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10 Reasons the Ten Commandments Are Still Relevant

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After noticing a number of faith leaders re-emphasizing the Ten Commandments — including Pope Francis, who encouraged people to embrace “the art of living through the Ten Commandments” — we at the Desert News decided to take a close look at how, exactly, the principles articulated in the Ten Commandments can play out in modern life. In story after story, we found that today’s digital landscape is just the latest laboratory for testing the age-old ideas in the Ten Commandments. These centuries-old guidelines still speak to us today — whether we’re kindling romance online, grappling with the idea of plagiarism, or spinning through the realm of social media. As the Information Age unfolds and new norms emerge, it’s worth asking whether our oldest ethical blueprints have something to say about them. Here are ten reasons the Ten Commandments are still relevant in the modern digital age: 1. They are about healthy relationships. Technology is changing the way we think about parent-child relationships, from digital devices that increase daily contact with kids to life-support machines that change the calculus of end-of-life decisions for elderly parents. The commandment to honor father and mother can be a useful touchstone for navigating choices at all stages of life. When it comes to marriage, the Internet makes it easier to cheat on a partner. Yet the morality of the seventh commandment’s prohibition of adultery is still uncontroversial: the vast majority of Americans disapprove of adultery — only six percent say it is acceptable, fewer than for any other sexual behavior. This is likely because so many have witnessed firsthand the collateral damage it causes in the lives of families and individuals. 2. They remind us to slow down. We live in an age of 24/7 connectedness, especially to our jobs. Research shows that longer workweeks are associated with a decline in physical and mental health. The third commandment reminds us that the Sabbath is a needed respite and, as one Jewish rabbi put it, a “celebration” and a chance to connect with family. 3. They help us use social media well. Falling prey to the “Instagram effect” — lusting after the goods and lifestyles we see online — can take a toll on self-esteem and relationships. Taking to heart the commandment to not covet can reorient us away from focusing on what we don’t have toward a healthier frame of engagement. In fact, one recent study found a connection between Facebook use and depression, but only when users experienced envy, something experts say people can avoid by engaging rather than lurking on social media. 4. They remind us to think beyond ourselves. The often-narcissistic age of the selfie makes it easy to idolize even ourselves. Recognizing the existence of a higher power helps put things into perspective, offering comfort and meaning, as well as a larger framework for making ethical decisions. And it reminds us that — contrary to how we often feel — we aren’t the center of the universe. 5. They remind us of the power of words to express our values. Profanity in entertainment is increasing as streaming media sites like Netflix make shows widely available that are not regulated for language. The trend extends to religious words used to swear, including the name of God — forbidden by the third commandment — which is among the most common swears on cable TV. The words we use — and just as importantly, don’t use — say a lot about what we hold sacred. Some experts say profanity is losing its impact as it becomes more common. Others point out that even as society relaxes about certain words, other words — such as the N-word — have become more taboo, indicating a shift in social values. 6. They protect personal property. In our digital age, property crime is down but Internet fraud is up. Whether an online violation involves hacking or plagiarism, the principle is the same: taking something that belongs to someone else is wrong, and it hurts social trust as well as individual people. The eighth commandment applies as much today in our world of technology as it did centuries ago in a world of agriculture. 7. They establish the value of a human life. Support for the death penalty is dropping with the advent of modern forensic technology, which illustrates how deeply ingrained the principle of not taking innocent life is in the American psyche. The idea that all lives matter, rooted in the sixth commandment, continues to inform debates about death penalty policy, police work, and how to address violent crime rates. 8. They teach us to balance community and individuality. Every one of the Ten Commandments is about getting along with other people, not simply about personal morality. Christian theologians have described the Ten Commandments as representing a series of three concentric circles with family at the center, encircled by community, and then our relationship with God. The Ten Commandments aren’t a list of self-help items. They help us be more aware and respectful of the relationships that define our lives. 9. They establish healthy social norms that help us live in harmony. Parent educator Sherlyn Pang Luedtke told us in our research for the series that she advises parents to teach children three types of boundaries: safety limits (not running in the street), social boundaries (being courteous), and family culture norms (traditions or expressions of faith). The Ten Commandments set similar norms for community around things like lying, stealing, killing, coveting, respect within families, and a relationship to God. 10. They are a coherent set of grounding principles that can be used to build a good life. The Ten Commandments, like other religious texts, have endured because they offer a blueprint for navigating the essential human struggle to live well with other humans. In doing so, they also provide a moral compass for individuals to live a good life and orient themselves in relation to society — whether that society is one that uses stone tablets or electronic tablets. •• Read more from Allison at The Deseret News