This piece originally appeared on June 20, 2007 on HuffingtonPost.com:
The Vatican's "Ten Commandments" for drivers is pretty unusual. And while it will no doubt be fodder for late-night TV, it has some good messages about road rage and being careful. The commandments, predictably enough, also warn that a car can be an "occasion of sin," and I don't think they are referring to rolling through stop signs. But for the most part, the directive is meant to encourage safer driving. For instance, drinking and driving is a no-no. And road rage is sinful. This is good. Perhaps even progressive.
The document stresses guidelines for keeping yourself and others safe in a car, noting that the World Health Organization estimates that 1.2 million people are killed on the road each year and as many as 50 million injured. "This is a sad reality, and at the same time, a great challenge for society and the church," said Cardinal Renato Martino when handing down the ten commandments.
Yet while there is some vague language about safety, there is no direct mention of seat belts in these commandments. "Thou Shalt Not Drive Unless You and Your Passengers Are Buckled Up" would seem to make a lot of sense. How can you advise people on how to be safe while driving or being driven without emphasizing that seatbelts save lives? Just ask Matt Lauer how neglecting safety in this way undermines one's moral authority.
Not mentioning seatbelts is like offering advice on how to prevent lung cancer and not mentioning avoidance of cigarette smoking. But maybe we shouldn't be surprised. The Vatican has fallen short in the past. Despite the no longer controversial fact that smoking kills -- and the Catholic Church's emphasis on promoting a culture of life -- the Vatican has failed to ban the slow but suicidal act of smoking.
The Vatican has long resisted making a flat-out statement that smoking is uniquely dangerous or suggesting that smoking clearly has moral implications, although Church documents now hint that a change may be in the works.
I'm Jewish, so far be it from me to tell the Catholic Church how its followers should live. But a leading Rabbinic authority has said that smoking is worse than eating a ham sandwich, and he didn't just mean by health standards.
The Catholic Church has historically picked up on some Jewish ideas and run with them. So maybe here they'll buckle down and tell their followers to buckle up.