For those you may not be familiar with Dennis Prager, he is a nationally¬†syndicated radio talk¬†show host,¬†columnist, author, conductor, and public speaker.¬†‚ÄĮThe author of several books, which include,¬†The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism,¬†Think a Second Time¬†(44 Essays on 44 Subjects),¬†Happiness Is a Serious Problem,¬†Why the Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism,¬†Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph,¬†and his most recent book,¬†The Ten Commandments: Still The Best Moral Code¬†

Maher

You have said that The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code is the culmination of 45 years of study and teaching. Back then, as a graduate student at Columbia University you had an experience that shaped the direction of your life. Tell us about it.

 Prager

Yes, I was at the graduate school Columbia, the¬†School of International¬†Affairs,¬†as it was known then. I was¬†a¬†duck out of water. There were riots going on against the war in Vietnam, and there was a radicalism that pervaded the campus. To make things worse, the professors were saying things that I knew to be demonstrably false, and even simply foolish. For example, we were told¬†‚Ästit was just assumed that we would believe¬†‚Ästthat there were no differences between men and women, that¬†all apparent differences were¬†culturally induced. I just knew that that was nonsense,¬†which of course it turns¬†to be. Their brains are even different,¬†and so on.

So that was one.

Another one was that the United States was an imperialist power, among its other great sins, and that it was equally responsible with Stalin, one of the greatest mass murderers in history, the second greatest one of the 20th¬†century.¬†(It goes Mao, Stalin, and Hitler.)¬†That Stalin and the United States were equally responsible for the Cold War. I thought,¬†‚Äúhow‚Äôs that possible?‚Ä̬†How¬†could¬†a free country and a genocidal tyranny be equally responsible for tensions between them? Did the United States have a cold war with Britain, with France? Of course not, free countries don’t have wars, whether they be cold or hot.

I was just told so much nonsense. Then one day, I was walking across campus. I remember rather clearly. I was looking up; I believe there are some busts,¬†statues¬†of the great thinkers. I was staring at them, and a verse from the Bible that I had grown up¬†reciting¬†in Hebrew¬†since¬†kindergarten, I went to¬†a yeshiva until the age of 19¬†‚Ästthat’s Jewish studies half the day and secular studies,¬†of course in English,¬†the other half. So I had a real¬†immersion in the texts. But this one I had never¬†bothered to think about. It was just something you recited by heart, and it didn’t mean anything, certainly¬†not¬†to a kindergartener¬†or first grader. But it came back to me, and it was the verse,¬†‚ÄúWisdom begins with fear of God.‚Ä̬†And then I realized,¬†that’s it, that’s it. There’s no wisdom at Columbia because there’s no God.¬†No God, no wisdom,¬†That¬†was life changing.¬†

Maher

I assume that experience played a significant role in writing this book?

Prager

Of course, the whole God issue started¬†to preoccupy me. I came out with a book, an introduction to Judaism at the age of 25.¬†It’s titled¬†The¬†Nine Questions People Ask¬†about Judaism. It became the bestselling introduction to Judaism in English. And the first question was,¬†‚ÄúDo you¬†have¬†to believe in God to be a good Jew?‚Ä̬†These¬†nine¬†were real questions. These were not phony questions, just to make easy points. I wrote there that this is the most important question in life. I realized at a very young¬†age¬†that¬†God is the¬†most important¬†issue.

If there‚Äôs no God, then¬†at least¬†two things are missing. One is¬†that¬†there’s no ultimate meaning to life.¬†Life is¬†pointless. We’re just coincidences of material matter. And the other is¬†that¬†there’s no absolute morality;¬†there’s no moral truth.¬†‚ÄúGood‚Ä̬†and¬†‚Äúevil‚Ä̬†are¬†just subjective terms for¬†‚ÄúI like‚Ä̬†and¬†‚ÄúI don’t like.‚Ä̬†I like ice cream;¬†you like cake. I like treating people nicely, and you like cheating.

But I’ve been preoccupied with something else, and that is goodness, good and evil really, and what the Ten Commandments do is tell¬†us¬†the¬†most important thing in life:¬†It¬†links¬†God¬†with¬†goodness.¬†Good¬†is what God wants from you man, and this is the recipe for a good world.¬†‚ÄúI took you out of Egypt, but there’s nothing you can do for me. You can’t bring me a gift at the altar. I don’t want anything; I want you to be good.‚Ä̬†Those are¬†the origins of the Ten Commandments.

