their future. That’s true regardless of skills, hard work or brilliance.

    So instead of making this a moral issue let’s look at it as a practical one. If one person owns all the assets of a nation I’m sure everyone can agree that that level of concentration is impractical. Everyone else would eventually starve and that one guy would get very lonely. Conversely if all the assets are divided exactly equally that too would not work because incentives would be lost. What I’m suggesting, without making this an ethics issue, is that we’re moving closer to the first situation. And even if there is nothing wrong with that ethically, it is having real consequences for millions of people.

  8. Silence

    Scout and bud – I’d like to address both of your comments:
    @ bud – The “extreme” saver is actually contributing to the economy, assuming it’s not stuffed in his mattress. His capital is being used by a bank to make loans for people to buy houses, start businesses, buy cars, pay for college, that sort of thing. There’s a quote from George Bailey in “It’s A Wonderful Life” (1946):

    You’re thinking of this place all wrong. As if I had the money back in a safe. The money’s not here. Your money’s in Joe’s house…right next to yours. And in the Kennedy house, and Mrs. Macklin’s house, and a hundred others. Why, you’re lending them the money to build, and then, they’re going to pay it back to you as best they can.

    Similarly, if the money is invested in equities or bonds it is helping provide capital and liquidity to fuel the economy. It’s allowing factories to be built, goods to be produced, money to be earned, wages to be paid and that sort of thing. The “saver” is helping the economy just as much as the spender, without the accumulation of capital, industry and commerce would not exist.

    @ Scout – Just because something has become a “cultural norm” doesn’t make it ethical or morally right, and certainly doesn’t make it good or positive. It also does not make it excuseable. We certianly need a “cultural market correction” as you say. People see (crappy) television shows and believe that the lifestyle portrayed is how they are also entitled to live. “Real Housewives of X” portray very affluent and consumptive lifestyles which most people can ill afford to imitate. The same goes for all of the expensive wedding shows, house flipping shows, “Real World” and shows where people buy very expensive custom cakes. Even sitcoms typically portray people living unrealistically – think twentysomethings in NYC with deluxe apartments – like “Friends” or “How I Met Your Mother”.

    But I dispute your assertion that thrift and self reliance are moral equivalents to overspending and rampant consumerism. One cannot predict the future, so the only responsible course of action is to prepare for a rainy day. Saving for emergencies and for one’s own retirement are not just good ideas. They are a civic duty and a moral obligation. Period. Are we to be strong independent citizens, or are we to become Blanche DuBois, raped, broken and institutionalized after always depending “on the kindness of strangers”?

      1. Silence

        Kathryn – I realize that not everyone can be strong and independent. I am making a distinction between the proverbial ants and the grasshopper. I have no problem assisting those who “cannot” but I have a big issue with assisting those who “will not”…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          And the distinction between the two is not a bright line.

          When examining my own failures, I find it hard to discern sometimes whether I am simply not capable or simply won’t. And then, if I simply won’t, I have trouble making up my mind whether my refusal is based in principle (I don’t feel right doing the thing) or fecklessness.

          I’ve had plenty of opportunity to observe these phenomena in myself since my newspaper career so suddenly ended. Back in my newspaper days, I was good at what I did and I worked very hard at it, and was successful. I was successful right up to the point that I was fired for being too successful (my sin, and that of a number of those laid off with me, was having earned — and I do stress EARNED — too high a salary).

          Since then, I’ve tried my hand a different things. ADCO provides me with opportunities to do things I’ve never done before, and I also had some new and different experiences in the year before I joined ADCO. Then there’s the novel (for me) experience of trying to make some money with my blog.

          When something doesn’t work out, I have trouble knowing for sure how much of it is my fault and how much is not.

          And that’s me. I certainly can’t look at other people and tell which ones are “grasshoppers,” and which ones just can’t. And it surprises me that other people think they can do that.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Of course, there is a certain myopia in examining oneself. Distance does sometimes help.

            For instance… one reason I turned to management (aside from the higher pay) in my newspaper career was that… and this is a little embarrassing to admit, but it’s true… I realized that I could see what needed to be done SO much clearly when I didn’t have to do it.

            For instance… as a reporter, I might agonize over whether to make a phone call to get comment from a certain source when I knew the interview would be unpleasant. If I suspected the call would be a waste of time and that I should get busy writing instead, I’d have trouble sorting out in my own mind whether the call really wasn’t necessary, or whether I didn’t want to make it.

