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No matter where they stand on Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore's fight to keep his Ten Commandments monument on display at the Alabama Judicial Building, Americans agree that it is symbolic. But symbolic of what?

I will not try to prove Moore's claim that the Decalogue is "the moral foundation of law in this nation." But, without question, it is central to Jewish and Christian morality. And, also without question, it is deeply embedded in Western—especially Anglo-American—culture.

We've all heard these ten commands many times. As familiarity may breed contempt, it's worth hearing them once more, a little differently. The following is a summary of the version that appears in Deuteronomy 5 (the other, slightly different version is found in Exodus 20):

God identifies himself by what he has done. He brought his people out of Egypt. They are to have no other gods. He is invisible. They must not try to make an image of God or express him in terms of heavenly bodies or earthly creatures. Any idol of God would be pitifully inadequate and dangerously misleading. Instead, God wishes to be known by his passion for his people: his jealousy for their love, his hatred of their wickedness and his lasting commitment to their well being.
God's name is utterly holy. It sums up his personality and purpose. It is a serious thing to abuse God's name, by taking it lightly or using it to endorse empty promises.
The Sabbath day is to be kept holy. It is a day when the whole community—including servants, animals, visitors and strangers—has time and space to rest and reflect.
Children are to honor their parents. Families are to be bonded by obedience as well as affection. Elderly parents are to be provided for by their children. Soundly built families make ...
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The Ten Commandments, How Deep Our Debt
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August 2003

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