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Ten Commandments have no Role in Public

Apologetics and freethoughtSome Christians have no patience with a separation between church and state and want to display the Ten Commandments in the public square—the state-supported public square.

Judge Roy Moore is an example.  As chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Moore installed a 2.5-ton granite monument in the Supreme Court building showing two tablets holding the Ten Commandments in 2001.  He said, “Today a cry has gone out across our land for the acknowledgment of that God upon whom this nation and our laws were founded. …  May this day mark the restoration of the moral foundation of law to our people and the return to the knowledge of God in our land.”  A lawsuit was filed, Moore lost, he was ordered to remove the monument, he refused, and he was removed from office.

And now he is the leading candidate for getting his old job back.  We live in interesting times.

A 2007 poll compared Americans’ knowledge of the Ten Commandments with the seven ingredients in a McDonald’s Big Mac hamburger.  More people remembered “two all-beef patties” from the TV commercial than remembered “thou shalt not kill” from Sunday school.  Even among churchgoers, 30% didn’t remember “thou shalt not kill,” and 31% didn’t remember “thou shalt not steal.”

One atheist wit observed that the Big Mac had an unfair advantage—it had a jingle.  Solution: set the Ten Commandments to music.  “Only God, no idols, watch your mouth, special day, call your mom … on a sesame seed bun.”

How big a deal is this?  Does poor recall of the Ten Commandments correlate to poor morals?  I say no, and I think Americans’ poor memory in this case isn’t a shocking oversight; instead, it reflects the irrelevance of the Ten Commandments in modern life.  We don’t need the Commandments to remind us that killing is wrong, and they’re not an especially complete or relevant list for secular America.  “Don’t enslave,” “don’t rape,” and “no genocide” are glaringly absent, and “have no other gods before me” has no place in the state-supported public square.

(Sorry, pro-lifers—abortion was obviously not top of mind for God when he dictated the Commandments, since he included “don’t covet” but omitted “no abortion.”)

To wiggle out of uncomfortable baggage, some Christians try to play the “Get out of the Old Testament free” card.  They do this when they want to talk about slavery and genocide being a product of that foreign culture.  Okay, but then haven’t you shed the Ten Commandments as well, since that’s also in the Old Testament?

The Old Testament is relevant today or it isn’t—it can’t be both ways.

As ancient legal codes go, the Mosaic law isn’t all that groundbreaking.  It is predated by not only the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi but Mesopotamian law and Egyptian law.  In fact, the pediment of the U.S. Supreme Court building, which many history revisionists claim holds the Ten Commandments, is actually a frieze of Moses along with two other ancient lawmakers, Solon (Athens) and Confucius (China).  This artwork is shown in the photo above.  And no, Moses isn’t holding the Ten Commandments but rather blank tablets.  Moses is also depicted on a frieze inside the courtroom, but he is simply in a procession of 18 great lawmakers.

What if all people followed the basic conventions that society agrees are its moral foundation?  That would be great, but if this happened, why give the credit to Christianity?  That is, why point to morality and say, “Aha!  That’s the good ol’ Ten Commandments they’re following!”  No, morality comes from society.  The Ten Commandments are a reflection of some of the best traits from society, not the other way around.

What if we discarded the religious baggage—important within Christianity but irrelevant to the secular, all-inclusive society—and distilled down social wisdom into a secular Ten Commandments?  Here’s a version from A.C. Grayling’s Secular Bible.

1. Love well
2. Seek the good in all things
3. Harm no others
4. Think for yourself
5. Take responsibility
6. Respect nature
7. Do your utmost
8. Be informed
9. Be kind
10. Be courageous

At least, sincerely try.

NYC Atheists has an excellent version here (search for “Atheist Freedoms” on page 4).  And here is Christopher Hitchens’ version (skip in the video to 6:30)

The Ten Commandments is nothing more than a fragment of an interesting historical document.  An example from Georgia shows the problems with treating it as if it’s more than this.  Poverty in that state has recently increased so that it is now the third-poorest state.  What is its legislature spending time on?  Getting the Ten Commandments in all public buildings, including schools.

