Children and the Ten Commandments

Scripps Howard News Service
September 18, 2003

- Mrs. Edith St. Petersburg brought a recent news story about the Ten Commandments to school last week. She wondered about the ongoing controversy, and what children astute enough to understand must think.

Then she asked, "I wonder how many adults these days could recite the Ten Commandments?"

That brought a response from Mrs. Judy Clonmacnoise, who asked, "And how many adults could make the Ten Commandments seem like a good thing to a child?"

Apparently, there are lots of people who are no longer comfortable with the Ten Commandments, especially with the idea of teaching them to small children.

Some even say that the 10 rules present a picture of archaic hypocrisy that no one believes any more. So why waste our time teaching them to kids?

"Yeah, I learned them in school; didn't everybody?"

Yes, most of us did learn them and could rattle them off easily in the fourth grade when we had a church or parochial school contest. But somehow, incorporating the particular, by-name commandments into a basic daily way of life is more a social matter for most people rather than a religious piety.

Children will not make the connection between ideas and daily lives unless the connection is made for them.

When families live exemplary lives, the Ten Commandments by name don't even have to be mentioned. Children will live like their parents because it's natural to do what is socially acceptable. Acceptable in the home matters to a child first.

Looking at the Ten Commandments as a social order is a universal thing because they are the rules every civilized culture lives by. It's more than religion; it's an obvious set of worldwise guidelines that force potential chaos into recognizable order.

Even an atheist could teach a child that a lack of selfishness is important, that he is not the center of the universe and that someone else always comes before he does.

Most would agree it's a good thing to teach children that we should not kill. But daily conflicts arise. Television often presents a chaotic world that profiles murder after murder as an entertainment package, and we invite this stuff into our homes.

Our lives aren't perfect. They never have been. And we can be grateful that there are few who want to throw the Ten Commandments away, even in an effort to make unsavory lives seem better.

What would it say about a society that no longer believed killing, cheating, stealing and slander are wrong? That envy and jealousy are good things?

The Ten Commandments will stand one way or another. Thousands of years of believing that there are 10 basic rules of life that keep a society strong and healthy will continue, no matter what.

The thing that will keep a society strong and healthy is in the heart of believers in goodness. We teach our children to honor what is honorable and love what brings good. If it happens to be one of the Ten Commandments, so be it. Man's search for good will find reveal it and will always dominate man's search for chaos and corruption.

(Judy Lyden operates a pre-school in Evansville, Ind. Write to her c/o The Evansville Courier, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, IN 47702, or e-mail her at jlyden(at)