What's Wrong with the Ten Commandments?

see also: The Ten Commandments Uncensored

Exploiting the opportunity created by the recent outbreak of school violence, religious politicians and lawmakers are attempting to have copies of the Ten Commandments put in public school classrooms. Claiming that it will somehow curb the violence, this act both reasssures the voting public, and furthers the agenda of the religious right. One wonders just how many politicians can actually recite the Ten Commandments.

The Ten Commandments were part of a larger set of laws attributed to Moses, called the Mosaic Laws, some four-hundred or so in all. All of the Ten Commandments can be found in multiple places in the Old Testament, with precisely prescribed punishments.

Most people could not imagine why I'm about to attack the highly regarded Decalogue, the Ten Commandments. Why should I do such a thing? I must be condoning murder and stealing!  Not hardly. I will show you that as a set of governing laws, the Ten Commandments are grossly inadequate, vague, poorly worded, non-adaptive, unreasonable, and in some cases, downright offensive.

It is claimed (erroneously) that the 10 Commandments form the basis of American Law. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nowhere in the Constitution or any legal statute are the 10 Commandments mentioned. How many of the Ten Commandments actually reflect U.S. laws? Only three. Statutes of American Justice do indeed have laws against murder, stealing and perjury, but that's where the similarity ends.

It is also claimed that the Ten Commandments represent the first set of moral laws within human civilization. People claim this apparently believe that morality is only a few thousand years old. This is the most absurd of all the assertions made for the Decalogue. Long before the Ten Commandments allegedly came down from Mount Sinai, ancient civilizations such as the Babylonians, Chinese and the people of India had refined laws. The Egyptians had lived by their sets of laws known as the Hamurabi long before the time of Moses. Human cultures have always had laws against killing and stealing, because humans will always object to being killed and robbed. These laws of behavior are universal, and not the sole property of Judeo-Christianity.

Surely prohibitions against murder, lying and stealing should be offered to our young people (as if they didn't know these things already!). Certainly there is nothing wrong with promoting these basic concepts. But not all of the Commandments apply to behavior; some apply to attitude and personal beliefs. Does it really matter if we tell our children not to make graven images? If teachers have room in their classrooms for a list of behavioral rules, why bother displaying a rule to keep the Sabbath holy, and not to make graven images? Does any person actually need a poster reminding them not to murder someone?

What is the real motivation behind the Ten Commandments campaign? It has nothing to do with rules. It is about power. It is about the Christian majority displaying part of their bible in public schools, and in doing so proclaiming that the school is Christian Property. They are marking their territory, much like a dog urinating on a fence-post. These efforts are a way to shoe-horn Christianity back into the public schools, and reclaim lost ground. And in doing so, they are creating a situation in which those who hold contrary opinions are made into official outcasts.

If Christians were honestly trying to introduce rules of ethical behavior into public schools, they would construct a nonreligious list of precepts, one that would not offend and insult people of different beliefs. But that is clearly not their intent. They should be telling students, "Make all the graven images you want, and on the Sabbath, do your homework or play football or go to the movies-- just don't break the law!"

Let's take a look at the commandments one by one. Let's first focus on the first four, because they differ quite materially from the last six.

Shall we post in our public, government-run schools: "Thou shalt have no other god before me", and "Thou shalt make no graven images", and "Thou shalt keep the Sabbath day holy"?  How do these Commandments equate to the First Amendment to the Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof"? Can these Commandments possibly exist side by side with the First Amendment? They are, in principle, the exact opposite. The government of the U.S. cannot tell people how to worship, what to worship, or that they should worship at all. And the government cannot endorse or condone a particular religion's set of rules of worship.

Some cities propose putting a stone display on the lawns of the city hall... a large replica of the stone tablets on which are carved the 10 Commandments, or replicas hung on school room walls.  But isn't this a violation of the Second Commandment: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven, on earth, or in water..."  (Exodus Ch. 20)  So, sorry!  No replica Ten Commandments!  And so much for art!  All painting, sculpture and photography must cease, and all such works must be immediately destroyed!

