Secularizing the 10 Commandments

It was just once too many times.  I caught part of an interview with Glenn Beck last evening where he was advocating that the 10 Commandments were a good set of “rules” for our country and that even atheists could support them.  He joins a very long list of people who somehow believe that the 10 Commandments are easily secularized.  But let’s look at the first 3 Commandments (as Lutherans count them).

  1. You shall have no other Gods.
  2. You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain.
  3. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.

How do you secularize that?  How do atheists accept those?  These first 3 Commandments have to do with our relationship with God!  Now I know that Glenn Beck wants to restore the place of religion in our society but this naturally leads to some questions for me.

  1. Which god?  People in this nation worship any number of deities.  I’ll refuse to worship Glenn Beck’s god.
  2. A “generic god” is not God.  Generic prayer is not prayer.  How does this proposal reconcile the multiple deities worshiped in this country without resorting either to “establishment of religion” or so watering down the witness of God’s self-revelation that we simply become a culture that worships a generic god.

Even the last 7 Commandments are problematic if they are not addressed to a specific people with other “commentary” in sacred scripture.

  1. Honor your father and mother.
  2. You shall not kill.
  3. You shall not commit adultery.
  4. You shall not steal.
  5. You shall not bear false witness.
  6. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
  7. You shall not covet anything that is your neighbor’s.

Much of the advertising in this country uses coveting as a means to encourage us to purchase products, essential for the market economy we live in.  Without coveting, our economy collapses.  Of course, with unbridled covetousness, our economy  has a “bubble” then collapses.

I’d like those who advocate for the secularization of the 10 Commandments to be honest.  They really believe that the 5 Commandments are worthy of attention.

  1. Honor your father and mother.
  2. You shall not kill.
  3. You shall not commit adultery.
  4. You shall not steal.
  5. You shall not bear false witness.

Oh, except that much advertising relies on false witness.  Large profits require “theft”.  Many fathers are unknown or absent.  We encourage killing in self-defense and war.  Pre-marital sexual activity is the norm.  Porn fuels an economy that influences technology.

What is our society to do?  If we were to follow the 10 Commandments, our economy would falter even more, especially if these 10 Commandments are divorced from the context in which they were given to God’s own people.

Don’t get me wrong.  I believe the 10 Commandments are valuable … within the context of a faith community.  God didn’t give these commandments to the Egyptians or any other power of the day.  God gave these commandments to the small band of people God claimed as God’s own.  These commandments set God’s people apart from the other peoples/nations.  They were/are a gift.

God’s people have shared this gift to the cultures in which we live, and where it made sense, those cultures have adopted them.  Let’s not secularize the 10 Commandments however.  Let’s let our culture borrow from many religious traditions to order society for the common good … and let our culture borrow from secular traditions to order society for the common good.  Let’s stop using religious language as if our culture and the religious tradition are one in the same.  That will only turn out poorly.

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16 responses to “Secularizing the 10 Commandments

  1. You just keep batting them out of the park, Pastor Janssen. Well done, again.

  2. Excellent posting. It seems to me that all those with the great idea of using the 10 Commandments should start by trying to live them in their own lives. Mr. Beck and many other media personalities and politicians might want to start with the “Do Not Bear False Witness” commandment. In this day and age when the actual facts of the news have become incidental to the political orientation it would be refreshing if someone would actually make an effort to take that commandment seriously. Thanks and Blessings….

  3. You have spelled Glenn Beck’s name improperly. If you are going to critize someone, get the facts straight. Your are an elitist, your heart is small and you are all-knowing.

    • ponderingpastor

      Thanks for the heads up about the spelling of Glenn Beck. I find it interesting that the two times you’ve commented on this blog that you’ve called me names and been negative. Maybe you should stop watching Glenn Beck.

  4. And shooting santa is a positive thing? Tell me why you people consider yourselves religious when religion has no place in socialism.

    • ponderingpastor

      I never suggested that shooting Santa was a positive thing, in fact, I criticized it. What’s this about “you people”? Are you calling me socialist?

