Many people, as is evident from history and the world today, often need some kind of moral guidance. Since the Abrahamic God is said to care about humanity, it is only natural to expect such guidance from him, especially when the consequences the wrong life is torture for all eternity. Has this perfect g uidance been provided in the Ten Commandments as Christians claim and simply not been heeded properly?
Thou shalt not
The most noticeable feature of the Ten Commandments is that all but two are focused entirely on what people should not do. While there is certainly a place for this, a lot of good guidance focuses on what needs to be done rather than what needs to be avoided. Why would God focus so much on prohibition, similar an ancient ruler, instead of guiding them to more enlightened morals?
The values that were missed
For example, people have a tendency to look upon outsiders, or those who are different, as somehow less human than themselves. This is especially true when the outsider is of a different race, which has led to all sorts of atrocities in human history. Considering the magnitude of suffering this has caused to this day, why do not the Ten Commandments tell people to treat each other equally regardless of race or give some other kind of guidance in this area?
Then there is the horrible practice of slavery that was extremely common in the world until relatively recent times. While some Jews and Christians came to oppose it, all too many others either owned slaves or supported the institution of slavery until thinking turned against it in the modern era. How many innocent people could have been spared horrible lives as human chattel if one of the Commandments spoke of the evil of this practice (see slavery and religion)?
There are many other values that most people in the modern world hold as true that are not mentioned at all. While including everything would not be practical, it seems odd that at least some good modern values that took so long to develop are not mentioned. For example, why not encourage the various freedoms to include that of speech, etc. found in modern democracies or things like gender equality? The values of the Ten Commandments appear to be totally based on those of the society they came from and not the kind of enlightenment that should be expected from a caring god.
A look at the Ten Commandments
When one stops and takes an in-depth look at the Ten Commandments, it becomes apparent that many of them are not actually moral teachings at all. Take the first four, which really have nothing to do with morality.
1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.
4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
It is odd that God, if he is the only one, would be most concerned about losing out to other gods as in the first commandment. The second seems like a pretty petty point, the third is just words and the fourth simply about what day to take off. Would not God be more concerned with other things? Should not other teachings be more important?
5. Honor thy father and thy mother.
This is a good commandment if one’s parents are moral at heart and doing their best to do the right things, but what if they are not? There are many bad parents now, and there certainly were in the past too. In addition, this says nothing about child abuse, which would be protecting the most innocent and helpless people in society.
6. Thou shalt not kill.
People have long known this, or human beings would have killed each other off ages ago. It seems that it should have been given higher priority, and perhaps more specifics, since the faithful have done lots of killing, be it justifiable or not.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Wouldn’t it have been better to give a commandment that would have been easier for people to follow considering how sexual people are as discussed in god and sex? It is hard to argue that preventing two consensual adults from having sex (if that is how adultery is defined) is more important than stopping something like slavery.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
A good commandment but very obvious to every society in human history.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness.
Lying is obviously bad, but it is not practical or even good to never lie regardless of the situation. For example, someone hiding Jews from the Nazis would be more moral to lie if it saved innocent lives.
10. Thou shalt not covet.
A rather odd commandment since it is hard to control thoughts. Instead of such a vague command, it would be more practical to give people advice on what to do or what not to do for the greatest common good. Thoughts in themselves do not cause any harm.
Basically, what is supposed to be a perfect guide for humanity boils down to commandments that mostly look petty, impossible to follow or have little to do with human morality and creating a better society. When they do say the right things, they are morals that were utterly obvious even in primitive societies.
Perhaps it is time to come up with a new set of commandments. Modern society can certainly do better.