The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? - Jeremiah 17:9
Be warned. Compared to Chris Hedges’ Losing Moses on the Freeway, Jeremiah, “the weeping prophet,” works the sunny side of the street.
Hedges, a long-time war correspondent for The New York Times, has seen more than his share of human horrors. His book argues that without the Ten Commandments to guide them, human beings degenerate into jungle animals. The book is a guided tour of some dark little corners of an earthly hell, where we see what happens to those who violate the Commandments. It’s Dante without the trip to Paradise.
Hedges’ introduction explains why we need the Commandments: to protect us from committing evil; to hold the community together; to free us from the grip of idols (“destructive impulses of constant self-gratification”); to enable us to resist evil, and live for others; and finally, “to lead us to love.”
Each chapter is a discourse on one of the Commandments, illustrated by the example of a real person. We meet Beth, who gave up literally everything to pursue her idolatry of a rock band; some B-girls at a seedy bar where illegal immigrants are parted from their money; an Episcopal bishop still tormented by his Viet Nam war experiences; H.R. Vargas, an illegitimate child, former gang member, and prisoner of an all-consuming rage; R. Foster Winans, once a Wall Street Journal columnist, who went to prison for insider trading on the stock market; a pair of feuding chess shops in Greenwich Village, whose owners and patrons have made hate a way of life; and Karen, whose pursuit of millionaire status doesn’t seem to be getting her anywhere. These people all have one thing in common. Each has broken a Commandment, and their lives are unrelieved misery.
More interesting are the autobiographical chapters. The son of a Presbyterian minister, Hedges went to Harvard Divinity School and was assigned to a run-down church in the worst part of Boston’s urban ghetto. His experiences destroyed his vocation for the ministry, and he relates them in grim detail. Violence, drugs, rape, rats, poverty, ignorance, and utter hopelessness — he gave it up to become a war correspondent.
Why that particular career move? We don’t know. He doesn’t tell us.
We also learn of the five dreadful years he spent, from the ages of 10–15, at a boarding school where the unofficial curriculum featured tedium, heavy-handed authority, fighting, bullying, emotional starvation, and some discreet pedophilia. Why did his loving father send him to that place? It’s another thing the author doesn’t explain.
The Rest of the Story
By the time one comes to the end of this book, one feels moved to cry out, “Is that all there is to life? Please, it has to be better than this!” But one is not comforted by such statements as this: “The game of life and death is a game we lose” (p. 172).
But there is more to it — much more. God did something about all this misery: He sent into the world His only begotten Son “that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
We do not find much of this in Losing Moses. Hedges stresses the utilitarian aspect of the Commandments; but as a former seminary student, he ought to know that no one is saved by works of the law. Nor does he remind us, as Jeremiah does (24:7), that God has promised, “And I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart.”
The Ten Commandments are more than just a set of signposts warning us to keep out of the minefields. As R.J. Rushdoony wrote, “[L]ove is the fulfilling of the law, that is, love puts law into action … Love is law in action; hate is lawlessness in action. Love and hate are more than feelings; they are ways of life, either in faith and obedience to God and His law, or in unbelief and disobedience” (Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. II, pp. ix–x).
The law of God is a vast subject, not capable of being properly expounded in a book review. But one thing we must ask of the author of Losing Moses:
Where is Jesus?
Without Christ, we can’t handle all the horror of this fallen world. We must either hide from it or let it crush us.
But we are not without Jesus. We don’t have to hide, and we won’t be crushed. Our Lord sits at the right hand of the Father, and all power in heaven and on earth has been given to Him (Matt. 28:18).
An Honest Man
One gets the impression that Mr. Hedges is an intelligent, likeable, decent, honest man who has seen too much evil and not enough good. There is much evidence in his book of a conflicted mind. For example:
Although he employs every liberal shibboleth known to the American Northeast, inveighing against “our American oligarchy,” Israel, Halliburton, evangelists, Reagan, Bush, Cheney, “inequality,” ad infinitum, he rejects liberalism as a solution and castigates liberal pundits for their smug self-righteousness and their disconnection from the real world.
He characterizes all authority as corrupt, evil, and stupid — but never says which particular corrupt, evil, and stupid leaders he would prefer to govern the nation.
He speaks lovingly and reverently of his father: “I am my father’s son. This is my inheritance. I will not squander it.” But he also tells us how his father, seeing the absence of a gay and lesbian students’ club as a grave omission at his son’s university, commanded his son — who is not a homosexual — to found such an organization. That must have been painfully difficult for the young man, and smacks of Phariseeism on the part of the father.
Some readers may be offended by Mr. Hedges’ uncompromising stand for pacifism. They may wonder why a pacifist chose to become a war correspondent. But given the trauma and the horror that the author has seen, he deserves credit just for still being functional. Many in his position have destroyed themselves with drink or some other opiate. Hedges is still on his feet, still looking for answers.
Why read this book?
It’s not without some penetrating insights. “The church was my last refuge from God.” “Idols are always about self-worship.” “The Sabbath is the battle for transcendence, for freedom from the pull of ‘needs.’” “A culture that urges us to grasp at momentary bits of pleasure, to indulge in sensuality for its own sake, encourages us to believe that nothing matters.” “America’s most pervasive idolatry is the idolatry of the self.”
There are many more of these, and well worth reading. Hedges is more interested in truth than he is in political correctness, and it’s his honesty that redeems the book.
As a guide to understanding the Ten Commandments, it will serve as an introduction, but to stop with Losing Moses would be to stop well short of the goal.
- Lee Duigon
Lee is the author of the Bell Mountain Series of novels and a contributing editor for our Faith for All of Life magazine. Lee provides commentary on cultural trends and relevant issues to Christians, along with providing cogent book and media reviews.
Lee has his own blog at www.leeduigon.com.