Maher

Let’s start with the first commandment. You begin this chapter by asking a rhetorical question, “What¬†is the first of the Ten Commandments?” You then write, “It might seem like an odd question, but it’s not. Jews and Christians give different answers.‚ÄĚ Could you talk about that difference?

Prager

Sure, the enumeration is not the same.¬†The text is the same, and that’s all that matters. That’s why the book is for everybody, including the irreligious,¬†and the open-minded atheist. But the enumeration, the one that existed from the beginning.¬†The Jews predate Christ by¬†1,200¬†years, and during that whole time until today Jews enumerate the Ten Commandments¬†with Commandment¬†One¬†being, ‚ÄúI am the Lord your God who took you out of the land of Egypt, out¬†of the¬†house in bondage.‚Ä̬†Now, one would obviously say that’s not a commandment,¬†it is¬†a statement.¬†That‚Äôs why¬†in Hebrew, it’s not called the Ten Commandments;¬†it’s called the¬†Ten¬†Statements. It’s interesting but not terribly significant.¬†It’s only significant in the book, insofar as I begin with that¬†as Commandment One.

Maher

You explain in this chapter that the first statement is¬†‚ÄúI am the Lord your God who took you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.‚Ä̬†I had no idea¬†the¬†significance of that statement¬†until I read your book. Could you talk about some of the things that are taught by that statement?

Prager

God is, in effect, saying: ‚ÄúI took you out of slavery to be free, and this is how you will be free.¬†You can’t¬†have a free society¬†if¬†the people in¬†it¬†don‚Äôt¬†observe these commandments. So if you want to maintain your freedom, and not go back to bondage,¬†here is the way to do¬†it.‚ÄĚ

This is¬†the¬†recipe not only¬†for¬†a moral world, but for¬†a¬†free society.¬†Obviously, the more theft, murder, and lying, the less freedom people have.¬†People don’t¬†generally¬†think about the connection¬†between ‚ÄúI took you out of the house of bondage‚ÄĚ and¬†the¬†rest of the¬†Ten Commandments. But¬†it’s¬†very¬†relevant:¬†‚ÄúI took you from bondage to be free, here’s how to be free.‚ÄĚ

There is, in addition, another form of bondage. The Jews were in bondage to an external master ‚Äď Pharaoh. If they do not keep the Ten Commandments, they will be in bondage to internal masters ‚Äď their own weaknesses, appetites, etc.

Maher

I have observed that the societies, countries, and cultures that have the least amount of freedom also have little regard for the Ten Commandments. In comparison, the societies and cultures that value the Ten Commandments, most have produced societies with the greatest amount of liberty and freedom. Of course, the left would completely disagree with that. What are your thoughts on that proposition?

Prager

The United States is the¬†best¬†example.¬†Until the 1960s, it revered the Ten Commandments.¬†That‚Äôs why there’s a sculpture of it at the Supreme Court, and¬†another inside¬†Congress.¬†It’s been central to American life, and to the founders of America.¬†And you are right ‚ÄstI’m not even sure¬†that¬†the left could deny that the freest country in the world was produced here in the United States. The two facts ‚Äď the reverence for the Ten Commandments and the freedom ‚Äď are inextricably linked.

Maher

What impressed me most about the first commandment was its emphasis on freedom in Liberty. The Lord is saying, ok, if you want to be free, if you want liberty, then you must¬†live by the laws I have revealed. Important as that principle is, I was hoping you might shed some light on the significance of the phrase, “I am the Lord your God.”

Prager

The¬†verse¬†right before¬†the Ten Commandments is, ‚ÄúAnd God spoke the following words.‚Ä̬†It is not often that the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) uses such a phrase. The purpose is to¬†make it clear¬†that¬†God¬†alone is the source of these Ten Commandments. Not Moses, not any other¬†man, not a king.¬†And since the source of these Commandments¬†is¬†not man,¬†there is moral truth. Because if man gives man takes.¬†But if Gods gives,¬†man cannot undo it.¬†Man can disobey,¬†but he¬†cannot undo these truths.¬†

Maher

There are several objections people give to your argument that without God, morality is subjective. One of the objections people give is¬†that we don’t need a God to tell us that murder is wrong, or that we shouldn’t steal, but rather it’s something we know instinctively to be true.

