Who Determines Right From Wrong?

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Who Determines Right From Wrong?

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American society is in the midst of a morality battle. A focal point of this struggle is the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools and on any government property. Underneath the surface, there is a much more important issue in the Christian community than the post-ing of the Ten Commandments. The question really being asked is, "Are the Ten Commandments even relevant today?"

A survey done a few years ago involving people ages 15 to 35 revealed that most people could name no more than two of the Ten Commandments.

An Atlantic Monthly article reporting on the survey's respondents said that many "weren't too happy about some of the others when they were told about them. They also had clear ideas about how the commandments might be revised for modern times. Support was weak for keeping the Sabbath holy and honoring one's father and mother, but 'Thou shalt not drink and drive' and 'Thou shalt care for the environment' would have appeared on any new list of commandments put together by this group."

The group, by the way, was also asked to pick who they thought should be in charge of drawing up a new list of commandments. The number one choice? Oprah Winfrey.

A new set of commandments?

Over the last few decades there have been various movements to create a new Ten Commandments.

Author Orion Moshe Kopelman, in his book The Second Ten Commandments, claims that the Ten Commandments have outlived their usefulness. He promotes commandments like "Maximize your time spent in flow and happiness" and "Act true to your inner voice and fulfill your mission."

John Leo, in U.S. News and World Report, speculates that if we begin to change the Ten Commandments to fit into modern ways of thinking then they might appear as:

"Thou shalt not steal, but creative work on your tax return is okay.

"Thou shalt not kill, except during any of the [pregnancy] trimesters or if the Pentagon says you must.

"Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods, except in the sense that our whole economic system depends on the power of envy and wanting more.

"Thou shalt not commit adultery, except if thou art unhappy or if personal fulfillment points thee toward the new secretary in thine office.

"Honor thy mother or mothers, including thy birth, adoptive, - step-, surrogate or same-sex-partner mothers, and honor thy father, thy mother's sperm donor or her casual inseminator, current whereabouts unknown."

Anti-Commandments movements

A number of forces are driving our society toward seeing the Ten Commandments as outmoded and even oppressive. One is the New Age movement.

Shirley MacLaine, a queen of New Age philosophy, promotes two modernized commandments in her book Dancing in the Light: "Know that you are God" and "Know that you are the universe."

Jesus Christ participated in the typical first-century Jewish debates over Old Testament law, which included the Ten Commandments. When asked to state the most important law, Jesus simply reiterated two laws from the Old Testament: Love God with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-39, quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18).

There are profound differences between the belief that there is a Supreme Being with knowledge of right and wrong, possessing the right to enforce His reality on His creation, and the belief that each person is a god or goddess with only his or her own thoughts and feelings to determine right from wrong.

A second type of resistance to the Ten Commandments arises from the ever-increasing secularizing of America. This movement is based on a belief that personal liberty—expressed as "Nobody can tell me how to live my life"—is the most cherished freedom.

Of course, the problem with commandments that restrict cheating on your income tax, committing adultery with your neighbor or lying to get ahead is that that they also restrict personal freedom to do whatever feels good at the moment.

A third force is found in Christianity itself. Since the early days of Catholicism, and in the relatively shorter lifetime of Protestantism, there has been a struggle in defining the relationship of God's grace to God's law. Some churches openly argue against the keeping of the Ten Commandments, saying they are unnecessary for Christians. Some major denominations have actually changed some of the Commandments. Others give lip service to them but only obey the ones they like, if even that.

Are the Ten Commandments relevant?

It is this last theological struggle that must be settled before either the New Age movement or secularism can be confronted by our nation's religious institutions. This confusion leaves most professing Christians so bewildered that they base their religious convictions on vague concepts of morality devoid of any real guidelines for conduct.

If the Ten Commandments, given by God, are valid guidelines for Christian conduct, then much of Christianity itself stands indicted by those same Ten Commandments. If Christians accept the validity of the Ten Commandments, then they must face some hard questions about their own religion.

Why have millions of people been killed in wars fought in the name of Jesus Christ? Why do Christians cheat each other, dishonor their parents or pray to statues and images in their worship of God even though this is plainly forbidden by the second of the Ten Commandments?

Let's return to John Leo of U.S. News and World Report, who writes: "It's possible to put together a modern, pro-impulse set of commandments based on advertising slogans—'Just do it,' 'Just be,' 'Sometimes you gotta break the rules,' 'Peel off inhibitions,' 'Find your own road.'

"The National Parenting Center asked children to suggest additional commandments. Among their ideas: 'No bombing for the heck of it,' 'Thou shalt not address people by their color' and 'No grabbing.'"

Are the Ten Commandments relevant today or can we trivialize them to the same level as "Use a good day planner to maximize your time"? Are they simply the "Ten Suggestions" the Creator wanted to pass on to His children? Are they laws that only applied to an ancient people and that have little application to modern life? If they are applicable today, what is the price we pay both individually and collectively for breaking them?

A better relationship with your Creator. A deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. A better life for individuals and society. These are why the Ten Commandments should be a more important part of your life! GN