How can the commandment "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain" co-exist with the highly valued concept of Free Speech? This is America, and you can take the Lord's name in vain if you want to. The government has nothing to say in the matter, and cannot post ordinances to the contrary.

What about the 4th Commandment... "Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy... in it thou shalt not do any work."  So, close all the malls and shops, all businesses of any kind. Don't mow the lawn, do the dishes, clean the house, don't play any sports.  Is the government prepared to endorse this commandment? But which day is the Sabbath?  This Commandment was originally given to the Jews-- and they consider the Sabbath to be on Saturday, not Sunday. Who is fighting for their religious rights?

There can be no reconciliation between the First Amendment and the first four of the 10 Commandments-- because the first four of the ten commandments are unconstitutional. The government cannot tell us what to think or believe, and has no authority or right to post a particular religion's creeds in our public schools. We have a constitutionally protected right to worship other gods, make graven images, take the lord's name in vain, and not keep the sabbath. We also have a right to say that the bible is a load of nonsense, if we so choose.

The first four Commandments are theological directives-- they have nothing whatsoever to do with morality or ethics.  Of course, we must not forget that, in the spirit of morality, these Commandments carry the penalty of death should they be violated. Worshipping any other god should be punished by death. (Ex. 22:20)  Blasphemy against God should be met with death. (Lev. 24:16)  Performing any work on the Sabbath should be punished with death.  (Ex. 31:15)  Except making graven images, which doesn't carry the death penalty, but instead carries with it a punishment that shall be visited upon your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren (provided you don't worship the graven image, in which case it's death again).

Is this the message that Christian lawmakers want to send to the citizens of the country?  Maybe it is. Maybe they want to tell the thirty million non-religious Americans, five million Muslims, and several million adherents of Eastern religions and neo-pagan faiths, that they should be killed for not going along with the Christian majority, that they are second-class citizens, not worthy of having the same rights as those who uphold the 10 Commandments.

Less widely realized is the fact that 10 Commandment legislation also insults the nation's sixty million Roman Catholics. Presumably Congress did not intend to pass anti-Catholic legislation when it voted 287-139 to pass Rep. Robert Alderholt's (R-Ala.) Ten Commandments proposal. But that is what the Congress has done. Examining this consequence teaches a larger lesson about the unforeseen problems that can emerge when government entangles itself with religion.

American Catholics may not realize that a schoolroom Commandments law disparages them until they see a Decalogue on the bulletin board. The problem is that Catholics and Protestants teach different versions of the Commandments. Following St. Augustine, Catholics leave out what Protestants know as the Third Commandment, "thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image." So as not to end up with nine commandments, Catholic tradition then splits the Protestant Tenth Commandment in two. The prohibition against coveting one's neighbor's wife becomes the Ninth Commandment. After all these changes, Protestants and Catholics wind giving no less than seven of the Commandments different numbers.  This push to bring the 10 Commandments into schools and government buildings will cause problems between this nation's religious factions.

Christians nowadays talk about religious freedom. But what they are really talking about is their religious freedom.  They are upset that their religious freedom is abridged, because they cannot put their Ten Commandments into our public schools. They do not want other religions sharing equal time with theirs in the public arena. As soon as a minority religion or secularism tries to share in the freedom they are fighting for, such as posting a list of atheist principles or Hindu tenets or Wiccan Commandments, the Christians cry foul and fight against the freedoms of others with ferocious zeal.

But this should not be surprising.  No matter how much a Christian claims to support religious liberty, all you need to do is quote Deuteronomy 13:6-9: "If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, "Let us go and worship other gods", do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. You must certainly put him to death." So much for religious freedom.

What about "Thou Shalt Not Kill"?  This Commandment flies right in the face of hundreds of biblical passages, in which innocent people are mowed down by the thousands. Supporters of the Decalogue constantly bring up the point that "Thou shalt not kill" should actually read "Thou shalt not murder".  In the first place, that just isn't true. [Click here for the explanation.]  But what if it it did only mean murder? So what? The bible is full of murder.

