Posts tagged with: decalogue

I’ve lately completed David Klinghoffer’s book on the Ten Commandments, Shattered Tablets. In large part it is a conventional conservative critique of American culture, but along the way the author makes some interesting theological connections, especially when he draws on the long tradition of Jewish biblical commentary.

In unpacking the commandments, Klinghoffer consistently ties each commandment of the first tablet (five, according to the Jewish schema) with each of the five others, matching each pair horizontally across the two tablets (if you follow me).

This approach connects the fourth, keeping holy the Sabbath, with the ninth, not bearing false witness. All this by way of explaining how this trenchant passage appears in the chapter on the ninth commandment:

Many of us … suffer from the prideful delusion that what we do for a living the rest of the week simply can’t be neglected for a day, perhaps not even for an hour. We have a ‘moral responsibility’ to work!

This mistake has been greatly reinforced with the introduction in recent years of portable wireless communication devices … that allow people to do their work on the road, on the train, at home, on vacation. The impression we convey to ourselves is that our work is so terribly important that it simply cannot wait until we can reach a landline telephone or a desktop computer. The moral message of the BlackBerry is: God may have been able to take a break from His work, but not me! … At all times, I am indispensable!

The Sabbath delivers a sound beating to this kind of obnoxious pride in oneself and one’s ‘vocation.’

Not that there’s anything wrong with a healthy sense of vocation, or the so-called Protestant work ethic. To the contrary. I’ve long been convinced that work is actually more productive and beneficial to all parties when performed in accord with God’s laws, including the Sabbath commandment. Reminding me of John Paul II’s apostolic letter Dies Domini, which followed by some years his encyclical on the dignity of work, Laborem Exercens.

Aside from the blasphemy, which ought not be overlooked, one of the biggest problems with an ad like this (HT: Think Progress, which also has a printed transcript of the ad) is that it undermines itself. It’s simply bad rhetorical strategy.

Whatever potential arguments (economic or otherwise) there may be against minimum wage legislation, virtually no one of sympathetic inclinations is going to listen when you mock Judeo-Christian values by reducing something as vitally important as the divine revelation of the Decalogue to a mere political tool.

Meanwhile, Nicole Greenfield at The Revealer, while concerned with “the obvious church-state and anti-working class issues,” hopes that “this isn’t the start of a horrible new trend in political advertising.”

I hope so, too, but probably for different reasons. I don’t think economic laws, insofar as they are truly “laws” in the proper sense, rise to the level of what Zanchi calls “this perfect law,” or the Ten Commandments.

Gary North, who wrote a 450+ page economic exposition of the 10 Commandments, does connect minimum wage laws as a “price floor” under the commandment to honor parents (Exodus 20:12, North commentary pp. 118-19). This is a rather specious connection, however, and offers no justification for the Stop 42 ad.

Almost any Christian I’ve ever heard argue against minimum wage legislation (and there aren’t many) has argued on the basis of prudential judgment rather than appeals to direct divine mandate. North may be an exception, although I don’t think it necessarily follows from his brief mention of minimum wage laws under the fifth commandment that he thinks that opposition to such legislation is mandated by that commandment.

In any case, arguments against minimum wage laws already face an uphill battle for acceptance. Ads like this don’t help the cause.

Update: Having trouble viewing the Moses ad? Check out the YouTube version. Jamie Court at The Huffington Post says that this ad, about California’s Prop 89, is a “remarkable piece of political jujitsu on the practices of political advertising, and has the possiblity to remake them.”

You may know that a traditional way of interpreting the Ten Commandments involves articulating both the explicit negative prohibitions as well as the implicit positive duties. So, for example, the sixth commandment prohibiting murder is understood in the Heidelberg Catechism to answer the question, “Is it enough then that we do not kill our neighbor in any such way?” by saying, “No. By condemning envy, hatred, and anger God tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves, to be patient, peace-loving, gentle, merciful, and friendly to them, to protect them from harm as much as we can, and to do good even to our enemies.”

This method of interpretation is not unique to the Reformed, and is also exemplified in the Roman Catholic exposition of the Decalogue in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. See, for example, what the Catechism says in the context of this commandment about the duty toward the human person, including the embryo: it “must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible.”

As part of its exposition of the positive duties enjoined by this commdandment, the Heidelberg Catechism states, “I am not to harm or recklessly endanger myself either.”

It is with this in mind that I want to raise the question of the validity of extreme sports. You can see what I consider to be some rather uncritical approaches by Christians to the topic in this cover story from the January 2006 Banner, “Going to the Extreme,” and this from Leadership Journal, “Planes, Chains, and Automobiles,” about the combination of extreme sports and church.

Now clearly this is a matter for prudential judgment. Not all extreme sports are created equal. Snowboarding is probably less dangerous than bungee jumping. It would be much more dangerous for me, an untrained amateur, to try and go climb a mountain than it would be for a trained and seasoned climber.

And surely John Stossel’s observations about the real dangers we face everyday are relevant. When asked to do stories on sensational topics, like exploding BIC lighters, Stossel did some digging to find out what kinds of things really are dangerous. As he writes in Give Me a Break, “I found the accident data fascinating. Turns out hot tap water, stairs, bunk beds, and drowning in bathtubs kills more people than most risks we hysterically warn people about.”

Even so, there’s something about the intentional seeking of danger that is at best morally questionable. This moral reality is I think part of what Stephen King’s story The Running Man is about. Even the most experienced and seasoned extreme sport aficionado cannot eliminate all the risk, and that’s of course part of the appeal. Does attempting to scale Mt. Everest count as reckless endangerment?

Clearly extreme sports are big business, as ESPN now has devoted a lot of coverage to the so-called X Games, and there is even an extreme sports cable channel. But do these sports, at least in some of their permutations, violate the sixth commandment?