  5. No I am not calling you a socialist, you are a socialist. Lutherans base our beliefs on the teaching of truth and are firmly committed to guarding against false teachings. It is a church that exists for one reason and one reason only, the sake of pure doctrine of the Gospel – a confessional church above all others. We are faithful to this church because it is the church of Jesus Christ and the plain Word of God not because of our history or because it is the church of Luther. The Lutheran Church is, to quote Dr. Theodore Schmauk, “the church who stakes all on bearing witness. Her office is one of public proclamation and confession of the Truth, as it is in Christ Jesus. The preaching of God’s Word, pure and as given in Scripture, is her central activity… She is here to proclaim and apply God’s Word in Scripture, sermon, and sacrament. She is the church of faithful, regular, and continuous witness to the Truth. Hence the source of her witness, the Word; the standard of her witness, the Confessions; are central; and she is willing to abide by and uphold her confessional principle.” You state, “Let’s let our culture borrow from many religious traditions to order society for the common good … and let our culture borrow from secular traditions to order society for the common good.” Lutheranism does not “borrow from many religious traditions.” Lutheranism does not change, it cannot change because the gospel which is the substance of our confession does not and cannot change. To declaring or changing Lutheranism to an opinion or “common good” would mean its demise. And the demise of religion is the Marxist doctrine of socialism.

  6. I totally agree with Luther that Lutherans base our beliefs on the teaching of truth and are firmly committed to guarding against false teachings. When you state let’s let our culture borrow from many religious traditions to order society for the common good,” well Lutheranism does not “Borrow” it does not change, it cannot change because the gospel which is the substance of our confession does not and cannot change. To change Lutheranism would mean its demise. And the demise of religious is the Marxist doctrine of socialism. So you are right Luther, Pondering Pastor is a socialist! Thank you! By the way, P P why did you erase Luther’s post??

    • ponderingpastor

      Hmm, how can you agree with “Luther” and the earlier comment before I approved the comment? You must be one and the same person … or have inside knowledge. If it is the former, shame on you for using multiple identities in an attempt to make it look like you have more support for your perspectives. That’s cheating. (Now I notice that you have the same ip address as Luther and seekr.)

  7. I guess P.P. can’t take the opinion of others. Luther wrote a concise, well written criticism but now it is gone! Just like a liberal, pick and choose religion and pick and choose opinions!

    • ponderingpastor

      Maybe I don’t immediately react to something I read, and allow some time to pass before responding. Once again, you use a different email, but it seems like you are the same person as the original poster. The ip address for seekr, faith, and Luther are all the same. Are you really trying to be that deceptive?

  8. The “Which God” thing has been bothering me for a bit. Mr Beck’s views are not trinitarian… but then neither is the God view of Jew’s, Muslim’s and non-trinitarian Christians. Obviously there are some wide chasms, and no way could I personally ascribe to a non-trin theology. Despite such, all of the above recognize and worship the same God of Abraham described in the OT. I guess I’d be a lot more willing to give the benefit of a doubt and ascribe an imperfect and dim understanding to the above, rather than to ascribe that they worship a different God. Oto, Mr Beck’s faith does bring about vastly different, and rather unusual attributes of God so perhaps the “Which God” thing may well be the best way to go.

    • ponderingpastor

      I concur with your dilemma, but we also need to recognize that secular society is made up of people from Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic faiths. I’ll always attempt to be clear about the God I reference, but in society, that’s a whole lot tougher. Another thought. The 10 Commandments come from one God. The first 3 commandments reference that God in identity, holiness, and worship. Unless you are a universalist, how can the commandments apply to any other god?

  9. “Let’s stop using religious language as if our culture and the religious tradition are one in the same. That will only turn out poorly.”

    The bigger issue is that secularists don’t realize that these are one in the same; which makes witnessing that much more important. The Great Flood, Babylon, Hebrews enslaved by Egyptians, Israelites and Judeans enslaved by Babylonia, Jewish genocide, and etc… are results of faith leaving out of a people that once acknowledged God and then forgot or dismissed him. When nothing is left to hope for in this world, God is all that eventually remains as people come back to faith.

    When the last fall of mankind happens and prior to the tribulation; Christians will suffer greatly as each of the seals are broken over time. It most certainly will be sad and a poor, but the 2nd coming will resolve the situation accordingly.

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