I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. [Matthew 5:18-19 (NLT)]
Unlike some laws, the Ten Commandments actually were set in stone; nevertheless, in a 2010 article in Vanity Fair, Christopher Hitchens posited that they were just a work in progress and badly needed a rewrite. Hitchens, who called himself an anti-theist rather than an atheist, had no use for the first three commandments. Getting out his hammer and chisel, he proposed getting rid of them altogether, revising others and adding a few more. While I didn’t agree with Hitchens’ misleading arguments, they caused me to consider the relevance of these laws that were given to an ancient nomadic tribe some 3,500 years ago.
That we seem to live in what often appears to be a godless society doesn’t mean we should throw out the first commandment. Granted, most of us don’t worship Baal, erect Ashtoreth poles or sacrifice children to Molech, but we do seem to worship the false gods of fame, wealth, beauty and self. As for the second, while we’re probably not creating graven images to worship, we do imbue inanimate objects like crystals, good luck charms, fancy cars, mega-mansions, and big bankrolls with divine power. As for taking the Lord’s name in vain—just because profanity and blasphemy have become commonplace in movies, television, and the music industry doesn’t mean it’s time to dispense with that commandment. God’s last name is not Dammit!
Hitchens had no complaint about having a day free from work but the atheist wasn’t about to dedicate it to the Lord. Even believers have difficulty with that one; if we truly kept the Sabbath holy, we’d have to reserve seats at our churches instead of tee times at the golf course. As for the fifth commandment, disrespect for one’s parents and elders seems to be increasing while the authority parents have over their children is decreasing. Unwritten but understood is that parents should be worthy of that respect. Sadly, some parents seem quite willing to abandon or abuse their responsibilities altogether.
When it comes to murder, the nightly news makes it clear that killing others has become the way many settle scores, win arguments, prove manhood, or retaliate for being cut off in traffic. Between the body count and the words and actions of contempt, malice and hatred expressed daily, it appears we desperately need that commandment. As for bearing false witness, just hearing a few political ads tells me that certainly hasn’t gone out of style over the centuries. Nor, it seems, has adultery! The tabloids keep us up to date on all of the adulterous adventures of the rich and famous and I wonder how many young people could define words like virtue, monogamy, or chastity.
As for stealing—that continues to be done both overtly and covertly. People are mugged, banks robbed, and identities stolen; there’s insider trading, currency manipulation, bribery and corporate espionage. We steal when people are paid “under the table,” disability is collected by an able-bodied person or income taxes are evaded. As for coveting, one look at the amount of credit card debt in this nation tells me we’re filled with desire for what isn’t ours. Consumerism and conspicuous consumption are just newer words for that old offense of covetousness. While we may not covet our neighbor’s donkey, ox or spouse, we seem to want everything else he has! It’s not the Ten Commandments that need to be re-chiseled—it’s us!
Granted, Hitchens did suggest adding a commandment about turning off your cell phone, which probably is a good idea but, by the end of his article, I only felt sorry for this godless man. Rather than rewrite the Ten Commandments into something a little more like The Ten Suggestions for a Satisfactory and Rewarding Life, we might want to re-read the original ones and evaluate our lives in their light. Granted, Jesus summarized the original ten into two simple rules, but those ten commands remain excellent and relevant guidelines for Christian behavior today.
Applying those ancient laws in the 21st century may require a broader interpretation but I seriously doubt they need rewriting or deletion. That many people deliberately misinterpret or ignore them is no reason to abandon them either. That drivers frequently disobey red lights, coast through stop signs, or exceed the speed limit doesn’t mean we should dispense with traffic laws. The problem isn’t with the law; it’s with the people!