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Secular Ten Commandments?

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There was a story last week that got my attention. Lech Walesa, former president of Poland and a great hero in my book (but not on this point), said that what we need today is a “secular Ten Commandments.” He said this to a group of Nobel Peace Prize winners in Warsaw.

The Judeo-Christian tradition holds that God wrote the Ten Commandments with His own finger. The Golden Rule, another great law in history, comes from the lips of Jesus (Matt. 7:12).

The Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule have helped undergird Western law, since the days of Justinian I (482-565), who ruled Byzantium (the eastern half that outlived the western half of the Roman Empire by a millennium), and British King Alfred the Great (849-899).

Like Christ’s Golden Rule, the Ten Commandments have stood the test of time.

But now Mr. Walesa says: "We need to agree on common values for all religions as soon as possible, a kind of secular Ten Commandments on which we will build the world of tomorrow."

Walesa led the Solidarity movement in Poland in the early 1980s. He dared to challenge Communism and lived to see its demise in his native country. In the words of Radio Moscow at the time, he was the leader of the “Counter-Revolutionaries.” He made history in a positive way.

But this idea of “a secular Ten Commandments” is really a type of oxymoron.

Any person, any nation, any group of united nations, can come up with a list of rights and wrongs. The question is: How do you hold people accountable to abide by those rules?

You may recall that about 20 years ago, media mogul Ted Turner, who has often taken anti-Christian stances, said that we need a new Ten Commandments.

Turner went further than Walesa in that he actually wrote up his new ten suggestions. Or as he called them, “Ten Voluntary Initiatives.”

When I mentioned Turner’s rules in a book, I thought it might be good to list them out (at least as an endnote). So, before the days of widespread Internet access, I traveled to the main library of Ft. Lauderdale and found them on microfiche in an obscure humanist magazine article.

I have mentioned Turner’s rules from time to time in some public speaking engagements. I have asked people, if they even remember the story. Usually, one or two hands may go up (out of, say, 50 people). Then I’ll ask the one or two who remembers the story (even vaguely) if they can name any of Turner’s “secular Ten Commandments,” if you will. No one can. No, not one.

Here’s a hint, more than one of them says be nice to the environment.

But here’s the problem for Ted Turner or Lech Walesa. We will not give an account before them on the Day of Judgment. But we will all stand before the Lord on that Day. We’re in bad shape as a society now because so many live, mistakenly, as if they’ll never have to give an account.

Perhaps, whatever your worldview is, we can all agree with the second part of the Ten Commandments….honor your parents (Well, maybe we don’t all agree). Don’t murder (but does abortion count?). Don’t commit adultery (in a pornography-plagued world, maybe we don’t agree on this one either). Don’t steal (unless it’s from other taxpayers). Don’t lie (unless it’s convenient). Don’t covet (who cares what I think in my heart, but God alone?).

Hmmmm. Maybe we don’t agree on these laws after all. Meanwhile, Jesus said, “Do to others, as you would have them do to you, for this sums up the law and the prophets.” Perhaps, even those who don’t believe in Jesus can agree to that point.

The religious parts of the Ten Commandments are clearly the controversial aspects. God says He is the only god. He says we should not make any idols and worship them.

He says that we should honor His name---adding that He “will not hold him guiltless, who takes His name in vain.” In a nation awash in profanity, is it possible we have forgotten this principle? He also says to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy. Even the anti-Christian Bolsheviks, through experiments in work schedules, found that people can’t work seven days a week non-stop.

Why does God care about who or what we worship? Because we tend to become that which we worship. In my own Bible reading, I found this interesting statement the other day from 2 Kings 17:15: “They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless.”

In 1980, the Supreme Court said that public schools can’t allow the posting of the Ten Commandments. Writing for the majority, Justice William Brennan said, “If the posted copies of the Ten Commandments are to have any effect at all, it will be to induce the schoolchildren to read, meditate upon, perhaps to venerate and obey, the Commandments.”

What would happen if our school children today would “read, meditate upon” and even “obey” the Ten Commandments? Perhaps, that might put a lot of security guards at schools out of work.

Clearly, the religious parts of the Decalogue of Moses are what humanists see as the problem (for the most part). But without the divine sanction, the Ten Commandments lose their real punch. They become just another list of endless rules, and the rule-making will go on and on.

As G. K. Chesterton noted, “If men will not be governed by the Ten Commandments, they shall be governed by the ten thousand commandments.”

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