            Ditto with spending an extra hour searching for further documentation, and other onerous tasks. I had a terrible time sorting out whether it was really necessary, if I was the one who had to do it.

            But when someone else had to do it, the choice was as clear to me as night and day, because there was no guilt or self-doubt wrapped up with it. If the call or the additional research was unnecessary, I could see that, and tell the reporter to forget it and get busy writing. But if it was necessary, or even merely helpful, I had zero problem saying, “Hell, yeah, you need to call him. And here’s what you need to say…”

            But I digress…

    1. Steve Gordy

      Silence, I think back to Robert Burns’ lines about the best laid plans of mice and men. Certainly work and thrift are sterling individual virtues – up to a point. Misers don’t necessarily stuff money inside mattresses nowadays; they hire financial geeks who can concoct new and imaginative ways to get more yield from their money. Sometimes these ways are innovative and generally beneficial. Sometimes they aren’t. But most people are more likely to encounter some life calamity that may override all their financial plans than they are likely to reap all the rewards of their financial good conduct. S*** happens.

      1. Silence

        Steve, I am absolutely in agreement. At any time things can go awry for any of us. Knowing the fragility of life and health, understanding the tenuous nature of modern employment, these uncertainties makes it even more imperative to be thrifty. It’s important to keep an emergency fund, and to make sure that you carry appropriate insurance, etc. We cannot control the adversity that we might face, but we can be prepared to respond appropriately.

    2. Scout

      I think you misunderstood some of what I said. I did not mean to imply that cultural norms were ethically or morally right or good or positive. They nevertheless are an influence. And for some people they may be the only influence. I was just trying to show that for people who don’t come from a background where they become aware of responsible financial planning for whatever reason, it is easy to be lead astray in today’s world. I don’t think that is a good or ethical thing. I just think it is a fact.

      And I don’t see any use in blaming people for things that are beyond their control. I prefer to focus on what will fix things more than who is to blame. So here is my obscure musical reference – Stop Stop Talking About Who’s Blame When All That Counts Is How To Change (James – Born of Frustration) – But I don’t know how to change the culture.

      I also did not mean to assert that “thrift and self reliance are moral equivalents to overspending and rampant consumerism.” I said they were both valid choices. I didn’t mean by that they were moral equivalents. In fact, I didn’t mean to pass any moral judgement on them at all – it was more of an objective statement that they are both legal legitimate choices. I was trying to leave subjectivity out of it. You don’t have to agree with someone’s choices to respect their right to make them. Morality is personal and what is moral for you may not be the same for another person.

      I find it unhelpful for people to find fault with others based on their own sense of morality. I find it disrespectful in fact. It doesn’t mean you can’t have a conversation about it but you don’t have to start out dismissing and being condescending to someone that makes different choices than you would have before you even know their reasons or motivations. (Not saying that you do that – but many people do, and I find it very offputting.)

      The ultimate gist of this is that even though I personally completely agree with you that frugal dude is making the more responsible choice and that we all need to be planning for retirement – I’m not gonna find fault with someone who doesn’t do it because he doesn’t know any better and only has the stupid popular culture to lead him while making choices that are completely within his rights to make.

  9. bud

    Saving for emergencies and for one’s own retirement are not just good ideas. They are a civic duty and a moral obligation.

    That’s certainly very pragmatic for individuals. But I do have some concerns for people who save extraordinary amounts of money and wind up dead before they have an opportunity to enjoy it. Savings can ultimately be the worst waste of money if death denies you the fruits of your labor. As for the civic duty part, that’s a bit of a stretch. A good spending/savings balance seems like a pretty good philosophy.

    1. Doug Ross

      The greatest sin is taking money from savers and earners to cover for the failures of others. Thou shalt not steal.

    2. Silence

      So basically bud, you’d like the last check on your account to go to the funeral home, and hopefully it will bounce! As for me, I’d like to be able to leave money to my heirs, or to take care of my much younger spouse in her old age if I pre-decease her (a likely scenario).
      Barring that, I’d like to be able to help endow a worthwhile cause as a legacy. Maybe academic scholarships for deserving children, or something else beneficial to society.

  10. bud

    Not sure I said all that Silence. All I’m suggesting is that life is short and enjoying some of your hard earned money isn’t such a bad thing. If your kids are productive on their own they really won’t need an inheritance to have a full life. Besides aren they really entitled to the money I earned? But I have no problem with leaving them a small inheritance. Just not at the expense of my once in a lifetime opportunity to see Europe or buy that souped up Harley. You only live once.

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