Sunday Homily: God’s Commandments as the Road to World Peace

Ten Commandments 2

Readings for 3rd Sunday of Lent: EX 20: 1-17; PS 19: 8-11; ICOR 1:22-25;JN 2: 13-25

The emphasis in today’s liturgy of the world is on the wonders of God’s law. Today’s first reading reviews the expanded version of the familiar “Ten Commandments” which many of us were made to memorize as children. Then the responsorial psalm praises God’s Law as perfect, refreshing, wise, right, joyful, clear, enlightening, true, just, precious, and sweet.

On hearing that string of adjectives, many might raise their eyebrows in disbelief. “Joyful, “refreshing,” “precious,” “sweet?” “That’s not been my experience of the Ten Commandments,” we might say. “My experience of what’s called “God’s law” is entirely negative. When I hear references to the Ten Commandments I think of repressed fundamentalists wanting the Commandments posted on school walls and enshrined on lawns before every courthouse.”

And it’s true: negative reaction to talk of “Commandments” is completely understandable. From childhood, authority figures intent on controlling the most intimate details of our lives have threatened us with “The 10 Commandments,” “sin” and “punishment.”  From the time we were children, and especially as adolescents and young adults “God’s Law” seemed to militate against everything we really wanted to do – especially in the area of sexuality.

However, a bit of reflection shows how misplaced such reactions are. It reveals that “God’s Law” is not something posted on a classroom wall or on a plaque in front of a government building. It’s not written in stone either. Instead, it’s enshrined deep in the human heart. And human happiness – world peace – is impossible without observing that law which in its essence is no different from nature’s law.

That recognition in turn suggests how important it is for us to come to agreement about moral and ethical behavior if we truly want peace in the world. The U.N. has realized that and has sponsored research into the content of what it terms “a universal ethic.” According to the U.N., there are just four basic “commandments”: (1) Don’t kill; (2) Don’t rape; (3) Don’t lie, and (4) Don’t steal.

People as diverse as Roman Catholic theologian, Hans Kung and professional atheist Richard Dawkins agree but go further in what seem to me very helpful ways.

In fact, at the age of 85, Kung has dedicated the last part of his career to peacemaking by building bridges between religions whose differences are so often the cause or pretext for violent conflict. Kung works on the four principles that (1) International peace is impossible without peace between religions; (2) there can be no inter-religious peace without inter-religious dialog; (3) there can be no inter-religious dialog without agreement about a global ethic, and (4) our world cannot survive without such an ethic that is universally accepted.

So in terms of “God’s law,” what do all major religions agree about? The Golden rule is the point of convergence.

Christianity puts it this way:  “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets “ (Mt. 7:12). In Confucianism the same statute is expressed in these terms, “Do not do to others what you would not like yourself. Then there will be no resentment against you, either in the family or in the state” (Analects 12:2). Buddhism’s version runs, “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful” (Udana-Varga 5,1).  Hinduism agrees in these words, “This is the sum of duty; do naught unto others what you would not have them do unto you” (Mahabharata . 5, 1517). Islam’s expression is, “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself (Sunnah). In Taoism the same law finds this formulation: “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss” (Tai Shang Kan Yin P’ien). Zoroastrianism says, “That nature alone is good which refrains from doing to another whatsoever is not good for itself” (Dadisten-I-dinik, 94,5). Judaism says, “What is hateful to you do not do to your fellowman; this is the entire law; all the rest is commentary” (Talmud, Shabbat 3id).

