Americans and the Israelites

Do you remember that scene in “The Ten Commandments” when actor Charlton Heston, as a Hollywoodesque Moses, was coming down Mount Sinai with the stone tablets and saw the Israelites engaged in all kinds of debauchery, violence, insurrection, rioting, idolatry, thievery, swindling, licentiousness, adultery and anger…pretty much like modern America?

While he was busy on Mt. Sinai, negotiating with God, the people were left to their own devices, and things went downhill fast. God wasn’t good enough for them. They wanted something new to worship, so they had Moses’ brother Aaron craft a golden calf. It was an open invitation for them to pursue their baser instincts, which they quickly did.

Now, forgive me if I get my details from Cecile B. DeMille instead of the Book of Exodus. It may not have happened exactly this way, but it was pretty close. Charlton Heston did such a good job that if you haven’t seen the movie, rent it.

Moses hadn’t even given the Israelites the Ten Commandments, and they were already breaking them. Just as the mob was about to offer human sacrifice to the idol, Joshua blew the shofar, and Moses appeared on the hilltop and saw the people he led out of Egypt engaging in what the modern media would probably characterize as “largely peaceful rioting.” He was enraged and uttered the imprecation: “Woe unto thee, O Israel! You have sinned a great sin in the sight of God!”

At that point, Edward G. Robinson, who played the insidious obstructionist Dathan, yelled back, “We will not live by your commandments, WE ARE FREE!”

And Moses bellowed: “THERE IS NO FREEDOM WITHOUT THE LAW!” Wow. Hollywood got it right that time.

Then, Moses broke the tablets on the golden calf, and all the idolaters fell into an abyss, which probably makes you wonder where Moses is today when we need him. Of course, today Moses wouldn’t have to break the Ten Commandments because everyone else already is.

So what’s my point? That scene from the movie reminds me of the evening news with the rampant crime, chicanery, and civil unrest. You may be thinking, “Don’t be such a Debbie Downer. Things are looking up. Our leaders have everything under control.”

Here’s the way I see it: When you take God out of the equation, as the Israelites did, the numbers will never add up. All the laws, causes and campaigns won’t make sense without God. You may be committed to political solutions, but you need a purpose. And that purpose is God, who should be the starting point, not an incidental factor in our lives. We’re like those Israelites.

A recent survey by the Marist College Poll explored trends in faith and religion in the United Sates and concluded that Americans are less attached to practices such as prayer, worship and traditional institutions than ever before. An overwhelming number of the respondents, 72 percent, realize something is wrong and say our country’s moral compass is pointed in the wrong direction. That means instead of pointing toward doing what’s right, America’s moral compass is pointed toward doing what’s wrong. That conclusion is shared by 90 percent of Republicans, 77 percent of Independents and oddly only 51 percent of Democrats.

Why is our country in such a deplorable state? I think Nobel Prize author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn discovered the answer when he was trying to figure out why Russia had gone so far astray. He wrote: “Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: ‘Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.’ Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution. In the process, I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: ‘Men have forgotten God. That’s why all this has happened.’”

And the same is true of America.