The Ten Commandments Code


Well, at least the title caught your attention—a sure thing at a time when everything seems saturated with talk of the Da Vinci Code. Of course Leonardo da Vinci was a known cryptic: his notes were written backward in mirror-image fashion. But the veracity of most of the Code novel is less than dubious. It seems the author had little to start with other than an intention to shock the uninformed and thereby stimulate discussion of the absurd. He succeeded, and there, as you might say, goes Hollywood.

In many ways the growing call for a return to the Ten Commandments as a U.S. model of governance plays to the same fabulist dynamic. Was there ever such a Western model in the past? Indeed, what passing knowledge of the ten does our postmodern society really have anymore?

Judge Roy Moore showed himself the attack dog of the Ten Commandment movement when he installed a several-thousand-pound granite monument of the same in the Alabama courthouse. It was a richly modern moment: done in the night hours to avoid those narrow-minded legalists who might have reflexly invoked constitutional prohibitions on establishing a religion—and filmed in living color by a television ministry mindful of how such images sway the Code-hungry masses.

That was then—a few short years back. Never mind that the Alabama Supreme Court unanimously voted to impeach and remove the said judge. The battle cry of the new faithful/credulous has been that "we need to impeach the activist judges who are removing the Ten Commandments from public places." Somehow Judge Moore became less an activist judge challenging the law, than a modern-day Luther nailing God's ten to the Constitution. How dare anyone of faith question this act! And in a neat reversal, some of those curbing such activism have themselves been declared the activists in need of removal.

It so often comes back to a personal vision of the foundation of Western law. It also comes back to a utopian hope that the United States is actually foundationally a Christian nation.

Would that it were so. But it seems to me that, Constitution aside, it would put Christianity in a pretty poor light indeed if it were. It would sanctify capitalism and all its innate inequalities as God's way. It would forever put the question mark on God's attitude toward Blacks and American Indians. We would have to, as we now so easily do with current conflicts, deduce God's will and the acts of the faithful in wars against Mexico and Spain. We would have to see in the exploding atom, not a challenge to our faith, but the very fire of God to be harnessed to the cause of projecting His will.

I for one am content that the United States at its founding made no greater claim to the Divine than a recognition of the innate rights we each have as His creation. I am encouraged that the Founders were so humbled by religious diversity that they enshrined the right of all to disbelieve or believe whatever they were moved to. And as a Christian I am inclined to think that a happy by-product of a free society that included so many God-fearing faithful is its strength and resilience.

Today as I look around and see unmistakable signs of moral decay and national uncertainty, I cannot help yearning for modern America to rediscover the Ten Commandments. To decode again what they should mean in the personal life, and in our many social interactions.

Way back in the beginning, the more worldly of the religionists imagined that the laws of the land were based on the Ten Commandments. Of course, this was before the current Scalia-like disdain for "other peoples, other laws," and the debate was whether English common law—the unquestioned precursor to American jurisprudence—was formed on the basis of the Ten Commandments. Thomas Jefferson in one of his letters dealt rather summarily with this claim, showing that much of it predated Christianity in England and derived from Saxon and Norse norms. Today most any law student can give a quick answer to the wishful thinking behind any such claim. "No factual basis."

The quick-witted may have noticed that Judge Moore's ten and other public postings usually come in a very truncated pr
Article Author: Lincoln E. Steed

Lincoln E. Steed is the editor of Liberty magazine, a 200,000 circulation religious liberty journal which is distributed to political leaders, judiciary, lawyers and other thought leaders in North America. He is additionally the host of the weekly 3ABN television show "The Liberty Insider," and the radio program "Lifequest Liberty."