Jerry Newcombe, who for decades was the Robin to D. James Kennedy’s Batman, has a Worldnetdaily column objecting to a statement from Lech Walesa, the courageous leader of the union movement in Poland, about the need for a secular ten commandments.
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…
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.”
Sounds like a very good idea to me, but Newcombe has a bunch of bad arguments against it.
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?
The same way you hold people accountable to any set of rules. If those rules are ethical in nature, you enforce them through societal disapproval and social pressure. If they are legal in nature, you enforce them through the government. The actual Ten Commandments face the same problem. Some 80% of the world doesn’t believe them to be valid at all.
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). 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?).
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.
I think most atheists would agree that the Golden Rule, which is hardly exclusive to Christianity, is a good place to start. Philosophers sometimes call this the “law of reciprocity,” and I think it’s the basis of all moral reasoning. And it’s something that I think the overwhelming majority of people would agree on, at least in broad principle.
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? 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.”
Non-Christians are obviously not going to agree with those. But that doesn’t mean we can’t find some principles to agree on.
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.
*yawn* That old argument. But the government simply cannot endorse a set of religious beliefs. It can’t. No matter how beneficial you mistakenly think it would be.
Want a secular ten commandments? Here’s a good place to start: