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America’s Broken Covenant with the 10 Commandments

by Chris Hedges

Pub Date: June 7th, 2005
ISBN: 0-7432-5513-5
Publisher: Free Press

A melodramatic, overwritten examination of present-day virtue—or the lack of it.

This investigation of the Ten Commandments and how far Americans have fallen from their standard began as a series that staff correspondent Hedges (War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, 2002, etc.) wrote for the New York Times. He now devotes a chapter to each commandment and chronicles the stories of quirky individuals whose lives intersect with each. The chapter on the Sabbath, for example, describes the outré Friday-night rituals of pediatricians Stephen Arpadi and Terry Marx, who drink Shabbat vodka gimlets and allow their kids to watch a video, Shabbat TV. He also tells us that letting go is an integral part of parenthood; that “all love hurts”; and that love “is difficult and hard” and “filled with a transformative power.” Self-help pabulum of this kind might be expected from a Hallmark Hall of Fame special, but not from a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist. The most engaging section is the transcript of a controversial antiwar commencement speech Hedges gave in 2003 at Rockford College. He was practically booed off the stage, and he transcribes every heckle the audience hurled at him. It’s a revealing slice of Americana, though perhaps only tenuously connected to Hedges’s putative theme of honoring one’s parents. Another failing is Hedges’s grandly capacious interpretation of the commandments: ironically, this roominess may even allow ordinary readers to wiggle out of the commandments’ range. Take the chapter on adultery, for instance. Hedges profiles a man named H.R. Vargas, whose father left his mother and took up with another woman while Vargas was in utero. Vargas, now a father himself, is still battling the emotional consequences of this early abandonment. The story is powerful—but abstract: one wonders whether the tale of an ordinary, white-collar office affair might have cut a little closer to home for most readers.

In the main, uninspired and trite.