Even Richard Dawkins, perhaps the world’s most famous atheist endorses the Golden Rule. In formulating his own Ten Commandments, he leads off with his own version of that principle. Here are Dawkins’ Ten Commandments:”

  1. Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you
  2. In all things, strive to cause no harm
  3. Treat your fellow human beings, your fellow living things, and the world in general with love, honesty, faithfulness and respect.
  4. Do not overlook evil or shrink from administering justice, but always be ready to forgive wrongdoing freely admitted and honestly regretted.
  5. Live life with a sense of joy and wonder
  6. Always seek to be learning something new
  7. Test all things; always check your ideas against the facts, and be ready to discard even a cherished belief if it does not conform to them.
  8. Never seek to censor or cut yourself off from dissent; always respect the right of others to disagree with you.
  9. Form independent opinions on the basis of your own reason and experience; do not allow yourself to be led blindly by others.
  10. Question everything

Dawkins also has something to say about that fraught area of sexuality I mentioned earlier. He adds four additional statutes:

  1. Enjoy your own sexual life (as long as it does not harm to others), and let others enjoy their sexual lives in private according to their own inclinations which in any case are none of your business.
  2. Don’t discriminate against or oppress anyone because of their sex, race or (insofar as possible) species.
  3. Don’t indoctrinate your children. Teach them to think for themselves, how to weigh evidence, and how to disagree with you.
  4. Respect the future beyond the temporal limits of your own life.

Now those laws are “delightful,” many would agree. They make sense because they reflect human nature and nature’s laws. They also can be perfectly aligned with God’s Law presented in today’s initial reading.

Imagine the world we’d create if we joined our brothers and sisters in all those religions I referenced and promoted Dawkins commandments with the same vigor the fundamentalists promote their repressed interpretations of the Ten Commandments.

Kung is right: we might witness an out-breaking of world peace.

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

6 thoughts on “Sunday Homily: God’s Commandments as the Road to World Peace”

  1. Augustine reduced it all to one supreme law: Love – and do as you will. When Jesus said love God with all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself, he meant the same. Actually if one can do everything with love, and extend love to all without exception – then there is no need for any other law; that will take care of every circumstance in the best way possible. In love is the ultimate wisdom, and the preservation of the world. As Lao Tzu said, when laws proliferate society deteriorates.
    With love as the law, all the complex legalisms become unnecessary. When people are untrustworthy and treacherous, then we try to remedy the situation with many laws. This never works. The true solution is a world based on love, then the situations laws are formulated to deal with never arise. If we make love our primary concern, then the world will be transformed into a thing of wonder and beauty which we can hardly imagine from where we now stand in this failing culture of selfishness and violence…


    1. Mike K, true and not true! “The devil is in the details.”

      What does “love” mean? For many people, the meaning of love is tied up in sexuality, family and tribal backgrounds. What does it mean to love another person?

      Does “love” mean that you turn a blind eye to harm from parents, spouse or children (or tribe) because you love them? Should Dottie Sandusky have turned in her husband a decade before he was finally prosecuted — if she knew what he was doing? Or was it “love” to pretend she didn’t see anything wrong? I’m not judging her, by the way.

      Does “love” mean that you beat the bejeezus out of family members of all ages to try to keep them behaving according to local social norms?

      The Ten Commandments are an attempt to bring discussion to the table. It is possible to love people you cannot trust, but then you have to spend a large “defense budget” on protecting yourself. Can you trust leaders (or anyone else for that matter) who would lie under oath? What is the value of someone else’s promise?

      Can you trust other people to honor your contract with your spouse? Can you trust others not to steal from you when they have the opportunity?

      On what factors does peace between people (and communities) depend?


  2. Hillbilly Ten Commandments. Notice the tribal aspect: “no stealin’ yer kinfolks stuff, and don’t go hankerin for it neither.”

    If you can expand these commandments the way Jesus did (when he said at one point that his brothers/ kinfolks were people who shared his principles, never mind their blood/kin relationship) THEN there’s a possibility for world peace.

    So long as our leading teachers promote tribalism and “identity politics” as ideals, I’m doubtful of the the prospect for peace. Martin Luther King asked that his children be judged on the content of their character, not the color of their skin. That message has been changed. Not so many people ask about character; the emphasis in news stories and in schoolbook textbooks is on color of skin/ancestry. I disagree with that emphasis, and I think MLK would also.


    1. Thanks, Mary. However, I think MLK would be appalled by the resurgence of virulent racism in our “post-racial” society. Until whites are able to look beyond skin color to character, Dr. King’s “dream” will remain just that.


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