I guess it’s easier than actually solving problems.

Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully
as when they do it from religious conviction.
— Pascal

Photo credit: djv2130

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About Bob Seidensticker
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  • Bob Calvan

    Well I read the first two Atheist 10 commandments. Lets have a look at these ( brilliant LOL ) free thinkers.

    OK Number 1 says:

    FREEDOM FROM FEARS IMPOSED ON US BY

    RELIGION.

    ” Atheists don’t fear hell or purgatory

    or the wrath of god because we know there is no

    hell or purgatory or god….”

    How do they KNOW there is NO god,or hell?

    To know there is no God or hell one would have to know all things in the universe to make such an absurd statement.

    “…. We are moral not

    because we fear punishment but because we

    have chosen to conduct ourselves morally in the

    best interests of society…..”

    Christians are not moral because we fear punishment. Notice the Atheist wants to be moral. Problem is they can not account for morality. They must borrow from the Christian worldview to account for morality , truth, or logic.

    Number 2 commandment says:

    ” 2. FREEDOM FROM FALSEHOOD. Atheists do not feel

    obliged to honor concepts that we know are

    scientifically untenable. We know there is no

    life after death, no virgin birth, no miracles, no

    angels and we do not feel the need to pretend

    these things ever existed.”

    Same thing they “KNOW” there is no afterlife?. No virgin birth?, No Miracles?, No Angels? Again to know this one must know all things. Stupid statements from these brilliant free thinkers.

    Lets see what this quote says from Bob S. high Priest. Dawkins says:

    ” In the universe of blind and physical force and genetic replication some people are going to get hurt, and some people are going to get lucky. And you won’t find any rhyme or reason for it. Nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at the bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows or cares. DNA is, and we dance to its music.”

    So Bob S you need to live consistently with your atheist worldview. ( which you can see is bankrupted) and stop borrowing from the Christian worldview.

    Your world is blind pitiless interference. So all you complaints of the evils ( which are not evil) in the OT are inconsistent with your worldview.

    If we are all biological accidents why should not white accidents own and sell black accidents, in your worldview.

    • Orbital Teapot

      To Bob C,

      Maybe the universe doesn’t care about human beings, but human beings care about themselves and about one another. We want to stay alive, to live well, to achieve goals and to have meaningful experiences. Why would God make any difference? We acknowledge that people have worth because they are sentient and can have desires and goals. And because they can love.

      Of course, if God exists, it will mean that our achievements will be acknowledged by the supreme being, so that our efforts won’t be wasted. If God does not exist, all our achievements will be wiped out in the cosmic thermodynamic death. Still, some atheists are fine with that, and they still strive to achieve goals, because they don’t care about what will survive in 1 000 000 years. They want to make a difference for those who live now.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      (Good points, OT.)

      How do they KNOW there is NO god,or hell?

      The same way we know that there are no unicorns or leprechauns. Do we absolutely, positively know? Nope. If this is your point, I agree. But we know that there are no leprechauns about as well as we know anything within science. There simply isn’t any reason to believe in them. Ditto for gods.

      Christians are not moral because we fear punishment.

      The idea of hell doesn’t scare you?

      You’re made of tougher stuff than I am!

      Problem is they can not account for morality.

      (1) Nor can you.

      (2) Evolution accounts for morality pretty well. We humans have a shared moral instinct as well as social standards of morality. There’s work to be done to develop this knowledge further, of course, but simply handwaving a god into existence to ground morality doesn’t cut it.

      Same thing they “KNOW” there is no afterlife?

      Yep, same thing. We know there’s no afterlife with the same confidence as we know anything. That’s not certainty, but it’s about as close as we fallible humans can come.

      these brilliant free thinkers

      Flattering! Thank you!

      high Priest. Dawkins

      Excuse me–Richard Dawkins is the atheist pope! Please keep that straight.

      So Bob S you need to live consistently with your atheist worldview.

      You keep saying this as if there’s some difficulty here.

      which you can see is bankrupted

      Nope. Educate me.