"The Lord raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud...And Ehud said, 'I have a message from God for you.' And he rose from his seat. And Ehud reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his (Eglon, king of Moab's) belly."  Judges 3:15-21  That is only one example of the bible obviously condoning murder.  There are many others. The biblical patriarch King David murdered hundreds in cold blood, during his theiving raids, and millions of civilians were murdered in the numerous invasions of non-aggressive towns by Moses and Joshua . Why isn't it considered murder for them?

Other commandments are provisional, such as honoring thy father and mother, bearing false witness, stealing, and adultery. These commandments are far too vague to be enforced, and require much more explanation and statements of conditions.

What if you need to steal to eat?  What if you steal something from someone who stole that item from a third person? Clearly, more clarification is needed.  Plus, here is something the Conservatives won't like.  According to Exodus 22:4, there is no punishment for the crime of theft-- the repayment of twice the value of the theft is all that is required.  That's right.  No stoning, no cutting off of the hand, no imprisonment.  That would sure free up a lot of prison space! However, I don't see the Religious Right embracing this particular biblical law.

What about honoring your parents? Shall a little girl who is repeatedly molested by her father be forced to honor him? Or a little boy who is continually and savagely beaten by his cruel mother?  I say no.  Honor is a thing to be earned, not mandated.  A far better commandment would have been "Honor thy children".  But in the bible, children are of little worth. They are considered property. They can even be sold into slavery (Exodus 21:7). But what is more insidious, and unknown to many Christians, is the fact that the commandment of "Honor thy father and thy mother" carries death as the punishment for its infraction. (Ex. 21:17). Even Jesus, in Matthew 15:4, taught that children who speak ill of their parents should be killed for it.

On one hand, Christian lawmakers tell all the citizens of the U.S. to embrace their 10 Commandments. Yet if some parents kill their child because he "dishonored" them, then of course those same Christian lawmakers would prosecute the parents under the secular laws of the U.S. statutes.  Is this not hypocrisy?

Not bearing false witness is simply an impossibility. No person has ever passed through a single week without telling a lie of some sort, no matter what effort is employed to the contrary. Should we not tell a "little white lie" to spare someone's feelings? Is lying "immoral" in all cases? Or should we consider the consequences of the lie, and base the judgment of it on whether or not someone will be harmed by it?  If no one ever was allowed to lie, politics as we know it would come to an end, and certainly priests and preachers would cease to exist. Furthermore, scholars of Hebrew tell us that this commandment relates to the bringing of false accusations of one Israelite against another.

The commandment about coveting thy neighbor's goods, well that is just stupid.  Wanting what your neighbor has is what drives capitalism. We see our neighbor's new car and we want one too, and we work hard to achieve it. Our society and economy is based upon "coveting". This is a commandment against what people think. Could anything be more absurd? What this commandment seems to be promoting is Communism.  As far as "Coveting thy neighbor's wife", how should modern women feel being grouped together with a man's goods, ox and ass? Are women still the property of men?  In the opinion of some, apparently so.

Those Commandments that say "neighbor" deserve a second look. According to Jewish scholars, the word neighbor meant "other Israelites".  They were a very tribal people, and these Commandments did NOT extend to others outside their borders.  Back to "coveting"... what is the punishment for this? In Joshua 7:21, Achan was stoned to death for coveting a garment, and some gold and silver.  He was stoned to death, along with all his sons, daughters, oxen, asses and sheep.  Mark 7:22 also lists coveting right up there with adultery, murder, and blasphemy, all requiring death penalties. That's a tad harsh, don't you think?

Whether or not you commit adultery is not the business of government nor of religion. It's your business. If a person in a marriage is miserable with the person they live with, and chooses to find happiness in the company of another, whose business is that?  Yours? Mine? Or theirs?  But of course, the bible commands that death be given to those who break this Commandment.  Is this a law for a civilized country to enforce?  Or was this contrived by a tribe of savages?  Plus, Jesus makes it quite clear in Mark 10:11-12 that anyone who divorces and remarries, or marries a divorced person, "committeth adultery"!  Now, that's adds up to a lot of people who need to be put to death-- about half of the United States!

