Sunday, March 23, 2008

Thou Shalt Not Commit [Yawn...] Adultery

In his Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris next turns his sights on the supposed indispensibility of the Decalogue for shaping a nation's moral character. He notes that the first four commandments "have nothing whatsoever to do with morality," but rather forbid all non-Judeo-Christian expressions of worship (on pain of death, he adds). Commandments 5-9 do address morality, Harris concedes, but he then expresses doubt about whether anyone obeys these commands because of the commands themselves, since:
"Admonishments of this kind are found in virtually every culture throughout recorded history.... It seems rather untimely, therefore, that the average American will receive necessary moral instruction by seeing these principles chiseled in marble whenever he enters a courthouse."
Harris then points out that if God exists and is to be taken seriously, then we must admit that we his creatures are not free to only obey the commands we like while disobeying the ones we dislike, nor can he simply relax the penalties he has imposed for our breaking his commands.

A few thoughts:

1. Sam Harris has a greater appreciation for common grace and natural law than many evangelical and Reformed believers today.

2. Though he wouldn't state it in this way, Harris rightly points out that the Decalogue, as such, is not "the moral law," but is a summary of that law covenantally formulated for those to whom it was originally given.

3. Unlike many non-believers, Harris actually sees the law (whose works are hardwired into him) not as suggestions to improve his earthly life while threatening no ill-effects if ignored, but as non-negotiable and inflexible expressions of who God is (if he existed).

4. But like all non-believers, Harris cannot fathom the transition from an obviously broken law to a program of redemption according to which the law's demands are honored, God's justice retained, and yet sinners are pardoned.

So I give Harris a point against the evangelicals for recognizing that a Judeo-Christian ethic is not indispensible for a just society, but the theonomic Reformed fare no better than their fundamentalist counterparts within evangelicalism on this score. Give Sam another point for recognizing the spiritual nature of the law and the serious consequences for breaking it, but as expected, he gets no points for recognizing a gospel he is blinded from seeing anyway.