Take ten tablets to cure the ills of a modern age
As SOON AS CLAUSE FOUR was mentioned at the Labour Party Conference, someone had to say it: "It's like re-writing the Ten Commandments." The trouble with this theological analogy is that it is not on the side of those against any rewrite.
Later that week, a Mori poll splashed across the media declared that young people had in fact re-written the Ten Commandments. Of course, the interpretation was that young people didn't know them, had abandoned them and slipped into an amoral if not immoral way of modern life, written off as a "lost generation".
In a recent report by Richard Wilkinson of Sussex University's Trafford Centre for Medical Research, entitled The Damage of Deprivation, young people attract the main focus. He points out that since 1985, there has been an increase in mortality rates for men and women between 15 and 45 years old; between 1988 and 1990, the suicide rate among young men (aged 15-24 years) has increased by 75 per cent; the number of children in care under the age of 10 has dramatically increased since 1985, and in the same period there has been a huge increase in expulsions from school for all kinds of reasons, and in all age groups.
The majority of the homeless are young people, and unemployment is predominantly among the 16-25 year age group. Talk about "writing off a generation"! It would seem clear from all the research that young people are bearing the brunt of tremendous economic upheaval and social change.
Nor are the young people's Ten Commandments all that far out. "Thou shalt not kill" is number one, "thou shalt not steal" came number two, and "thou shalt not commit adultery" is there at number ten. There seems to be more of a re-ordering of the originals rather than an abandonment.
What is most striking in our age of neo-brutalism are the youngsters' views on violence, "thou shalt not use violence" and its modification, "thou shalt not drink and drive" (a particularly lethal activity underpinning socalled joy riding). "Thou shalt not be racist" is another way of insisting on proper respect for each other, as is the mutuality of "thou shalt be loyal to thy friends", and "thou shalt treat others as thyself".
In many ways they sound distinctly old-fashioned. An insistence on selfrespect is also there in "Thou shalt not
take drugs", and renewed respect for creation in "Thou shalt care for the environment". In other words, the teenage expression of the Ten Commandments is far from an amoral, off-the-wall list of private likes and dislikes or fads and fancies. Notably there is a blend of prohibitions, "thou shalt nots", and positive exhortations, "thou shalt treat others... and care for".
Every generation needs to re-write. Jesus boiled the Ten Commandments down to just two positive exhortations, "Love God" and "Love your neighbour as yourself".
In a text from the early Church called The Didache, or the "Teachings of the Apostles", it is clear that they were also at the business of rewriting the Ten Commandments, to connect them to the youth of their day, in the early Christian communities: "The Way of Life is this: Thou shalt love first the Lord thy Creator, and secondly thy neighbour as thyself: And thou shalt do nothing to any person that thou wouldst not wish to be done to thyself".
"Give to everyone that asks, without looking for any repayment ... a giver who gives freely is blessed but woe to the taker, for though he cannot be blamed for taking if he was in need, yet if he was not an account will be required of him as to why he took it, and for what purpose, and he will be taken into custody and examined about this action, and he will not get out until he has paid the last penny".
"Do not equivocate in thought or speech, for a double tongue is a deadly snare, the words you speak should not be false or empty phrases, but fraught with purposeful action ... you must resist any temptation to hypocrisy, spitefulness or superiority.
"You are to have no malicious designs on a neighbour. You are to cherish no feelings of hatred for anybody; some you are to reprove, some to pray for, and some again to love more than your own life".
"Tell no lies for lying leads to theft. Do not be a grumbler for this leads to blasphemy. Do not parade your own merits".
I don't know the crime statistics or the unemployment rates in the Middle East in the latter half of the first century, but the latest re-writing by today's youngsters seems to mirror The Didache exactly.
The young should never be written off. What's more, they can tell right from wrong in detail.