Perhaps the most common objection¬†we hear¬†is that we do not need a God, or religion to be a good person. But these arguments are nothing more than a distraction from the point you are trying to make. You’re saying that we cannot claim morality¬†is¬†factual if we don’t acknowledge that they come from God. Is that right? Is that is that the point you’re making?

Prager

Yes. Without God, there are no moral¬†truths. There are only moral¬†opinions. There are good atheists,¬†there are bad religious people. Everyone who has eyes to see and ears to hear knows that.¬†If an atheist has similar opinions to the Ten Commandments,¬†I breathe a sigh of relief.¬†But that‚Äôs irrelevant¬†to the question of whether there is moral truth if there is no moral God. When I debated at Oxford, I debated an atheist¬†professor of¬†philosophy on this very issue. The first thing he said was,¬†‚ÄúDennis Prager is right, if there is no God,¬†ethics are subjective.‚ÄĚ

Maher

The New York Times¬†published a few articles around the time your book hit the shelves. One of those articles addressed the problems¬†caused in our society because¬†of moral relativism. A few days later,¬†a philosophy professor wrote an¬†article called, ‚ÄúWhy our kids are not being taught¬†their moral facts.‚ÄĚ What I found fascinating about those two articles was that neither of them brought¬†religion¬†and the role it plays in developing morality. Also, they didn’t provide any arguments, especially the philosophy¬†professor that¬†would lead one to believe there are moral facts.

Prager

It was unbelievable;¬†it¬†is as if a man or a woman who has¬†been¬†trained their whole life in medicine¬†sees some unbelievably obvious sign of skin cancer and just says,¬†‚ÄúThis person has this¬†lesion¬†on his skin‚Ä̬†and¬†then¬†describes every¬†cancer symptom but not once mentions cancer.¬†Nor does the oncologist note¬†that the¬†patient¬†had been a lifeguard for 15 years,¬†standing under the sun with their skin exposed to the sun¬†all that time. And that’s not even as¬†absurd¬†as¬†this professor¬†not mentioning the absence of¬†God and¬†religion. It shows you how deep the rejection of God is in academia that you could see all the symptoms of absence of God and not mention God.

Maher

There are so many good people who know the country is facing a moral crisis, but they fail to recognize what the solution is.

Prager

The source and the¬†solution¬†are the same. God¬†and the Judeo-Christian values upon which the country was founded.¬†Every major battle comes down to God and divine authority.¬†A¬†lot of people don’t want God;¬†they¬†don’t want to be¬†judged¬†or to be told what not to do. That’s the issue.

Maher

I want to move onto the second commandment, “You shall have no other gods”¬†before me. You make the point¬†that the reason it’s so important to identify false Gods is that they become a barrier to producing a good¬†society. If you could elaborate on that idea and perhaps provide some examples of the false gods you see today.

Prager

There is a phrase in the Talmud¬†that¬†I don’t think I put in the book. It’s found in an Encyclopedia Britannica size work produced by Jews¬†between the years 200 and¬†600.¬†It’s the¬†second holiest work in Judaism, a compendium of law, philosophy,¬†and theology.¬†In it¬†is a statement that whoever denies all false Gods is considered to affirm the one God. They are the opposite sides of the same coin. You shall have no other Gods is as important as having¬†the one true¬†God. And one leads to the other. God and¬†goodness go together.¬†False gods take you away from God and goodness.

Think about it: the Ten Commandments does contain a commandment to believe in God. There is only a commandment not to worship other gods. Obviously, then, the Talmus was right. Reject all other gods and you affirm the one God.

People ask me,¬†‚ÄúWhat God do¬†you believe in?‚Ä̬†I¬†tell them that I¬†believe in the¬†God of the Ten Commandments. There’s¬†rarely¬†a response¬†because more than any other response it enables people to¬†understand what God¬†I¬†believe in. It’s a great answer.

People today don’t¬†think they have false¬†gods.¬†After all, who among us has¬†a statue of Baal or Zeus in¬†our¬†house?

