Honor your father and mother Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God will give you.
Honor is the operative word, I believe, and it has been understood and misunderstood in a thousand ways through a thousand cultures for more than three thousand years. This means, among other things, that this is not something unique to the Judeo-Christian tradition. Indeed, some would suggest that Asian cultures have a much better handle on this idea of honoring parents, overall (though some might say they go too far).
In truth, though, this commandment and the five that follow are commonly understood and have been commonly encouraged in all cultures in all of history. In that respect, atheists and agnostics need to understand the importance of these things as surely as believers; and there is no excuse for breaking these commandments. To break this commandment and all that follow is no less than utter rebellion, not only against God, but against humanity: family, friends, neighbors, community, culture, society and the world. Just so we are clear.
Now, to underline the universal importance of this and the following commandments is in no way meant to suggest that any have been kept perfectly, ever.
In this case, the operative word here is, as I have said, “honor.” Depending on how it is defined will determine the extent to which the commandment has been broken. Of course if a person defines “honor” as simply acknowledging who their mother and father are, then they might not have broken the command; but then they would be guilty of self-deceit or lying because clearly that is not all that this is about.
For believers, there is one parent where we can draw a parallel: Our Father in Heaven. I have to say quickly that the commandment is not suggesting we worship our parents or anything of the kind, but in terms of relationship, we see how we ought to behave. Parents should be treated with all due respect, including their opinions on all matters, whether we ultimately agree with their advice or not. Parents should be told when there are good time and bad, and indeed, nothing should be hidden from them…and if you think about it, I believe you can see where this is going.
Then there is this: as believers we strive, however imperfectly to be good children of God. We make the effort to please him. So also we ought to strive to be good children and make the effort to please and “honor” our parents. We strive to do well in school, at work, in life, with spouses, pleasing to all, raise children, and in so far as possible, live happily with all that we have and in all that we do. We consider others, live faithful, upright and honorable lives. Believe it or not, what honors parents best is to show that we were well raised.
And then finally, there is also this: I feel the kind of lives that are pleasing to God also honor parents. God has shown us what is good, what the Lord requires but to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with our God. Live this way and your parents will be proud.