Morality and the Tenth Commandment

First post here.

This is the second in my series of Last Crusade articles. (If you are not familiar with the Last Crusade, you can find out more here and here.) 

These posts will examine the question: Are there areas in our lives where matters of morality might have been clear 150 years ago that are no longer clear today? 

The purpose of this inquiry is not to point fingers or assign blame but to examine our own conscience with an end to discovering whether there might be moral laws that we are unknowingly breaking which could interfere with our ability to heal through prayer.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am going to examine the Ten Commandments in reverse order.


The Tenth Commandment:

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's. (Exodus 20:17)

When I first began considering this topic, I actually dismissed the Tenth Commandment. “Everyone knows envy and coveting is bad,” I thought. “That hasn’t changed in a hundred and fifty years.”

Then, I prayed, asking God if I were overlooking something that I should be aware of, and I thought about what people believed 150 years ago. Two things came to mind. After I considered those two things, and several others, I realized that there was so much to say on this topic that I will have to address it in two parts.

Here is part one:

The first thing that came to mind as I prayed on this topic was a scene from the movie Cinderella Man, which is based on a true story about a boxer in the first half of the Twentieth Century. During the depression, he could not find work to support his family. Eventually, he was forced to accept government help.

Later, when his fortune changed, and he began winning bouts, he paid back the money he had been given by the government.

This scene really struck me because, today, few would do that–pay back their "entitlements". Most people wouldn’t even hesitate to take government handouts. In fact, they demand them.

But, back in the 1800s, most people believed that accepting charity—government or otherwise—was something that you should eschew unless absolutely necessary.

The second thing that came to mind was an incident that happened last summer. A dear family member, who is known far and wide for kindness and gentleness, was discussing economics with my husband and sons. When she began speaking about the rich—and why it is justified for the government to take their money to give to others—such a look of hatred and disdain came over her face that, to this day, my husband speaks about the incident with wonder. He had never seen her, before or since, have such a nasty expression on her face.

Thinking of this incident, I recalled many others I know, including my youthful self, who are kind and loving people, but whom display antagonism toward the rich, anger at them for not sharing their weath, and I realized something that shocked me:

Coveting someone else’s things because you want to give them to another is still coveting.

If we want to take our neighbor’s donkey, we are coveting.

If our neighbor has fifty thousand donkeys, and we want to take one for ourselves, we are still coveting. We are looking to our neighbor for good instead of to God, Love, the source of all supply.

If we want to take one of those fifty thousand donkeys and give it to our other neighbor, who lives in a mud pit with only insects for companionship ( or, perhaps, food) that is still coveting.

Not only that, but here we are making two moral errors:

First, we are coveting good from our donkey-rich neighbor instead of from God

Second, we are seeing our mud-pit-dwelling neighbor as a needy mortal instead of as the image and likeness of the One Altogether Lovely—a child and heir who can expect all he needs met by Our Father.

What is more important for our particular inquiry: No normal Christian—Christian Science or otherwise—living in the 1800s would have held our modern opinion on such matters. They might have envied the rich, but they would have been aware that this was breaking the Tenth Commandment, as it would not have been couched in pleasant "help the poor" verbage.

They believed in charity and in good works, but Communism and Socialism were fringe ideas that were looked down upon. They did not believe it was right to take a rich man’s things to give to your poor neighbor.

Not only did they not generaly believe in it—it could not be easily done. There was no income tax at that time. It was still specifically outlawed by the Constitution. (This was before the Sixteenth Amendment, which altered the Constitution to allow for individuals to be taxed. There were, of course, property taxes and tariffs and such. )

Does this mean that everyone in that day and age was against the government doing good works or that we, as Christians, can never vote for such things?

No, it does not.

But, if we wish to be virtuous and just, we must examine our motives:

Are we voting for a given measure because we feel that it is okay to gouge the rich, “they can afford it,” to support the poor “who cannot fend for themselves”?

Or are we acting from a cheerful sense that we must “all chip in together” to accomplish some good?

If the first…then we are definitely breaking the Tenth Commandment.

If the second—or if we are acting under any other motive that is neither self-serving nor resentful—then we are not violating the Commandment.

Our motives are good.

(What policies we should vote for—and all other questions of what is best in politics and economics—is beyond the scope of this inquiry, which is merely an examination of personal morality.)

So, in regard to our question:

  1. Have we fallen into the error of thinking that it is okay to covet, so long as we do not want our neighbors belongings for ourselves?
  2. Or worse, have we forgotten that wanting to take a rich man’s things—no matter how rich he is, no matter how big the company—for ourselves?

Here ends part one. Next time, a brief look at a second, quite different, aspect of coveting  present in modern society.

I originally ended this with an example of a healing by prayer from the book Christian Science in Germany, but I felt it deserved its own post. You can read it here.

NEXT: Morality and the Tenth Commandment Part A