Hebrew scholars tell us that the commandment against adultery was directed toward males, and it is a "property law". You shall not violate another man's wife, as it is his property, and you may not take it against his will. It has nothing to do with the rights of women.

Are the Ten Commandments perfect?
Is it obvious that they are handed down to us by God?

Is it a list that no human mind could have produced?

The answer to these questions is no.  Does anyone really believe that the Commandments are the work of an all-knowing, all wise and infallible god?  Why would anyone believe that, other than they were taught to believe it from a very early age? Such a claim is absurd. Any one of us could have put together a better list.

Why is there no commandment against rape? Because the "Chosen People" frequently engaged in rape.  "Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him. But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves." (Moses speaking to the Isrealites) Numbers 31:17  Nowadays we call mass rape a "war crime".  There are many other examples.

Why is there no commandment against slavery?  Because the "Chosen People" saw nothing at all wrong with slavery.  "Slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart,...." Ephesians 6:5  This is one of many verses that condone slavery.  See also Levitucus 25:45-46.   Of course all civilized nations now regard slavery as barbaric.

Here is my list of 10 rules to live by:

  • Don't murder-- kill only in self-defense, or in defense of others, or in defense of your country.
  • Don't steal-- don't take what you know doesn't belong to you, unless not doing so places your life or your loved ones in jeopardy.
  • Don't rape-- no means no.
  • Don't mistreat people because of their skin color, nationality, sex, sexual orientation, or beliefs.
  • Don't abuse, mistreat, neglect or molest children, for any reason. Ever.
  • Don't abuse your spouse (wife or husband).
  • Don't willfully cause harm to others, either verbally or physically.
  • Don't infringe or undermine the rights and freedoms of others.
  • Don't enslave other humans.
  • Don't destroy our earth, either for ourselves or the animals that inhabit it.
  • My list is far better than the 10 Commandments, and it only took me 60 seconds. No belief in the supernatural is required.  These are things all people could easily follow, no matter what their religious beliefs. Why wasn't God so smart?

    If we should violate the Constitution and disregard the rights of many people, and place the 10 Commandments in schools and courthouses, the question then arises: Which version?  Read Exodus 20, and take a look at the Commandments that Moses first brought down from Sinai, which he subsequently smashed. Then read Exodus 34, where Moses brings down a second set of stone tablets which contained "the words that were on the first"... but they're not the same thing. They are very different. And no one can explain this error. Which version should be used?  Would you really like to see all of these problems introduced into our public schools?

    The Consistency of the Story of the Ten Commandments

    The account we are given to explain the origin of the Ten Commandments is filled with inconsistencies and absurdities.

    Are we to believe that at the foot of a quaking and thundering mountain, wreathed in lightning, in the very presence of God Himself, that the Jews decide to worship an idol they made for themselves? Is this possible? Yet this is precisely what the Jews are accused of doing. And they are led by Aaron no less, the brother of Moses.

    Let us look at the story as it is told in the bible: "And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightning, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled. And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God. And they stood at the nether part of the mount. And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice."

    Is it believable that, under such circumstances, with the one true God in sight of all the people, and His Voice in their ears, and the trumpet blaring louder and louder, the Jews could have taken it upon themselves to mold an idol with their own hands, in the shape of an immature cow, and to worship it as a god? Aaron, we are told, met the One True God on several occasions, and yet he does not even argue with the Israelites, but concedes immediately, telling them to gather up their gold for the making of the idol. This entire account is completely absurd, and if it did not have the stamp of religious inspiration on it, would be rejected by every thinking person.

    After Moses had returned to his people at the base of the mountain, he smashed the stone tablets. These stone tablets were written with the finger of God, and were important enough for the Israelites to carry around in the desert in a special casket for 40 years (the Ark of the Covenant). Such was the importance of these tablets that if anyone looked into the Ark of the Covenant, they would instantly die. God saw fit to kill over 50,000 of His own Chosen People at Beshemish for merely looking into the Ark (forgetting the fact that they supposedly had already seen the tablets when Moses initially brought them down from Sinai). So, here we have the Ten Commandments, God's most important rules, written by His Finger, received personally from Him on the top of a mountain, and the wise Moses comes down and smashes them to pieces, because he gets angry. Hmm... not quite what I would have done. In fact its absurd and unbelievable.