Remember the¬†false gods¬†are not named¬†in the Ten Commandments.¬†Yet, they¬†could easily¬†have¬†been named.¬†It would¬†have, add¬†perfect sense for the Ten Commandments to say, ‚ÄúDon’t believe in Pharaoh, don’t believe in Osiris,¬†don‚Äôt¬†believe in¬†Baal.‚Ä̬†But it doesn‚Äôt because the Ten Commandments recognizes that in every era¬†there¬†will be¬†false Gods. Today we have as many false¬†gods as¬†people¬†did then.

I don’t take the easy way out¬†by citing¬†money¬†as¬†a false¬†god. Money is not a false¬†god. A false God is not only something people worship that is not God.¬†Even people who worship money know it‚Äôs not a god. A false god is¬†something that people¬†really¬†believe¬†in. Like nature today among many environmentalists.

No matter how noble, everything must be regarded as a means to God and goodness, not as an end in itself.

Take education, for example.¬†Education is magnificent.¬†That’s the reason¬†it‚Äôs¬†a false God¬†‚Ästbecause¬†it is¬†so wonderful and so valuable. But education as an end in and of itself produces well-educated barbarians. I‚Äôll give¬†you¬†a very dramatic example.¬†In 1941,¬†there was a conference at¬†Wannsee, outside of Berlin.¬†The¬†Wannsee¬†Conference¬†was where the Nazis decided to exterminate the Jews of Europe. There were 14 high-ranking Nazis there, deciding on the¬†genocide of the Jews. Of the¬†14, seven had Ph.D.’s. That should be sobering.

Similarly, overwhelmingly the only people in the West who supported Stalin were intellectuals. The record of intellectuals, secular intellectuals, is a moral disaster. And yet to this day, people adore the Ph.D., and the recipient of a Nobel Prize. But morally and in terms of wisdom, it means nothing. All it means is that they know a lot about their subject.

Maher

After reading this chapter, I thought to myself, what’s the false God that is worshiped the most. But, I have concluded that the most influential false god of our day is political correctness. It’s not the false god that is worshiped the most, but it is the most influential in that it permeates the institutions that shape our culture. Tell me what you think?

Prager

Political correctness is¬†not a false God in and of itself. It is¬†the result of¬†people having¬†false¬†gods. People will say¬†‚ÄúI really value education, I love nature,‚Ä̬†but¬†no one says¬†‚ÄúI revere political correctness.‚Ä̬†Political correctness is the vocabulary of the false¬†gods and not the¬†false¬†god itself.

Maher

The fourth commandment, which is, “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” You talk about why the Sabbath is so significant. You write, “Many people who revere the Ten Commandments don’t think that the Fourth is particularly important, let alone binding. Once you understand it, however, you will recognize how life-changing, even world-changing”¬†it is.¬†What don‚Äôt people understand about this commandment?

Prager

Let me just say at the outset, this has been a very interesting journey for me.¬†Even though I am a practicing Jew¬†‚Äď not¬†Orthodox,¬†just practicing¬†(I call myself a¬†‚Äúreligious non-orthodox¬†Jew‚ÄĚ),¬†I spend most of my time around Christians. I have frequently asked pastors priests, lay leaders, and¬†lay¬†Christians of all denominations,¬†‚ÄúDo you believe that the Ten Commandments are binding upon¬†Christians?¬†Overwhelmingly¬†they say yes. Then I ask them if¬†that includes¬†the¬†Fourth¬†Commandment.

In the course of a lifetime, the answer has been about 50/50.¬†I only mention this as¬†something for Christians to think about. I am not making any judgments, and I don’t have any judgment. I don’t judge people’s¬†theology.¬†I can only say, that the arguments for¬†the Sabbath¬†are compelling to anyone.

Taking a day of the week and de-secularizing it, trying to make that day holy, not doing¬†what¬†you do the rest of the week¬†‚Ästbusiness, work, shopping¬†‚Ästis profoundly transforming of the human being. It’s the single most important religious practice in my life. I don’t broadcast on my Sabbath, which is Friday sunset to Saturday sunset. I don’t write books, I don’t listen to the radio,¬†and I¬†don’t watch TV.¬†I just spend 24 hours with friends and family. In fact,¬†I have¬†had¬†Sabbath lunch with the same two couples for 25 years.

