The Ten Commandments are so hot, right now, that its amazing some Beltway politico hasn't tried to hit Moses with a grand jury subpoena or a blast of rumors about his private life during all those mysterious years out in the desert.
America's political establishment is struggling with the implications of Commandment No. 7: "Thou shalt not commit adultery." No. 9 issues a timely warning against perjury: "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." Meanwhile, legislators and legions of social activists are fighting over whether it's legal to post this particular top 10 list anywhere in the public square.
After all, they are called the Ten Commandments, which implies that someone - make that Someone - wants people to obey them, said Rabbi Stewart Vogel, co-author of a new book, with radio superstar Laura Schlessinger, entitled "The Ten Commandments: The Significance of God's Laws in Everyday Life." The book has gained a double-shot of momentum from the White House scandals and the Jewish High Holy Days, which conclude with Yom Kippur on Wednesday (Sept. 30).
"Without a God ... you end up with a subjective morality. There's no way around that," said the rabbi," who leads Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, Calif. "To believe in God is to believe that human beings are not mere accidents of nature. ... Without God, there is no objective meaning to life and there is no objective morality. I don't want to live in a world where right and wrong are subjective."
Theologians and philosophers debate these kinds of lofty issues all the time without causing a ripple in homes and shopping malls. But this book may be different, because Dr. Laura's take-few-prisoners style of family counseling has won her a loyal audience of 20 million, leading to a string of bestsellers with punchy titles such as "How Could You Do That?!"
The book grew out of several years of personal discussions, since the talk-show host is active in Vogel's synagogue. While he is a Conservative Jewish rabbi, Schlessinger and her family recently completed a complicated religious journey by converting to Orthodox Judaism. Once a fierce skeptic, she describes herself as the product of an "inter-faithless marriage" between an unbelieving Jewish father and a culturally Catholic mother.
As might be expected, the book blends two very different styles. The first-person singular voice is Dr. Laura's and she is clearly the source of the radio-based parables. But the rabbi said readers shouldn't assume that he wrote all the theological commentary, while she added doses of "real life." Schlessinger has strong viewpoints on scriptural issues, he said, and rabbis also have to deal with tough, practical problems.
"But we do tend to separate what we call 'religious life' from the kinds of issues Dr. Laura deals with day after day," said Vogel. "We end up with 'religious life' over here and 'radio life' over there and they never meet face to face. We tried to bring the two together."
Thus, the book addresses both cultural and highly personal questions. The chapter on the sixth commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," covers issues ranging from murder to abortion, from acts of self-destruction to gossip that crushes the reputation of others. When addressing idolatry and other gods, the authors spend as much time on the old-fashioned worship of success as they do on trendy gospels of self-esteem.
Hardly anyone wants to ditch the Ten Commandments, said the rabbi. Most people want their neighbors to follow the Ten Commandments, because that creates a safer, kinder, more just world in which to live. The problem is that so many people are simply too easy on themselves.
"One thing leads to another," he said. "So people commit adultery and then they have to lie to cover it up. So No. 7 leads straight to No. 9. ... And when people start lying, they are really setting themselves up as idols. So we're back to the issue of God. People are saying that they get to set up their own standards for what is right and wrong and it doesn't matter what happens to others. They put themselves in the place of God."