Western morality is based on 10 very old and very good rules for living: the Ten Commandments.
The Ten Commandments (sometimes known as the Decalogue, or “Ten Words,” are the commands given by God to Moses at Mt. Sinai, which Moses brought down the mountain engraved on two stone tablets. These commands address the central issues of human behavior toward God and one’s fellow human beings.
The first part of the commandments regulate conduct between humankind and God. The last part of the commandments regulate conduct between people—that is, how human beings are to relate to each other.
According to Philo, a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher of Roman times (circa B.C. 20–A.D. 50) the commandment to honor thy father and mother is the bridge between the first and last section of the commandments. Podcaster and public speaker Dennis Prager said it is the only commandment that comes with a reason for observing it: “That your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”
As Prager points out, we are told to love God, our neighbors, and even the stranger, but not our father and mother. These we must honor. No matter how challenging this is, we must maintain a relationship with our parents that honors them. We don’t even have to like our parents, Prager says, but we must honor them.
The Basic Building Block
Why is it so important to honor our parents? Respect for our parents and family has a ripple effect in society. We learn to respect all others, as respect for our parents will be reflected in all of our other relationships.
Those who have been taught to respect their parents and their elders are more likely to be functioning adults in society. In Phyllis Schlafly’s book “Who Killed the American Family,” she references a piece by Jason DeParle that the New York Times published. In this piece, noted Schlafly, DeParle was “making the obvious, yet frequently denied, observation that children are a lot better off when they are reared by both parents than when a single mother has to make do on her own.” DeParle’s argument is essentially that two parents are better than one and that the difference between a single mother and a married couple is qualitative as well as quantitative.
According to Prager, men who are likely to treat their wives well and their co-workers fairly are men that were brought up to respect their parents. Women who have been brought up to value their parents are more likely to be better mothers and care-givers. They are more likely to choose mates that will see the importance of the family. One who has been taught to value what the family unit brings to society is therefore more likely to pass these values on to his or her children.
At the same time, showing respect for those who gave us life and love sets an example for future generations. Children who see their grandparents treated well will likely model this behavior with their parents.
In sum, in a society in which children are taught to honor their father and mother, the society will survive.
The ripple effect extends beyond society to honoring our civilization. The intergenerational memories that families have are like the threads of a tapestry. They are the needle that pulls the threads of our shared bonds together.
A family tethers us to the memories of who we are and where we come from. One only has to consider the Jewish calendar with its strict adherence to tradition and the honoring of it. Honoring your parents is a kind of daily Shabbat. It must be observed lest the fabric of your life frays.
Parents are the bedrock of the family, and the importance of a family cannot be underestimated. A family is, in a sense, a boundary that protects one from the outside world. It is our civilization’s building block as well. It seems that is reason enough to honor them.
Honoring the Creator
By honoring our parents, we recognize that there is a moral authority above us to whom we are accountable. For that reason, honoring a parent is recognizing the hierarchy that exists within a family, and correspondingly, a larger hierarchy, at the top of which, of course, is the Creator.
Fr. Hans Jacobse, an Orthodox priest for over 30 years, believes that God wove the hierarchy of patriarchy into the very structure of creation itself: a is the protector of a woman and family. He is the authority figure to whom we look to for leadership and protection.(need source)
Implicit within this supposition that honoring our parents honors God is a way of recognizing the sanctity of human life and the importance of treating each other with respect, integrity, faithfulness, decency, and dignity. A civilization in which children don’t honor their parents ensures that civilization declines.
Recently, in an impassioned speech, the populist Prime Minister of Italy, Giorgia Meloni said:
“Why is the family an enemy? Why is the family so frightening? …
“We will defend the value of the human being. …[E]ach of us has a unique genetic code that is unrepeatable … that is sacred. We will defend it. We will defend God, country, and family.”
Her speech went viral.
Honoring in Action
How can we honor our parents? There are simple ways. For some, it may be asking one’s parents for mentoring advice. For others, it may be including them in decision-making that involves the family.
Honoring one’s parents can be upheld by honoring family traditions. One way may be to keep family dinner rituals. Another may be by maintaining a kind of family grammar—a way of behaving with one’s parents in order to denote respect. Perhaps it is in the way one dresses when one visits parents.
Certainly, it is in the language one uses in the company of one’s parents. A degree of formality might be maintained from the cradle to the grave—and beyond. A visit to a gravesite might be a way to honor those who have passed on.
If one is fortunate enough to have aging parents who are experiencing the finiteness of the individual life, there are lessons to be learned. They know that they are looking towards the sunset. They also know that there is probably not a brighter morning coming.
Perhaps one of the greatest gifts one can give one’s parents is to be a source of support for them as they age. Instead of showing impatience at stories about those “good old days,” we can learn to listen to their recollections and, yes, learn from them.
As you are serving them a piece of their favorite cake, chances are they will be gifting you with an anecdote that may be a teaching moment: how they responded to difficulties, how they rose to challenges—these are life lessons that possibly your children will not be taught on social media.
Join them when they meander down memory lane. Allow them to reminisce as they metaphorically swing on a hammock under the trees. Yes, this is nostalgia, but nostalgia allows us to recapitulate and reconstruct an overview of our lives, it allows us to partake in what was valuable to our parents.
More Than Obedience
In his book “The World Under God’s Law: Criminal Aspects of the Welfare State,” the Revered T. Robert Ingram says that as those who believe in God, we should see the family as the squad in the army. “It is essential to the strength and safety of the army and to the plans and operations of the commander that the files be obedient to the corporal.”
More than obedience is required. The legal application as understood in the Bible is to honor. And we may observe that the only legal obedience required by the law of God is to father and mother. No other authority is supported by unqualified divine law.