Rev. Mark H. Creech
Restoring ethical foundations: The Ten Commandments in American culture
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By Rev. Mark H. Creech
June 3, 2024

Louisiana is on the verge of becoming the first state to mandate the display of the Ten Commandments in all publicly funded schools and colleges if Governor Jeff Landry signs the proposed bill, HB71, into law. Authored by Rep. Dodie Horton, the bill specifies that the Ten Commandments must be prominently displayed on posters no smaller than 11 by 14 inches. Horton argues that the commandments form the foundation of Louisiana’s laws.

This move comes amid a trend of similar legislative efforts in states like Texas, South Carolina, and Utah, spurred by recent Supreme Court decisions suggesting such displays are not a violation of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause. Nevertheless, the bill is expected to face legal challenges from civil rights groups like the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center, who argue that posting the Ten Commandments in public spaces is an endorsement of religion, can be exclusionary to non-Christian citizens, and undermines the principle of the separation of church and state.

Rep. Horton, however, is correct when she argues the commandments laid the foundation for law in Louisiana – not only Louisiana but every state in the Union and Western Civilization. The Decalogue has provided the moral code that profoundly influenced legal and cultural norms. Key principles such as the sanctity of human life, the right to private property, and truthfulness and integrity in communication, are integral to American law and society.

Beyond our legal system, the Ten Commandments promote social order by requiring actions that lead to trust and cooperation. They offer a shared compass of ethics that transcends individual religious beliefs, unifying diverse populations. On a personal level, they direct conduct, fostering fundamental virtues such as integrity, reverence, and respect, without which there can be no strong relationships of any kind.

The commandments also are the source of many American ideals that balance individual liberties with social responsibility. They have been responsible for shaping so much of America’s national character and direction. Without the Ten Commandments – without a greater authority than that of finite human judgment, hopes, or motives – justice, right living, and peace are not possible in any meaningful way. The Ten Commandments are essential because they represent the character of God in whose image humanity is made.

In his book “The Ten Commandments,” Cornelious Van Til, who once taught ethics at Westminster Theological Seminary, wrote:

    “We live in a world characterized by lawlessness. Not in the sense that the world has no laws by which it is governed – whether that be the arithmetical, kinematic, biotic, physical, logical, etc. – but in the sense that the natural man lives in rebellion against the revealed law of God. And what suffering this lawlessness has brought upon the world, unspeakable suffering when one surveys the history of mankind since the fall of our first parents. As we bear witness to the ongoing consequence of man’s disobedience – what the scriptures refer to as ‘sin’ – we realize the significance and necessity of the law of God for man’s right living. In fact, what we would discover is that to live in disobedience to the law of God brings about havoc and chaos one way or the other; it creates a violent disturbance – first in our hearts, and then rippling through every relationship that stems from it. But to live in obedience to the law of God provides the necessary conditions for the bearing of good fruit, peaceful relations, and human flourishment.”

The Bible says that God’s laws are inherent within the human race, influencing the conscience and one’s sense of right and wrong. The apostle Paul wrote:

    “Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right” (Romans 2:14-15).

Recent surveys highlight the fact that a significant portion of Americans feel that America is on the wrong track. An ABC News/Ipsos survey from November 2023 found three-quarters of Americans believe the nation is moving in the wrong direction, while only 23% believe it is on the right track. Similarly, an Associated Press-NORC poll from June 2022 reported that 85% of Americans feel the country is headed in the wrong direction. These surveys reflect deep-seated issues and a widespread belief that the nation’s current trajectory threatens its stability and future.

Many argue that in a pluralistic nation like America, concerns are more focused on the economy, inflation, political divisions, and governance than on morality. These issues certainly dominate political campaigns. However, such concerns reflect deeper values that shape the nation’s overall well-being and direction. As politicians address these pressing issues, the underlying moral and ethical considerations remain crucial to understanding and resolving the broader societal discontent.

Carefully consider how either the neglect or violation of the Ten Commandments is very much related to so many of the major issues tearing away at the fabric of this nation’s strength.

“You shall have no other gods before Me.”

This commandment is grossly disobeyed in contemporary American culture through the rise of humanism, secularism, and materialism. Humanism elevates the usefulness and agency of human reasoning, critical thinking, and purely scientific inquiry, individually and collectively, often rejecting the importance of belief in the supernatural. Secularism seeks to cleanse governmental institutions from any religious influence, most importantly Christianity, and thereby ensure religious beliefs do not influence public policies and laws. Materialism is the philosophical belief that only physical matter and its interactions constitute reality, and everything, including consciousness and human thought, can always be explained in terms of material phenomena.

What’s the effect? The effect is what we have today, which includes a diminished appreciation for absolute moral and ethical frameworks, an erosion of communal values that advance social cohesion, and a reduction of human experiences to nothing more than meaningless physical interactions that lead to a more relativistic approach to ethics.

