I need to lie down in a darkened room. The Daily Mirror is reporting the ‘shock’ news that most teenagers haven’t a clue about the Ten Commandments. Under the heading  ‘Kids forget God’s rules’, this is how it is reported:

More than a quarter of 11 to 16-year-old Britons cannot recall ANY of the Ten Commandments, a shock poll reveals.

It found just one in 17 adults and teenagers could recite all 10. And many were left baffled by the language of the Old Testament rules.

Most of the 1,000 questioned for the survey commissioned by computer game makers Electronic Arts said there should be modern commandments such as “protect the planet”.

So there.

The-Ten-CommandmentsWhy should any teenager be expected to know any of the Ten Commandments? The only way to remember anything longer than three words is to repeat it regularly until it becomes part of us – and repetition is not something we do with our children any more. Perhaps this is also why children don’t grow up knowing any poetry by heart. And if children go to a church regularly, they are more likely to know a short mantra to a good tune than a Psalm or prayer or Bible passage – because we are now slaves to informal novelty and have lost the art of purposeful repetition.

The point of liturgy is that, having prayed it alot, it ends up praying you.

But, back to the forgotten Decalogue. I remeber the Sunday Times phoning a load of clergy on a Saturday afternoon and asking us straight off to recite the Ten Commandments. I managed nine, but not in the right order. I had come out of the garden on my day off and was put on the spot. Inevitably, the shock report the following week suggested that clergy do not know the Ten Commandments either. The hole in this sort of nonsense is not hard to spot, is it?

But, I was interested in the Mirror’s notion that these are God’s rules. I think they are human rules that articulate in an ancient way what it means to live a good life for the common good in a community. They aren’t the arbitrary diktats of a megalomaniac in the sky who wants to control people. They should be taught as such and the hard language of the Old Testament needs to be taught properly, with imagination and translation, opening up young people’s minds to the big pictures of God’s engagement with people and the world they live in.

‘Protect the planet’ is already there.