Digest of terms

commandments and laws

general term applied to orders understood as deriving from a higher placed or more deeply seated authority, extending from such as parent, employer, representative of the state, or religion. They are orders fundamentally about order. The locus of authority may be internal or external, ie heard or sensed from within and not only from outside the self. Whatever the source, obedience to the order or duty is required for personal safety, fulfilment or enhancement, and so that order can be achieved in a world, which will otherwise in small or large scale terms be in chaos.

In Chinese religions the orders come from the sayings and writings of wise teachers, and their translation into routines of conduct. They deserve to be followed and will bring a promised harmony. In Indian religious traditions, the orders are similarly given in teachings and writings but they are also conveyed in the performance of ritual actions and duties which give shape to each stage of life's development. In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, order is the message of the Torah and the Prophets. It is focusedin the covenant of God with Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19 - 20) (see Decalogue) and used as prophetic critique of an Israel gone astray. The substance of all divine commandments is summed up by Jesus as 'insider response': wholehearted love of God and love of neighbour - and of enemy - as self (Matthew 22: 37-9, 5:43-4). In Islam, the commanding authority of God is given voice in the Qur'an and carried over into the force of exemplary Hadith and the specifications of Shari'a law. Equivalent features are also found in each of the many other frames of reference used by people throughout the world to give degrees of meaning to their lives. All belief systems and worldviews, religious or otherwise, associate directly with commanding orders, often derived from or set out in writings. This is as true of Mormons, Scientologists, and Maoists as it is of Scouts, trade unions, and sporting associations.

Teaching and learning how to respond to commands and orders is a primary challenge for Moral Education. Whether as a child or an adult, it is desirable that each person understands why any action is expected of them. If unthinking obedience is demanded, then it is short-circuiting the human reasoning process (heteronomy, autonomy).

Faced with imminent danger, however, the commanding of immediate and specific response may be life-saving. The preferred model may therefore be one of combining instruction with explanation and learning from discovery -increasingly so with an individual's age and stage. In the home, the 'Don't touch that!' may protect a child from being burnt, but may also risk becoming a counter-suggestible invitation, unless accompanied by the persuasion of tangible sensation. In the school, a teacher's insistence that a certain procedural rule be followed for asking questions may ensure that no-one is excluded from the possibility of doing so. It may also risk disadvantaging a less confident class member unless the procedure includes affirmative experiences to the contrary. In the setting of a religious community, or an alternative beliefs-based organisation, the 'Hands together, eyes closed..', 'Stand for the flag', 'Wear this round your neck/wrist', may convey a ready identity. It may just as readily become an habitual action, limited in depth of meaning, unless pondered and refreshed, or replaced.

It is a matter of human integrity to be able to check where orders come from and what consequences flow from following them. On moral grounds each individual young or old is at risk of educational underdevelopment if this opportunity is denied. The best analogy for understanding the process of hearing and recognising the authentic moral commands, and responding accordingly, is not what happens on military parade. It is instead the experience of learning to live intelligently and critically with the insights derived from personal and professional relationships of trust.

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