In other words, the result is a time of unsurpassed confusion and chaos.

“You shall not make for yourself any graven image.”

The first commandment and the second hang together. This commandment is often disobeyed in modern contexts through various forms of idolatry. Statues of deities are still objects that are venerated in various religious practices.

However, there are other applications. In contemporary culture the pursuit of money, luxury items, and material wealth has unquestionably become a primary focus, something that, figuratively speaking, people bow down to in devotion, overshadowing spiritual values and piety.

This includes expensive cars and large homes. Obsession with smartphones, social media, video games, and online streaming services that dominate attention and severely reduce time spent on prayer, meditation, or religious activities such as reading the Bible or going to church.

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”

Today, it appears nothing is considered sacred due to a general lack of reverence for the sacred name of God and the concepts that flow from that reverence. Everyday speech is filled with casual and dishonorable use of phrases like “Oh my God” and “Jesus Christ,” which dilutes the purity of these expressions. Worse still, God’s name is often attributed to things He did not say or endorse, which He may even oppose. This broader understanding of using the Lord’s name in vain underscores the severity of such misuse.

Widespread violations of the third commandment produce a profane society where respect for what should be deemed holy is lost, moral and ethical standards are weakened, and communication coarsened.

A vulgar society experiences higher levels of incivility and disrespect in interactions, resulting in more conflict and eroding the quality of public discourse and social relations. This normalization of rudeness and aggressive behavior in our country desensitizes people to violence and insensitivity, further degrading the beauty and harmony of life.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

Driven by consumer demand and various economic factors, most people today treat the Lord’s Day like any other. Businesses remain open, farmers work the fields, and homeowners mow their lawns and trim their sidewalks and driveways. People often use the time for household chores and errands, while sports enthusiasts attend sporting events. Hunters hunt on Sundays, and fishermen fish, too. Although these activities are not inherently wrong, they become improper when they reduce the Lord’s Day to just another busy routine or self-indulgence rather than a time for rest and spiritual reflection.

Pervasive violations of the fourth commandment contribute to the secularization of society, undermining essential values such as rest, family bonding, community service, and worship. The emphasis on economic gain, productivity, and leisure over these indispensable observances leads to a spiritually and emotionally empty, stressed, depressed, mentally ill, self-obsessed, and overworked society. This results in widespread dependence on alcohol, drugs (including prescription drug addiction), tobacco, and vaping, as well as various forms of therapy and counseling to cope. It is not an oversimplification to say that for many, the remedy would be regular observance of the Lord’s Day.

“Honor your father and your mother.”

Currently, many parents are extremely concerned that their rights are being undermined in several key areas, particularly in education and healthcare. Schools introduce curricula on sensitive topics such as sex and gender identity without sufficient parental involvement and transparency. In many cases, parents find it difficult to opt their children out of programs that they deem harmful. In healthcare, minors are allowed to access certain treatments, such as vaccinations and reproductive health services, without parental consent, and confidentiality issues leave lots of parents unaware of critical health decisions that will impact their children for a lifetime.

Additionally, legal and social services often intervene in family matters without ample cause, and parents’ rights in custody and visitation cases are not properly honored.

This expanding role of government challenges the authority God has given parents over their children, diminishing parental rights in favor of government control over a child’s upbringing and welfare. This trend should deeply concern Americans. It has arisen due to the wanton violation of the fifth commandment—to show respect for parenthood—and the general disrespect children show to their parents.

Children who do not honor their parents are unlikely to respect any authority figure. This lack of reverence for parental authority, no doubt, contributes to the fact that 14% of the incarcerated population in the U.S. is comprised of individuals aged 18 to 24.

“You shall not murder.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically in 2020, the homicide rate in the United States increased by about 30% compared to 2019, marking the largest single-year increase in homicides ever recorded in U.S. history. This period also saw millions participating in protests against the police, alleging systemic racism, despite pandemic-related restrictions. These protests led to a reduced police presence in many communities, providing more opportunities for criminals to commit crimes without fear of immediate apprehension and contributing to a surge in violent incidents and homicides.

Additionally, since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, more than 63 million abortions have been performed in the U.S. This number surpasses the loss of life in either the Chinese Famine, the Soviet Famine and Repression, the Cultural Revolution in China, and the Spanish Flu. It is approaching the death tolls of the Black Death and World War II.

In a society where the sanctity of human life is egregiously violated, one witnesses a profound erosion of morality, a breakdown of social unity, and a diminished esteem for the inherent worth of every individual. This pervasive disregard for life not only manifests in increased violence and crime rates but also contributes to widespread psychological and emotional trauma. Thus, it becomes apparent that rampant violations of this command are increasingly desensitizing America to injustice.

“You shall not commit adultery.”

Adultery continues to have a significant impact on the institution of marriage. Studies indicate approximately 20% to 40% of divorces are linked to infidelity. Research from the American Psychological Association suggests about 53% of couples who experience infidelity end up divorcing within five years, even if they seek therapy.

