The Concept of Gift and the Church's Social Doctrine
More ominously, once you get rid of the Ten Commandments, they will be replaced by something worse, and you will be at the mercy of man in power, who, unlike God and apart from God, is not very merciful.
None of us can say that we have made ourselves be. None of us can say that we have brought to be that which is outside of us. For both ourselves and that which is outside of us, we have received from an Other. The entirety of existence, of being and its laws, is contingent upon an Other. It is this self-evident insight, which is at the center of all religious experience which seeks this Other, that leads to the recognition of "the dimension of gift and gratuitousness" of being, of life, ultimately the existence of all creation (Compendium, 20). This is bedrock reality.
The unquestionable fact that existence is a gift given to us free by the Other, however we know him to be, necessarily imposes upon all of us-every single man, woman, and child who has reached the age of reason-a moral obligation of caretaking, of stewardship. Any other response is to be an ingrate. And ingratitude is never justified: ingratitude in the face of undeserved generosity is self-evidently wrong. The fact that our life, the life of others about us, and the cosmos in which we live is a gift gratuitously given us is at the heart of our moral obligations. In light of the fact that being, life, and the world are contingent, are gifts, our conscience is spurred into sensing that "it is called to manage responsibility and together with others the gift received" (Compendium, 20). The gift of life, of being, is not my gift alone; it is our gift.
Christians believe that the Other has not stayed quiet, aloof, but that he has revealed himself. Strikingly in the history of mankind, "God's progressive revelation of himself to the people of Israel stands out" (Compendium, No. 21). He intervened in the life of that nation while they were yet slaves, living oppressed under their Egyptian masters. He delivered them from that slavery, and revealed himself to Moses as the "I am who am" (Exodus 3:14). The Other, the necessary Being, the Being from which all other being comes, the Gift-Giver of all that is, spoke. His speaking was yet another gift.
And in this revelation given to a Jew named Moses and through him to all Israel, the world leapt upwards in what the philosopher Eric Voegelin called the great "leap in being," a leap for all humanity, Jew and Gentile. What was a "leap in being" was also a "leap in morals," and a "leap into freedom." The "leap into freedom" was derived from being bound to a covenant with the Gift-Giver, at the heart of which was the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are also known as the Decalogue, from Greek, Deka-logos, "Ten words."
In these "Ten Words" given to Moses by the One God whose name is "I am who am," we found our freedom. "The Ten Commandments, which constitute an extraordinary path of life and indicate the surest way for living in freedom from slavery to sin, contain a privileged expression of the natural law" (Compendium, No. 22). The Ten Commandments and the natural moral law which binds all men are substantively equivalent.
Americans taught by such misguided groups such as the ACLU or Americans United for Separation of Church and State think that the Ten Commandments are sectarian, and that our social, political, and governing institutions can, and indeed must as a requirement of pluralism and even justice, disassociate themselves from the Ten Commandments. The Ten Words must not be seen in the public square.
This is a lie, a folly, not to be believed because the Ten Commandments are not sectarian. Quite the opposite, they are universal. The Ten Commandments bind all mankind, and are part of mankind's patrimony, moral treasure. They are part of our "leap of morality," our "leap into freedom," a gift of God through the Jew to the world.
Moreover, they, and the authority of the God behind them, are the objective source of human rights. Get rid of the Ten Commandments and you get rid of any basis of human rights. Human rights have to be tied to something, and if you untie them from the natural law, they sink.
More ominously, once you get rid of the Ten Commandments, they will be replaced by something worse, and you will be at the mercy of man in power, who, unlike God and apart from God, is not very merciful. Without the Ten ...
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