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A Doubter's Guide to the Ten Commandments


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INTRODUCTION The introduction speaks partly to the believer and partly to the enquirer, setting both the tone and intent of the book: whether or not one quite believes in the Bible, these ten ancient instructions open up a window to the Western world and on our own soul. 1. A CULTURAL ICON This chapter traces the cultural references to the Ten Commandments, in art, monument, and culture, even including Richard Dawkins' famed Ten Atheist Commandments. 2. THE PREMISE OF THE TEN This chapter explains from within the Old Testament law itself that 'grace'---God's unmerited favour---is the premise of the Commandments. No one was ever meant to hear these commandments as the path to a moral life or divine acceptability. Along the way, alternative theories for ethical conduct and motivation are explored. 3. THE PROMISE OF THE TEN This chapter explains how the Bible 'works', from the Christian point of view---how Christ is the promise of the Law. The West has received the commandments not directly from Judaism but via their 'refraction' in the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament. 4. THE SHAPE OF THE TEN This chapter discusses the twofold shape of the commandments, stressing a Godward and humanward life as envisaged by Moses (and Jesus). While ethics today are principally concerned with behaviour at the 'horizontal' level (kindness to others), the Ten Commandments insist that the 'vertical' (concern for God) is key to the good life. 5. A CHARTER OF FREEDOM This chapter examines the inadequacy of the modern notion of 'freedom' and contrasts it with the biblical notion of pursuing the Good for which we are made. "We are free not merely because we can choose," writes David Bentley Hart, "but only when we have chosen well." 6. MONOTHEISM AND MORALITY This chapter focuses on the First Commandment and makes the connection between the existence of God and the logical ground of morality. Reverencing God is the highest calling of the human being and the only way philosophically to find a rational basis for the 'good life'. Atheism and polytheism are found to fall short. 7. IDOLS ANCIENT AND MODERN Looking at the Second Commandment this chapter examines idol worship in both historical and contemporary perspective, exploring in particular Jesus' and Paul's insistence that materialism is the equivalent of idolatry. Links between idolatry---reverencing created things over the Creator---and injustice are also explored: if one can worship an object of creation, one can easily tread down other creatures. 8. WHAT'S IN A NAME? Looking at the Third Commandment this chapter highlights the importance of honouring God's name. Along the way, phony, materialistic religion is critiqued. And the extreme judgment language of this commandment ("punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation") is dealt with in a sensitive way. 9. THANK GOD FOR HOLIDAYS This chapter explores the Fourth Commandment (Sabbath) and highlights the history of 'holidays' and the importance of 'rest'. Uniquely in the ancient world, Jews believed that all should work (elites as well as peasants) and that all should rest (peasants as well as elites). The New Testament 'refraction' of the Sabbath command, as a picture of salvation, becomes a special focus. 10. EVERYONE LOVES THEIR MOM? This chapter examines the Fifth Commandment and its implications for our notion of family---interacting briefly with 'alternative' models. After exploring Jesus' teaching about parents, it also raises questions about our society's care for the elderly. 11. KILL, LUST, STEAL, LIE Grouping the Sixth to Ninth Commandments together, this chapter shows how Jesus took the most basic ethical commands of humanity, found in multiple cultures around the world, and intensifies their sense. The result is an ethical outlook unparalleled in the history of moral discourse---where even 'hate' is equated with murder, and 'lust' with adultery. 12. DES

About the Author

John Dickson (PhD, Macquarie University, Sydney) is a senior research fellow of the Department of Ancient History, Macquarie University; co-director of the Centre for Public Christianity; and senior minister at St. Andrew's Roseville. The author of more than a dozen books, he is the host of two major historical documentaries for Australian television and is a busy public speaker in corporations, universities, churches, and conferences.

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