The First Commandment

By Doug Farmer  

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

For a space usually dedicated to finance and politics, that is an awfully religious opening line. On the contrary, I would argue it is the most powerful political statement ever written. It may be religious, but its force is its liberating qualities.

That line offers the gift of free will in a way no other statement has ever enabled or empowered. Stand on your own legs. Decide your own fate. Make up your own opinions.

When listening to the chatter of the media, the divided authority of all the talking heads and the pervasive know-it-alls crowding our lives, listen to them with that political promise in mind. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

You are first and foremost. No one’s judgment, opinions or interpretations of life’s issues are better than yours. Facts are facts, but short of that, your thoughts are up to you and you alone.

There has been much debate—including in La Crosse—if the mere presence of the First Commandment in public is a violation of the First Amendment preventing Congress from establishing a religion. More than that, it seems the force of the statement threatens too many who insist on personal prominence.

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me” is a direct challenge to any power structure. Social expectations, peer pressure or even pulpit pounding all fall before that defiance. Those invoking expectations, applying pressure or preaching from the steps all understand “no other gods before me” undermines their entire approach.

Of course they want it stricken from the public record. The less we hear of such enabling and empowering nonsense, the more we are free to follow their brand of civility, popularity and enlightenment.

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me” rejects all of that. It mandates each of us consider and reconsider everything, and then set our own social standards, motivate ourselves and define our personal conception of understanding.

Whether it is the First Commandment or not, this political statement influences every tenet each of us holds. Without the liberating words of “Thou shalt …,” the Declaration of Independence is an edict from Thomas Jefferson akin to the very ones he was attempting to declare freedom from. The Gettysburg Address becomes Abraham Lincoln’s commentary on a diminished country. Donald Trump’s ball cap of a catchphrase morphs into an ironclad indictment of the United States.

With the freedom granted by “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” each of us chooses if we agree with Jefferson’s premise of all men being created equal. Individually, we decide the merit to Lincoln’s resolve that those dead at Gettysburg did not die in vain. You evaluate if this country is good, great or whatever other adjective you prefer.

With “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” no one else’s words, thoughts or opinions—not even Jefferson’s, Lincoln’s or Trump’s—overpower your own. The same goes for the very words printed on this page.

In the final analysis, life is up to you. You choose.

Doug Farmer has worked at Park Bank since 1981 and began his term on the State of Wisconsin Banking Review Board in 2003.He’s lived in La Crosse since 1971. You can reach him at

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