At the Federalist, I attempted to make the case that Christianity is so wound up in our socio-cultural experience its morality–as portrayed in the Ten Commandments–has shaped our minds in a similar way that language does. I also try to show how the Ten Commandments are not only external laws handed to us by God through Moses, but they are the first principles of moral law.
First principles in philosophy are foundational to most academic undertakings. Aristotle explained that any person can begin with any specific belief–granted the belief is not rooted in fantasy–and naturally work his way back to a fundamental truth. A good example of a first principle in action is the law in formal logic of non-contradiction. A contradictory statement is one that uses an absolute like truth to declare that truth does not exist. Since it is impossible for there to be truth and no truth simultaneously, it is a logical fallacy to declare it is true that there is no such thing as truth. Beyond logic, Aristotle thought the laws of nature, human or otherwise, can be known through such fundamental concepts.
This brings me back to the Ten Commandments, and the chief criticism of my essay. After reading many comments, it occurred that I had failed to clearly make my case about the fundamentals of moral law. The most common hang-up I had read was some variation of, “I can be moral without being a Christian.” In suggesting that the Ten Commandments work as moral first principles I agree with that statement. Honestly, Thou shall not Kill is a fantastic example of a law written in our heart. However, matters where certain acts of killing (here’s looking at you abortion and euthanasia) are considered not only a humane option but a human right among secular humanist groups prove a first principle can only take an individual so far without guidance. Generally, when discussing day to day affairs I think it perfectly reasonable to assume the average atheist is not more inclined to kill, steal, or commit adultery precisely because I do believe we all know those acts are wrong. My point is, without the image of the cross ever in a person’s sight and without the anchor of redemptive suffering in our moral life, what is to guide us when pragmatism or mere comfort may supersede right and wrong?
The focal point of disdain in arguing the Ten Commandments are foundational is regarding the first commandments. God made clear to Moses that all worship must be directed towards Him and Him alone. Many non-believers argue this law does not apply to them, but their argument is becoming obsolete by the day. As a young man in school, learning about older cultures worshiping their leaders as gods seemed otherworldly. To hear stories about the cult of Roman Emperors or the metaphysical undertones the Nazi party infused with their politics was being interpreted not as cautionary historical narratives, but tales as fabled as mythology itself. In the United States, where science and reason triumph, citizens would not dare cast an idol of the state or its leaders. Right?
The fair answer to such a question today is American’s faith in science and reason has been replaced by the cult of science and the cult of reason. In other words, as secularization further infiltrates our public square, the God of the Christians and Hebrews is being replaced with fun house mirror versions of the gods where we put our faith. In his book Miracles, CS Lewis argues monotheism had to be nurtured in man. An important hermeneutic to consider when reading the Book of Genesis is recognizing the writer’s intent on a polemical campaign against paganism. God created the sun, the sky, the trees, the water, and man and woman. He alone deserves worship, and not the things which He created. At his primitive state, man is pantheistic, he is ready to bow his knee at the first bolt of lightning, the rising of the sun, or in our case whatever magic pours forth from our new priestly class. Man will bow his knee; the question is to whom? Without adherence to the first commandments man will regress to his primitive state, iPhone X or no.
What makes this all so disconcerting, from a libertarian perspective, is the absolute connection between property rights and human rights. Murray Rothbard explains these conceptions are bound so tightly that one cannot exist without the other. Today Leviathan continues exponential growth, the federal government employs more people than any business in America, and citizens continue their downward spiraled flirtation with socialism. A polity that pines so irrationally for government intervention in every facet of life, and fights so viciously to elect one version of Caesar over another is a polity groomed to abandon all rights our government was designed to protect. Historically, this is how countries find themselves under the boot of a Nero, Hitler, or Stalin. Secularization does not lead to a religious void. Instead, it leads to disordered worship. This is the fertile soil in which such mythology as utopian societies grow. If we only agree to relinquish this one last right then we can usher in a heaven on earth. If only the government can control the means of production then we can all live in a worker’s paradise!
Worship is in our DNA. The Ten Commandments are not some impersonal edicts cast down by a tyrannical deity to keep us in shackles, rather the first principles handed down by our divine Father to guide us towards the path of true freedom. So while a non-believer can live a moral life in general, he plays with fire when he ignores the importance of who deserves his worship. His knee will bow, if not to the God who created us, then to the charlatan who promises goods he has no intent to deliver. In this way, when we neglect the laws written on our hearts, we do it at our own peril in this life and the next.