This I Believe

Schoonover, Lawrence L.
1954-01-15

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Lawrence Schoonover describes his experiment with ethics in his youth and his questioning of the relevance of the Ten Commandments. He then recounts the awareness of his mistake and how he lives by them and raises his children according to them.

Subjects
Ten commandments
Ethics
Parenthood
Belief change
Children
Christianity
Great Britain
Permanent URL
http://hdl.handle.net/10427/75917
ID: tufts:MS025.006.009.00011.00004
To Cite: DCA Citation Guide
Usage: Detailed Rights
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And now, This I Believe, the living philosophies of thoughtful men and women, presented in the hope they may strengthen your beliefs so that your life may be richer, fuller, happier. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Lawrence Schoonover is a novelist. He is the author of The Burnished Blade, which was a Literary Guild selection, and the Gentle Infidel, which was a Dollar Book Club selection. His most recent book is an historical romance entitled The Spider King. Before becoming a novelist, he was a copywriter, and then an advertising account executive. Born in Anamosa, Iowa, he now lives in Hempstead, New York and is the father of four young daughters. Here is the personal philosophy of Lawrence Schoonover.
I believe that the answer to all of life’s questions can be found in one, often several, of the Ten Commandments. More than the fact that they were written on stone has caused them to endure as a practical guide for mankind throughout the entire space of his recorded history. To those who never questioned the Ten Commandments, belief in them will appear obvious. To those who still question them, belief in them will appear lazy and unimaginative, as if one were unable to formulate his own rules of conduct.
I did not always accept, without question, anything so simple and ready-made as the Ten Commandments.
When the century and I were in our roaring twenties, that era of beautiful nonsense, I made up for myself a complicated code of ethics so elaborate and involved that for the life of me, I cannot now remember a single word of it. All I remember is that it proved somehow that the tired, old Ten Commandments were hopelessly out of date.
But in a very few years, I found myself the head of a family with four little girls, whose minds as well as whose bodies had to be nourished. My life became very practical, and I had no time for philosophical abstractions. I had to live my philosophy. It was then that, though I had discovered nothing new in the field of conduct, I did discover rich, new, personal meanings and unexpected overtones in the wise, old rules that I had too soon and too casually written off as out of date.
The most amazing thing about the Ten Commandments is how practical they are, for as the girls began to grow up, they would ask me questions, which I am convinced would have puzzled Solomon himself if he, too, had not had the Ten Commandments to fall back on. Then, as now, they were signposts, big and unmistakable and unerring, set up for all to see along the twisting road of life. Ancient as they are, they are also modern, and they will remain modern throughout all the future that lies ahead, a future in which I believe I shall have a part, consciously I hope, in my own entity but at least in my children, and my children’s children, and in theirs.
Sober scientists tell us that we are now entering a vast and unexplored world of atomic power, including, probably, even travel to distant planets. Now, as seldom in the past, we need trustworthy signposts. And so, Judy, Betty, Carol, Virginia, in case this is the only means you have of hearing your father’s voice some decades hence when life puts to you puzzling ethical questions, the details of which I cannot even imagine, remember the Ten Commandments. You were brought up on them. They will never be out of date. Trust them even if you travel to some other planet and find their conditions and people utterly strange.
Surely the men of Mars, no matter how outwardly strange they will probably appear, will also be teaching their little Martian children “Thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal; love thy God,” and all the rest. For if they do not, they are not men.
Those were the beliefs of Lawrence Schoonover, author of The Quick Brown Fox, The Golden Exile and other novels. He has described how he once proved to himself that the tired old Ten Commandments were out of date, but returned to them of necessity and found them valid for himself and for his children.