A Ten Commandments primer: 9-18-09
September 18, 2009
For some years now, the Ten Commandments have been at the center of controversy in our country -- not because most people think they're foolish. Not at all. Rather, it's because people who seem not to understand issues of separation of church and state continue to insist that the state promote them.
But what do we really know about those commandments -- their history, how they were understood when first promulgated, how we are to understand them today?
My hope is that a new series on ABC-TV's show "Nightline" will help us answer some of those questions. The series begins this coming Thursday night, Sept. 24.
It perhaps should not surprise us that the series launches with "Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery," clearly the most racy of the commandments. Nor, perhaps, should it surprise us that ABC has chosen to use the old King James Version language instead of a more modern and understandable translation.
If ABC were to start with the most important of the commandments it would be the one saying we should have no other gods before God. My contention is that ultimately all sin boils down to idolatry, and idolatry is precisely what this first commandment stands against.
Still, wherever ABC starts, I'm glad the network at least seems to be trying to bring a bit of religious education to the public.
The Decalogue (as the Ten Commandments are called, from the Greek words deka logoi), is found in Exodus and Deuternomy in slightly different versions. And various translations wind up with small variations of which one is number what.
Scholars debate the origins of the Ten Commandments. The primary biblical story, of course, is that God gave them to Moses on Mount Sinai, but scholars have proposed later dates for them, including as recently as 750 BCE.
Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions offers this interesting note about the commandments: "The Ten Commandments had no particular importnace in Christian tradition until the 13th century, when they were incorporated into a manual of instruction for those coming to confess their sins."
I don't know about you, but I do my best not to break more than two or three commandments before noon each day.
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THE RELIGION-PREGNANCY CONNECTION
A distressing new study suggests that teen pregnancy rates are higher in areas of the country in which the population evidences higher than average rates of religious belief. Is this a result of the failure of preaching abstinence? I'm guessing that has something to do with it. What's your guess?
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P.S.: You have a chance the evening of Sunday, Sept. 27, to hear some wonderful sacred music and help out a good cause along the way. The William Baker Singers will join some members of the Kansas City Symphony at Colonial Presbyterian Church to raise funds for a ministry that assists needy people of Rwanda. The link will give you details. I've heard the Baker singers. They're wonderful.