I often hear people say they don’t believe everything in the Bible, but they try to follow the Ten Commandments; Christians will say that, although they don’t subscribe to all the Old Testament laws, not stoning rebellious children for instance, they do respect the Ten Commandments. I don’t really understand their enthusiasm for a set of laws that has outlived its relevancy.

Bill Maher expressed it this way, in his movie Religulous,

The only ones that are really laws are “don’t steal” and “don’t kill.” Why is this the wisest group of ten, that doesn’t include “don’t torture,” doesn’t include a lot of things, “don’t rape” . . . that I think, if we were making a list today, we would probably include.

I don’t agree with Maher on everything, but that got me thinking, it does seem rather an odd collection. Out of all the many laws of the OT, why these?

The narrator in this video said, “The moral law, as defined in the Ten Commandments, encompasses all the problems we encounter in society today.” That seems a stretch. For one thing, the first four only apply if you are a follower of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). For another, they don’t seem to cover every area of morality. They don’t even seem all that moral, by modern standards. Slavery is not condemned, in fact it is supported by the fourth and tenth commandments, and the tenth also lumps women in with your neighbor’s house and donkey. I realize women were indeed considered property in that era. That’s the point. They need to be updated.

It shouldn’t be that hard to come up with a better group of principles for living, I thought. I found a few examples of others’ ideas* that I found interesting. And I formulated a general pattern to follow. First, I should make them applicable to those of any religion, or even those with no religion. Then, I want them to be a general basis for living well, and I want them to be positive in tone. This is the list I came up with:

  1. Respect life. Your life is worthy of respect, as is the life of all human beings, and all sentient beings. Even animals that are used for food must be treated as humanely as possible.
  2. Respect the rights and dignity of others. Others have a right to their own possessions, their own land, and privacy.
  3. Respect the beliefs and customs of others. Be tolerant of differences, and allow others freedom to do as they wish, within reason.
  4. Be kind and compassionate. Show mercy, even to those who don’t deserve it. Forgive those who have wronged you.
  5. Be honest and fair. Be who you really are. Avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest.
  6. Be faithful to those who trust you. Respect confidentiality. Keep your promises. Do not misuse your position of authority.
  7. Be fearless. Seek the truth, acknowledge the wonder of your world. Defend those who need help.
  8. Be creative and diligent in what you do. Be fruitful, contributing your best work to society. Be a responsible caretaker of the environment you share.
  9. Be temperate and balanced. Enjoy life, play. Be content with what you have.
  10. Care for your children, respect them and teach them well. They are your legacy.

I would love to have your reflections on these. I would be open to improving them, after all, they aren’t written in stone.

*For further reading, these are the sources I checked:
The New Ten Commandments
A Framework For Universal Principles of Ethics
Russell/Hitchen’s New Ten Commandments—Add Your Own
A Decalogue for the Modern World
Title image credit: The Ten Commandments of Science Journalism

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