I have a solution to the controversy about displaying the Ten Commandment in public places, particularly courthouses. Put up only the second tablet. Traditionally the Ten Commandment (Exodus 20:1-17) have been divided, with commandment one through four on the left (or right if you are speaking Hebrew). These are the “crimes against the Lord God.” In a pluralistic society, such as ours, we have no right to expect everyone to call the same god, Holy. The second tablet of commandments deal with our crimes against each other. These six seem appropriate for the walls of our courthouses, as well as, the schools were we teach our children about civic responsibility. At first glance, the second tablet looks universal and appropriate for a diverse society such as ours..
Commandments numbered one through three, are prefaced with the words, “I am the God who has liberated you from your slavery.” This is the relational hook. Each of us has a liberation story. Many non-Christians also have a ‘higher power” that they owe a debt to. The first commandments warns us against choosing our religion a’ la carte. We have a holy obligation. God has a right to be jealous. The second commandment urges us to not make an idol of any thing or ideology that might re-enslave us. The third follows, not by dealing with swearing, but the more common problem of magical behavior and superstitious thinking. We are not to try to manipulate the Holy by repetitive acts or mumbo jumbo liturgy.
The remaining commandments relate to things our conscience already nags us about. Hanging commandments five through nine in the courthouse is a nod to how much Judeo-Christian tradition undergirds American morality. We may not always act like the these commandments exist, but at least they give us the language to talk about our bad behavior.
One has to watch out, though, for commandments number four and ten. Our American society has made an idol out of work addiction. The sabbath proposed in commandment four is for our own good. I am concerned by how multi-tasking and social media smother spiritual development. Once a week, we should sabbath from multi-tasking and Facebook.
The last commandment, the one about coveting, is radically un-American. I think it is Jesus’ favorite commandment. Grasping the danger of consumerism can transform your life. What would happen if we each tried to live without coveting? Who would buy all the cars and lottery tickets? Madison Avenue would go bust.