I don’t say this in the book because I don’t personalize¬†the book.¬†I can say that¬†it is an indescribable joy¬†to have a day every week that you can’t wait¬†until it¬†comes, that you look forward¬†to all week. I have written a book on happiness, I have lectured on this around the world, I¬†broadcast one¬†hour¬†of my 15 weekly hours on the subject of¬†happiness. Looking forward to something is a big deal in human happiness.

Friday afternoon is¬†perhaps the happiest time¬†of the week. The week is over, work is over, I just have friends to be with,¬†my¬†wife to be with. I will¬†go to synagogues Saturday¬†morning and see¬†many of the same¬†people I have been with for decades. It’s¬†a¬†very powerful,¬†transformative,¬†thing. I¬†write in there¬†how elevating it is. Remember,¬†I said earlier that these are the commandments to live by if you want to be free. What is freer¬†than not working one day a week? Slaves worked seven days a week. That is why I¬†wrote¬†in the book that a¬†millionaire¬†who works seven days a week is a wealthy slave.

Close up of the 10 commandments in an old bible.

Maher

Now, let‚Äôs move on to the fifth commandment, which is, ‚ÄúHonor thy father and your mother¬†that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.‚ÄĚ You make several points about this commandment that really impressed me.‚Ä̬†I would¬†like to read a section of this chapter¬†and let you comment. The following quote¬†discusses the meaning behind latter part of this¬†verse, ‚Äúthat thy days may be long upon the land.‚ÄĚ You write,

‚ÄúMany people read that part of the Fifth Commandment as a reward. But while it may be regarded as a reward, the fact remains that it is a reason: If you build a society in which children honor their parents, your society will long survive. And the corollary is: A society in which children do not honor their parents is doomed to self-destruction.‚ÄĚ

Prager

Yes, this is an example of an insight that I try to provide in every commandment.¬†So¬†that a secular person¬†will say, ‚ÄúWow, I never knew that, I never thought of that;‚Ä̬†and¬†so¬†even a religious person¬†will¬†say, “Wow, I never thought of that, I never knew that.” This is an example.¬†People think it’s a reward,¬†when¬†it says,¬†‚Äúin order that you will have many days in the land that I bring you to.‚Ä̬†But it’s not a reward;¬†it’s a consequence.

The¬†Hebrew¬†says ‚Äúin order¬†that.‚Ä̬†If I were¬†to¬†say to¬†you,¬†‚ÄúWear¬†your seat belt,‚Ä̬†and then you’re in a crash and it saves your life,¬†that’s not a reward.¬†That’s a consequence. If you¬†don‚Äôt wear¬†a seatbelt and you fly through the windshield, that’s not a punishment;¬†that‚Äôs¬†a¬†consequence.¬†So,¬†long years is¬†a consequence of¬†living in¬†a society in which children honor parents.¬†That’s true of¬†five-year-old, a 10-year-old, and a 40-year-old.¬†It doesn’t say¬†‚Äúwhen¬†you‚Äôre¬†little.‚Ä̬†A society that honors parenthood will have a¬†long life.¬†Societies will¬†crumble if parental authority crumbles, and we are living through that now in the United States.

For¬†more than a generation,¬†many¬†parents¬†have not been authorities, have not¬†even¬†been figures to honor.¬†Too many parents¬†have been buddies, pals. Words matter and your child isn‚Äôt¬†your¬†‚Äúbuddy.‚Ä̬†Your child is your child. And they only get one crack at a mother and¬†a father.¬†They get a lot of chances to have buddies.

There’s another point that I make there, and that is the profundity of the biblical text, because we are told to love our neighbor, love the stranger,¬†and¬†to love God. But we are not told to love our parents.¬†The Ten Commandments¬†is,¬†in effect,¬†saying,¬†‚ÄúI God know that there are people who have ambivalent feelings toward parents.¬†I am not going to tell you how¬†to feel about your parents. I am only going to tell you how to act toward them and that is to honor them¬†whether you love them or not.¬†Because the parental role, if shattered,¬†means the¬†end to a free¬†and good¬†society.

If parents are not the authority; there are two other possible authorities: either the state or no authority, anarchy. That is why in the Western world, as Judeo-Christen religions have declined, the state has become bigger and bigger with more and more laws. This country was founded on the proposition that a free society is only possible when men are personally responsible to and feel themselves accountable to God. Then, you don’t have to have police everywhere to monitor people’s behavior.