      Your world is blind pitiless interference. So all you complaints of the evils ( which are not evil) in the OT are inconsistent with your worldview.

      Do you ever read my stuff? ‘Cause I’ve been over this many times with you.

      The world doesn’t care about me. It’s indifferent. But I care. My family and friends care. And that’s enough.

      Where’s the problem?

  • Disciple of Christ

    I must argue that the ten commandments are still relevant to this day. They were relevant back then, they were today, and they will remain so for our time being. Let me explain the relevance of each of them:

    1) “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” This does not only include idols, but includes anything other than God Himself: money, materialism, other people, secularism, humanism, and perhaps this blog itself. When one puts God above all others, it highly benefits the individual with greater spirituality.

    2) “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” This goes on further to say that we should not create something for us to worship–that is, we cannot simply create an idol of our own that will topple the worship of God. The Israelites made this mistake with the Golden Calf; and many today make the mistake by creating a material object or concept of their own and worshiping such.

    3) “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” This is a highly important commandment that respects sacredness and condemns blasphemy. The great sin of profanity is to take what is sacred and make it common. Blasphemy is a great sign of disrespect that damages the soul.

    4) “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” You can thank the Lord God that there are seven days in a week. The Sabbath is a time of rest, worship, service, and love for family, friends, and others. Without this, why bother having seven days in a week?

    5) “Honor thy father and thy mother.” This remains binding even past our childhood. Respecting one’s parents is a sign of integrity, a quality very lacking in today’s world.

    6) “Thou shalt not kill.” I cannot see how a commandment like this could have no relevance. It’s self-explanatory, and is definitely relevant today. To believe otherwise is not a sign of a civilized person.

    7) “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Likewise. The sin of lust is prevalent in these days, leading to increased divorces and births out of wedlock. Society is slowly making marriage a useless institution, which makes this commandment more relevant than ever.

    8 ) “Thou shalt not steal.” Absolutely applies here. The right to property should belong to all; no one should take what’s not theirs without asking. Honesty is a great quality that all should have.

    9) “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” Very relevant to this day. We must not bear false witness to make anyone or anything look bad or anything else other than what he/she/it is what he/she/it inspires to be. To do otherwise would be dishonest. Is it always accurate to view one in the most negative light? No. Unfortunately, the author of this blog does not follow this as he simply cannot put Christianity in anything but the most negative light.

    10. “Thou shalt not covet.” People in society should never become jealous what of they do not have. This type of envy can and may lead to other sins.

    The importance of these ten and all other commandments can be summarized in one word Paul spoke of: Charity. When one has the godly quality, it supersedes everything else, including the man-made commandments you spoke of earlier.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Thanks for your comments. I have a few rebuttals.

      This does not only include idols, but includes anything other than God Himself: money, materialism, other people, secularism, humanism, and perhaps this blog itself.

      A nice sentiment, but this is obviously not what the original 1st commandment meant.

      many today make the mistake by creating a material object or concept of their own and worshiping such.

      Again, the original commandment was focused simply on statues. God could logically kill you in the OT stories for breaking any commandment (“He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the Lord only, he shall be utterly destroyed,” Ex. 22:20, for example), but this broader reinterpretation that you imagine has no support within the Bible.

      Blasphemy is a great sign of disrespect that damages the soul.

      Or … there is no soul and if we redefine blasphemy, the “sin” vanishes.

      You can thank the Lord God that there are seven days in a week.

      No, I’m pretty sure we can thank the Babylonians.

      Respecting one’s parents is a sign of integrity

      What if the parents are abusive? Some parents have abused their children to death. Let me propose that let this rule be subordinate to common sense.

      I cannot see how a commandment like this could have no relevance. It’s self-explanatory, and is definitely relevant today.

      Oh? Is killing in war against this rule ? Abortion? Euthanasia? Capital punishment? What about killing animals for food? “Don’t kill” is pretty darn broad, and very few will go that far.

      People in society should never become jealous what of they do not have.

      Sounds like you’re attacking the foundation of capitalism, my friend!

      But the real puzzle about #10 is how it was included but not “don’t enslave,” “don’t rape,” and so on.

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