The Ten Commandments: A Guideline to Morality?

A fellow on the Quaker website made the statement that the Ten Commandments (the Decalogue) provides an ethical basis to evaluate religious establishments.

I wanted to examine if that was possibly true…are the commandments universal? Are they something an omnipotent, divine being concerned with love and unity would tell us? Do the ‘ethical’ propositions in the Decalogue apply to all religions, either as a basis for morality and ethics, or as a basis to evaluate religions?

The Commandments (reportedly given by God to Moses; see Thomas Paine on this subject) are:

1. Thou shalt not have any other gods before me

2.Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image

3.Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain

4.Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy

5.Honor thy father and thy mother

6.Thou shalt not kill

7.Thou shalt not commit adultery

8.Thou shalt not steal

9.Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor

10.Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, wife, servants, or animals

Numbers 1-3 are definitely not universal. Some cultures perceive the divine to manifest in a number of ways (interpreted as a number of gods by westerners). Some like graven images and statues. Some do not think ‘God damn’ is a curse. These are by no means capable of evaluating a religion.

Note that religions are based on faith and superstition, not on empirical data or facts which can be checked and compared. Thus, the claims of no religion outweigh those of any other…nor do they take moral precedence over another.

Numbers 4 and 5 are entirely subjective, and dependent on culture. Thus, they are no basis for universal comparison or evaluation.

Number six (no killing) is the only precept that is potentially universal, yet the supposed god who gave this commandment is also the god who reportedly ordered the Hebrews to massacre the Canaanites. A god who orders genocide? Hardly.


Joshua performing genocide on the Amonites…per God’s order?


Number 7 (adultery) is a social precept. Not all belief systems ascribe to monogamy

Number 8 (stealing) is the second potentially moral (and potentially ethical) precept in the Decalogue. However, it does not account for poor who have no means to pay, and the sick who have no means to work. All things being equal though, most of us would agree that taking things that are not ours is (if not bad) in poor taste and a social problem.

Number 9 (truth) is the third moral precept, and potentially universal (as are precepts against killing or stealing).

Number 10 (coveting) is unique to Christianity. No other religion condemns one for ones thoughts or impulses. We can only be judged based on our demonstrated actions. Thus, this precept is not valid universally.

god spy

The decalogue describes a patriarchal god, a jealous god, and an angry god…hardly universal traits (or universal perception of the divine), and hardly a description of the God of Love.

God doesn’t get pissed.

Jesus and the moneylenders

God doesn’t order us to kill people, or applaud us for taking their wives (e.g., David and Uriah’s wife). No, these precepts are hardly universal, and thank God for that!


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