Recently, after giving some lectures in the dreamy city of spires that is Oxford, England, I was asked by some very bright honor students: How then, should we live?
These students, the best and brightest, were dissatisfied with the contours of present living, of the drift to make everything ideological, woke, and racial, and by the fact that seemingly so much of our past wisdom, intellectual history, and culture has been jettisoned.
Having read just weeks before the astute new book by my friend, Father Michael Ward, After Humanity: A Guide to C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man, I had to think. The answer had to have a “full chest,” as Lewis would have recommended, and not be wishy-washy, canned, formulaic, or just about superficial subjective feelings or “values,” as is all so popular today. It had to be deep, meaningful, and revolve around purpose.
How could we postmodern humans, sophisticates in science and technology, living in the 21st century after Christ, some 3500 years after Moses, answer such a serious query? Put on the spot, how would you address the thorny question of whether moral value is objective or not and from whence it emanates?
I started with the concept that as children we memorized the Ten Commandments, written about in Exodus. God chose the prophet Moses to deliver his people from the bondage of slavery in Egypt by parting the Red Sea so the Israelites could cross into freedom, leaving a state of oppression. Moses then led them to Mount Sinai where God gave him the Ten Commandments, as well as the other laws for right living. Right living started with right believing. Faithful living is right living in a biblical context.
These were not mere suggestions or casual ideas for getting along. Quite the contrary, as Rabbis have long taught, these are not relative ethical principles without a religious imprimatur. They are instead radical. Introduced by God himself as, “YHVH” in Hebrew, the four letters referring to the verb “to be.”
The Ten Commandments are central to being itself. This force is what brought the Israelites out of bondage and sets all peoples free according to the mystics and church fathers. Many down the ages have suggested this has meaning geopolitically, relevant in any enslavement, any constriction—narrowness of place, or even ourselves. This spiritual power liberates followers who believe and allows a God-given freedom that transcends earthly existence while setting the terms for our lives together.
And What are these Ten Commandments?
1) You shall have no other gods before me.
This comes first. There is no room for other gods or idols. There is only one God and He is omnipotent and supreme. You cannot worship someone or something else. It is His world, not ours.
2) Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images.
These laws were very important. The Israelites needed them to become a strong nation amid all the people around them who worshiped idols. They pledged in these commandments allegiance to be loyal, obedient and to respect God.
3) Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
We don’t like it if people call us bad names do we? They are being disrespectful. God’s name is Holy and it must be used only in a reverent way.
Some people take God’s name in vain because others are doing it and we find ourselves saying these words and doing deeds that dishonor God. It can take root in our hearts and mind and in our patterns of life.
4) Remember the Sabbath day and keep it Holy.
Back in the Old Testament, this meant they should not work on the Sabbath. Jesus adapted this and said we should keep the Sabbath day to worship, remember creation, and rest so we could serve God and others.
5) Honor your father and mother.
Honor means to love and respect them. When you honor your parents, you love and obey them because they are wiser. God wanted homes and families to be happy so he made this a rule for our good.
6) Thou shalt not kill.
God wants us to protect and dignify human life.
7) Thou shalt not commit adultery.
This means husbands and wives should be faithful to one another.
8) Thou shalt not steal.
No one is permitted to take something that belongs to another. Not only is it God’s law but it is the basic law of society.
9) Thou shall not bear false witness.
This means do not tell a lie. Do not tell stories that are untrue about people. When you tell a lie, you hurt yourself as well as others. Soon people will not trust what you say.
10) You shall not covet.
To covet means to want something that belongs to someone else. A person who covets may be led to break all of the other commandments.
These were the essential laws God established for His nation of people. When someone becomes a believer, God says, “This is a New Covenant I will make with my people on that day says the Lord. I will put my law in their hearts and I will write them on their mind.”
Then he says, “I will never again remember their sins and lawless deeds.”
Certainly, none of us is perfect but we must continually seek to obey these commandments. Jesus himself came that these laws could be fulfilled as we walk and trust in Him and live in His spirit.
In the Gospels, Jesus said, “I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
Right living is not about a form of government, a position, wealth, or a station or status in life. It is not about some man-made creed or subjective value system. It is about living in the face of reality, realizing who we are, why we are here, and what we are called to do. It is ordered freedom.
I then went on to suggest to these bright students that it appears to me and more than a few others (and I listed about a dozen books), that in our present time we have bought into what could be called, the Ten Suggestions—relativistic, atheistic, secular ideologies, illusions and gnostic visions, that need to be called out for what they are and dispelled. What are they?
1) There is no God.
Leaving God to the side we have put other idols in His place—money, power, status—and no longer abide in Him.
2) Worship whatever you please.
We are subjective and fleeting in our beliefs, putting various man-made idols in the highest place.
3) Curse out loud. Be vain.
Our language and art are angry, vain, and disrespectful.
4) There is no Sabbath.
We do not recreate, rest, or take time to reflect as we were told.
5) Forget about your parents and all forms of authority.
Authority is illegitimate be it from the family, community, school, or religion.
6) Life has no value.
Killing is acceptable—in any and all forms.
7) Have as much sex as you like, with whomever you like.
There is no definition of manner, morals, or sentiment any longer.
8) Theft is fine.
Stealing is not wrong. Take what you want.
9) Lying is the norm.
You don’t need to tell the truth. Indeed, there is no such thing.
10) Envy is a virtue.
Wanting what others have is encouraged.
I ended by asking which system they preferred and which would lead to lives worth living and a society of common good. . . Lives practiced as persons and reflected in the mediating structures of life—the family, the church, schools, civic associations and in the state.
Which would you choose?