Additionally, nearly 40% of adults who admit to having cheated on a spouse are currently separated or divorced. These statistics highlight the severe impact of infidelity on the stability of marriages and underscore the challenges couples face in overcoming such breaches of trust.

Today the prevalence of adultery is influenced by such factors as social media, which can facilitate secretive relationships. Some social circles condone and engage in infidelity, thereby normalizing the behavior and reducing perceived consequences.

As of 2024, six states in the United States still allow a spouse to sue a third party for alienation of affection or criminal conversation. These states are Hawaii, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah.

Alienation of affection lawsuits involves a spouse suing someone who allegedly caused the loss of affection in their marriage, not necessarily through sexual infidelity but through emotional infidelities that robbed a spouse of his affections. Criminal conversation, on the other hand, specifically involves suing someone who engaged in sexual relations with a married person, leading to the breakdown of the marriage.

Although adultery is something still largely frowned upon, there aren’t enough serious legal consequences to reduce its increase and prominence in today’s society.

“You shall not steal.”

Theft is a serious issue in the United States. Various forms of property crimes impact both individuals and businesses. In 2022, there were 1,946 property crimes per 100,000 people, which marks an increase in certain areas compared to previous years. Retail theft alone has caused substantial financial losses. For instance, in 2022 Florida retailers lost $5.421 billion in revenue due to theft.

Economically, theft results in substantial financial losses for businesses that translate into increased prices for consumers, deterring both domestic and foreign investments due to perceived instability. The need for heightened security measures further diverts funds from potential growth and development. Socially, a culture rife with theft is a culture where community trust is lost, creating an environment of suspicion and fear that negatively affects the quality of life and mental well-being of its citizens.

What is more, legally, the prevalence of theft overwhelms criminal justice systems, leading to inefficiencies and diminished public confidence in law enforcement. It also fosters corruption as individuals and businesses often seek protection through illicit means. Theft disproportionately affects lower-income communities and exacerbates poverty.

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

Bearing false witness or lying has become the modus operandum of American culture. Media and information dissemination are sadly and catastrophically impacted by fake news and defamation, distorting public perception and ruining reputations.

In the political arena, false campaign promises or the telling of partial truth misleads voters and undermines democracy. Commercial practices are negatively affected by fraudulent advertising, deceiving consumers, and distorting market competition.

All this lying is eroding trust in the nation’s institutions. It’s gotten so bad it seems that most of the time the country doesn’t know what the truth is.

Innumerable are the negative consequences for a nation that cannot trust its government, incalculable are the hazards and dangers of a people who can’t trust what they are being sold, immeasurable are the opportunities for corruption and tyranny when the press cannot be trusted to tell the whole truth.

Yet this is where America is today.

“You shall not covet.”

Covetousness, or an inordinate desire for wealth and possessions, defines much of America these days. Media and advertising constantly promote consumerism by equating happiness, success, and personal worth with owning the latest products. Reality television shows and social media influencers glorify luxurious lifestyles, nurturing a culture of envy and materialism. Popular music, especially in genres such as hip-hop, celebrates wealth, expensive goods, and extravagant spending, reinforcing an intense affection for material possessions.

This spirit of covetousness is also evidenced in the widespread use of credit and the normalization of insurmountable debt. As of 2024, the U.S. national debt stands at approximately $34 trillion. Future generations will inherit the responsibility of paying off this debt without having reaped the benefits of the spending that caused it. This intergenerational inequity places an undue financial burden on younger people, reducing their economic opportunities and prospects for a stable future.

Again, and again is heard the question: How did this wonderful country get in such dire straits? What has happened to America?

The renowned Bible commentator, William Barclay, in his book, “The Ten Commandments Today” effectively addressed the question. He wrote:

    “In the name of freedom, this generation resents discipline; it does not like commandments of any kind. Least of all does it like commandments which are also prohibitions. It does not like to be told not to do anything. Unlimited freedom and unrestricted permission to experiment are the contemporary demands. In a situation such as this, liberty can easily become license and the right to experiment can become the right to wreck one’s own life and the lives of others. It is therefore well and good that this generation should be confronted with the uncompromising demands of the Ten Commandments.”

Removing or ignoring the guardrails of the Supreme Benevolent Sovereign is to commit individual and corporate suicide. This nation desperately needs a reemphasis on the Ten Commandments.

© Rev. Mark H. Creech

 

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Rev. Mark H. Creech

Rev. Mark H. Creech is Executive Director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc. He was a pastor for twenty years before taking this position, having served five different Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina and one Independent Baptist in upstate New York.

Rev. Creech is a prolific speaker and writer, and has served as a radio commentator for Christians In Action, a daily program featuring Rev. Creech's commentary on social issues from a Christian worldview.

In addition to RenewAmerica.com, his weekly editorials are featured on the Christian Action League website and Agape Press, a national Christian newswire.

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