Maher

I am sure there are many people like myself asking, what does it look to honor one’s parents?

Prager

I don‚Äôt¬†deal with this in the book, but¬†it‚Äôs a great idea.¬†I should write an essay on this. Nearly all of life is composed of details and any one of which is not all that important. Or seems not that important, but really is. The way you speak to a parent¬†should¬†not going to be the same as¬†the way¬†you speak to your buddies in school.¬†If you use expletives with your friends, you don’t use¬†them¬†with your parent.¬†(I am not thrilled if you use it generally¬†with anybody.)¬†Our behavior to a parent¬†should be anything that makes it clear that this is¬†my¬†parent.

Now, it’s important that you obey¬†parents, unless of course¬†they demand¬†something that violates God‚Äôs law.¬†Only¬†God is¬†higher¬†than parents. These are¬†your¬†authorities on earth¬†‚Ästyour mother and father. It’s important that mother is included, the mother is equal¬†in the Bible‚Äôs eyes.

People mock¬†the Ten Commandments.¬†‚ÄúThree thousand years old; that’s antiquated.‚Ä̬†But really, what’s antiquated about it?¬†Is¬†parental equality¬†antiquated?¬†No one would be shocked if¬†the Ten Commandments¬†said,¬†‚ÄúHonor thy father.‚Ä̬†Nobody would be surprised. It’s amazing,¬†when you think about it,¬†that the mother is equal. In fact,¬†it also says¬†‚Äúa man should fear his mother and father.‚Ä̬†In that verse, the mother is put first just to make it clear to you that the mother is as equal to the¬†father.¬†So this commandment is huge. Tyranny¬†severs parental authority. That’s happening in this country, and that’s one of the major reasons I worry about¬†our country.¬†The state¬†will take care of your child. You don’t have to do anything. We will take care of your children.

Maher

The life of Julia, right?

Prager

That’s right, the life of Julia, that’s correct. In California, kids are served breakfast and lunch in school. Parents don’t even need to do that. But parents can be arrested if they allow their children to walk home from the park. This just happened in Maryland. Child protective service visited the family and traumatized the kids. The kids were allowed to walk together for a mile outside the house. Parents are less and less authorities, and the state is bigger and bigger.

Maher

Let’s move on to the commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.‚ÄĚ

Prager

We skipped murder.¬†So, let me say very quickly¬†that¬†one of the most important things in the book¬†‚Ästand again, I know from experience this is revelatory to many religious people¬†‚Äď the prohibition is against murder,¬†not killing. It says¬†‚ÄúThou¬†shalt not kill‚Ä̬†in the King James Version.¬†But¬†Hebrew has two words for the taking of a life¬†‚Ästas does the English.¬†If it said¬†‚ÄúDo not kill,‚Ä̬†then we would have to be pacifists. That means we couldn’t kill people who were killing innocent people,¬†we couldn’t kill them¬†a¬†guy in a schoolyard shooting up kids¬†or¬†even¬†a person¬†who¬†comes to kill you.

But¬†murder is different.¬†Murder is immoral killing. There is moral killing, and there’s immoral killing. Murder is immoral killing.¬†And that’s what’s prohibited. No one says:¬†‚ÄúI¬†murdered that mosquito.‚Ä̬†Now,¬†why not? If there¬†is¬†no difference between murder and killing,¬†then you would say that.

Maher

One of the many impressions I had from reading your book was how much God values life. Some may think this is counter-intuitive, but the commandment to not kill, rather, to not murder. Is really a statement about how much Gods values life. Which is why the Law of Moses subjects those who murder to the most severe punishments. Do you care to comment on that?

Prager

Yes, that‚Äôs the amazing¬†thing¬†to me, that it‚Äôs not clear to everybody.¬†Punishment is the only way to¬†announce how bad a crime is. It’s very simple. Everyone understand that.¬†Let us say that there was¬†an expired¬†parking¬†meter.¬†And let’s¬†also¬†say¬†that¬†there was a¬†100-dollar¬†fine¬†for murder. Society would be saying¬†two thing:

  1. That overstaying your time at a meter and murder are equivalently wrong. Even a five-year-old could understand that. Punishment is what tells us the severity of the crime.
  1. That¬†the¬†society¬†does¬†not value human life. Everyone would understand that if that’s how¬†trivial the punishment is for murder, then it’s clear that society did not value human life. If you embezzle a lot of money and get life in prison, and¬†if¬†you murder¬†you get the same punishment, what we are saying is that taking money and taking a life are¬†morally¬†equivalent.