    Then Moses orders the people who are still loyal to him break number six of the new Commandments and kill their brothers and neighbors. So the Levites follow his orders and kill 3000 people with their swords.

    So Moses went back up to get a second copy. God said that he would forgive those people who transgressed (Gee, a little late there! Perhaps they could have been forgiven before they were hacked to death). The new copy was supposed to be identical to the first. But it was not. It was far from it. In fact, the blatant discrepancies between the two different lists of the Ten Commandments are one of the most glaring errors in the bible. Click here to compare them directly.

    In Deuteronomy 5:15, Moses forgot what the Fourth Commandment was when he repeated them aloud upon entering the Promised Land. How could he "forget"? Some biblical scholars claim that he was repeating them from memory, and made some "minor discrepancies". There were only ten rules written on stone tablets that they carried around for forty years. I find it highly unlikely that Moses could have forgotten one of the Commandments. The real reason for the discrepancy is that the Book of Deuteronomy was not written by Moses at all (some biblical scholars think that it was written by Jeremiah).

    It is clear that the books in which the Commandments are found were written long after the "wandering years". Many of the laws of Moses were not applicable to wanderers on the desert: laws about agriculture, about the sacrifice of oxen, sheep and doves, about the weaving of cloth, about ornaments of gold and silver, about the cultivation of land, about harvest, about the threshing of grain, about houses and temples, about cities of refuge, and about many other subjects of no possible application to a few starving wanderers over the sands and rocks.

    The lack of consistency in the story of the 10 Commandments is a testament to the falsity of the account. They represent the rules that the ancient Israelites, a wandering tribe of primitives, had written for themselves. The story of their divine origin is simply a method by which the leaders of the Jews had given them force and authority.

    When a religious zealot tries to convince you that the 10 Commandments should be forced into public schools and government buildings, tell him: "But that's the Old Testament!"

    Download this 10 Commandments flyer

    Click this link to listen to George Carlin's 10 Commandments comments from his book, "When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?"





    Some Christians (and Jews) often claim that the 6th Commandment states that thou shall not "commit murder", adding that the Hebrew word used for murder is ratsach, which is in reference to the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought.

    They are wrong.

    The Hebrew word for kill in EX 20:13 (Thou shalt not kill) is indeed RATSACH.   In the KJV the word RATSACH is translated as "slay" 23 times, "murder" 17 times, "kill" 6 times, and 'be put to death' once.

    In Numbers 35:22-24, ratsach is used to describe an accidental killing, and then in verse 27 it is used to describe a justified killing.  So much for the argument of "Thou Shalt not Murder."

    In Proverbs 22:13 it is used in reference to being killed by an animal: "The slothful man saith, There is a lion without, I shall be slain (RATSACH) in the streets."   Can an animal be guilty of murder?  Of course not!

    In Leviticus 24:17 it says "And he that killeth (nakah) any man shall surely be put to death (muth)."   Also, in Exodus 21:12, just twenty one verses after the 10 Commandments, it says "He that smiteth (nakah) a man, so that he die, shall surely be put to death."  BUT Joshua nakah'ed the people of Ai (Joshua 8:21), and David nakah'ed Goliath (1 Sam 19:5), even though nakah was expressly forbidden.  If Joshua and David are not criminals, then the bible is once again proved contradictory. Moses himself, the bringer of the Commandments, commited murder.

    Christians nowdays say RATSACH means "murder" simply to justify all the bloody killing of innocent men, women and children that fill the pages of the bible, which would contradict the 6th Commandment as it is written. No one can derive intent from the word ratsach-- no one can imply premeditation or malice aforethought. To claim the sixth commandment is 'Thou shalt not murder' is to be dishonest. It is "Thou shalt not kill".