The Secular Hatred of the Ten Commandments
- Tuesday, September 02, 2003
A similar rejection of the Ten Commandments comes from a different direction, but with equal force, when Alan Dershowitz claims that "our nation was founded on a rejection of much of what is in the actual content of the commandments."
Dershowitz, a professor of law at Harvard University, may be the nation's most familiar legal scholar--known to the public as a member of the famous [or infamous] "dream team" assembled by O. J. Simpson for his murder trial. In a recent Los Angeles Times opinion piece, Dershowitz also aims his attack at the first table of the Ten Commandments. Americans know only a "CliffsNotes" version of the commandments, he claims, and would find the real commandments "much more controversial." [see Dershowitz's article]
The real text of the Ten Commandments "include God's assertion that he is 'a jealous God' and his threat to visit 'the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation'." Dershowitz finds this absolutely unacceptable. "Can anything be more un-American?" With Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, Dershowitz finds these commandments "contrary to every principle of moral judgment."
Devotion to the Ten Commandments is misplaced, he argues. "The rules we accept actually precede the Ten Commandments and are accepted by all civilized nations. The remaining provisions . . . the United States has generally rejected."
For years, Mr. Dershowitz has argued for a secular vision of Judaism. Indeed, though allowing for Jews who prefer a "God-centered Judaism," Dershowitz insists that Judaism does not require belief in God--or His commandments.
Needless to say, Professor Dershowitz does not want to see a monument to the Ten Commandments in a public space. Furthermore, they "do not even belong--at least without some amendments and explanatory footnotes, in the hearts and minds of contemporary Americans."
Well, there you have it. The hostility to the Ten Commandments turns out to be far more basic than the question of their public display. The Ten Commandments do serve as a potent reminder that we are not our own, but are created to serve the living God and obligated to obey His laws. We are not the sovereign individuals of objectivist philosophy nor the enlightened rationalists of Jefferson and Paine. We are not our own, after all.
Binswanger and Dershowitz are agreed in identifying the Ten Commandments as a fundamentally repressive and dangerous text. The modern concept of personal autonomy--the basic worldview shared by both men--is antithetical to the spirit and substance of the Ten Commandments. If God exists, and if He has revealed His commandments to us, then we are not really autonomous at all. The basic meaning of autonomy is to be one's own lawgiver. The Ten Commandments put an end to all claims of human autonomy.
The modern age takes personal autonomy as a given. Thus, the Ten Commandments are among the most subversive words ever revealed to humanity. The commandments subvert our arrogance and pull the rug out from under our pretensions. We are left humbled and accountable, told that we shall and shall not--all without prior negotiation or human legislation.
The God who gave us the Ten Commandments fully expects to be God. That's bad news for the idea of a "free, independent, sovereign individual who exists for his own sake." That myth will die a hard death.
Albert Mohler is an author, speaker and President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. This article first appeared on Crosswalk.com's Weblog page. For more articles and commentaries by Dr. Mohler, and for information on "The Albert Mohler Program," go to www.albertmohler.com. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to www.sbts.edu.
Recently on Spiritual Life
Have something to say about this article? Leave your comment via Facebook below!
Listen to Your Favorite Pastors
Add Crosswalk.com content to your siteBrowse available content