Are the Ten Commandments useful?

The Ten Commandments which were allegedly provided directly by Yahweh to Moses on Mt Sinai are the basis for the moral code in the Abrahamic religions. While there are billions of people on Earth who claim association with these religions, there are billions who do not. Are the Commandments useful to those who do not follow an Abrahamic religion, or to those who do not interpret the Bible literally? Does human morality really stem from religion or the Bible?

1. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

It seems to me that Yahweh is speaking specifically to the Jewish people Moses led to the foot of the mountain. This would seem to exclude a lot of people who aren’t in any way related or associated with those folks and those who generally don’t believe in a Supreme Being. So I’ll cross that one off the list.

2. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

There’s a lot to dissect in this Commandment but to keep this simple, if you don’t believe in God, or the God of your understanding or belief is not Yahweh, this is meaningless to you. I’m crossing it off the list.

3. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Damn, I know a lot of people breaking this commandment on a daily basis. I don’t find this a useful Commandment in the least and honestly find it silly that God would be as upset about language as to actually put this Commandment this high on the list. I’m scratching it off.

4. Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.

Again, not very useful since people need to make a living and there’s a lot of them working on both Saturdays and Sundays. Interesting that God even commanded our slaves to take a day off. This one does not make the list.

So as we’ve seen, the first four Commandments are specifically concerning Yahweh, the God of Abraham. If you do not believe in said entity, you start out with six Commandments right out of the gate. Moving on to number five:

5. Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

With all due respect to parents, there are many who don’t exactly deserve automatic honoring. In fact, there are some really lousy parents out there as the courts can attest with their backlog of cases against deadbeat parents. This one can’t stay on the list either.

6. You shall not murder.

No argument from me on this one. Sadly, there’s a lot of killing going on in the world, but I think we have our first useful Commandment.

7. You shall not commit adultery.

I’d say this one is pretty good too. If you’ve made the commitment to marry someone, the right thing to do would be to keep that commitment, unless of course both parties agree to some kind of open relationship. So we’ve got two pretty good Commandments thus far.

8. You shall not steal.

We are on a roll!

9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

This is an excellent Commandment when you think about it in practical terms. Following this one prevents setting someone up to take a fall for a crime they didn’t commit because you have a personal agenda.

10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

This is the worst of the non-God specific Commandments. It has a real mind police feel to it so that you’re breaking a Commandment if you even think about someone else’s stuff. This is so unnatural as to be bordering on the absurd. It will not make the list of useful Commandments.

So we’re down to a streamlined list of Four Commandments that are useful to all humans irrespective of whether you believe in God or if you’re religious at all. In fact, we can probably make it more of a Human Mission Statement:

  • Don’t murder anyone, cheat on your spouse, steal, or lie to get someone else in trouble.

I personally feel this Human Mission Statement is a better moral code than the Ten Commandments, but that’s just my opinion. It certainly seems to suit more people and more scenarios. Human morality is a fascinating subject that philosophers love to tackle. Where does it come from and what is it based on? I’m not a trained philosopher, but I’ll have a go of it all the same. I believe human morality is innate; a part of being human. It’s nurtured along by parents, peers and society as a whole, but I’m hard pressed to imagine that without someone specifically telling us not to, we’d all be killing, raping and stealing from each other.

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One comment

  1. It’s been a while since I peeped at the Ten Commandments, and I can’t believe the first five are so useless. “Don’t murder people” should be number one, two at the lowest!

    I fully support the Human Mission Statement. I like it!

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