Therefore, you can’t deny that the society that takes a murderer’s life is saying that human life is more valuable¬†than one that never does. We need to be honest.¬†Some argue¬†that¬†an innocent may die.¬†That is a¬†separate issue, and I have answers¬†(in my¬†third¬†book,¬†Think a¬†Second¬†Time).

By the way, taking the life of a murderer is the only law found in each of the Five Books of Moses.

Maher

We are just about out of time, and unfortunately, we didn‚Äôt get through all of the commandments.¬†I know you have some great insights into¬†‚Äúthou shalt not steal‚ÄĚ,¬†‚ÄúThou shalt not bear false witness.‚Ä̬†Why don‚Äôt you mention some of the teachings you feel are most important?

Prager

Stealing¬†is, to a certain extent,¬†the mother of all¬†the¬†ethical¬†Commandments.¬†Because all are a form of stealing.¬†Murder is stealing a life. Adultery is stealing a spouse¬†‚Ästafter all, two single people cannot commit adultery;¬†adultery by definition¬†involves¬†one or two of¬†the people to be married. Do not bear false witness if¬†means¬†stealing truth¬†and therefore¬†stealing justice. And, of course,¬†Do not¬†covet¬†involves wanting¬†to steal.

One other point. The¬†African¬†slave trade could not have existed¬†had there been an¬†understanding of¬†‚ÄúDo not steal.‚Ä̬†It means,¬†first and foremost,¬†not to steal a human being.¬†That should have led every¬†single believer in God and the Ten Commandments to oppose the trans-Atlantic slave trade because it was rooted in stealing people.¬†That shows how important it is that religious people understand the¬†Commandments.

Maher

I agree.

Prager

I will say a word about the two that are left.

Bearing false witness is not just¬†about false¬†testimony in court. A lot of religious people think¬†its¬†perjury.¬†But it‚Äôs about all lies. Genocide, slavery¬†‚Ästthe greatest¬†evils¬†‚Ästall begin with lies.¬†We ‚ÄĮcould not have had slavery if¬†weren‚Äôt for¬†the lie that blacks¬†are¬†inferior. You could not have had the¬†Holocaust without the lie about the Jews being inferior.

And¬†‚ÄúDo not covet‚Ä̬†is the only one of the¬†Commandments¬†prohibiting¬†thought. Religious people and others need to know what it doesn‚Äôt mean as much as what it does mean. It¬†doesn‚Äôt mean,¬†‚ÄúDo not want.‚Ä̬†It doesn‚Äôt mean,¬†‚ÄúDo not envy.‚Ä̬†And¬†it doesn’t mean¬†‚ÄúDo not lust.‚Ä̬†It’s very specific.¬†Coveting means wanting to take away¬†the¬†specific thing or person that belongs to another.

So,¬†if you say,¬†‚ÄúI would love¬†a¬†wife¬†like my neighbors wife,‚Ä̬†that‚Äôs¬†not prohibited. You can even say,¬†‚ÄúI envy my neighbors terrific wife.‚Ä̬†It may not be the healthiest thing psychologically. But it’s not banned¬†by the¬†Ten Commandments. Seeking to own that¬†which does not belong to another¬†is what is banned.¬†It’s very rare in the Old Testament to prohibit a thought.

Maher

I know we are out of time, but I wanted to mention a few things to our readers that that we didn’t cover in our time together. First, you have written a children’s¬†edition of¬†The¬†Ten Commandments, which is a great way to introduce these teachings to our children. Speaking of which, your book¬†is ideal for family home evening,¬†because at the end of each chapter you provide several discussion questions.¬†I couldn’t think of a better way to engage our families in a thought-provoking discussion. Plus, you will have family home evening lessons planned for the next ten weeks, not bad.

Dennis, thank you again for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with me today. I look forward to our next conversation.

Prager

Thank you. In addition to hopefully reading my book, I invite your readers to view these Ten Commandments at PragerUniversity.com.