The Terrible Ten Commandments

The rules of Christianity are based upon the Ten Commandments. It is from here that religious law and morality is drawn. Many Christians call for laws to be based on the 10 Commandments. However, as major guiding principles, they are atrocious. Half of them are pointless and the other half are either too obvious to be mentioned or not crucial moral guiders. They are just as flawed as for what they do not talk about, being silent on racism, sexism, slavery, tyranny, the list goes on. It is hard to find a more flawed moral code than the 10 commandments.

(There is some debate over what actually are the 10 Commandments. In the Bible they aren’t number so it’s not clear where one commandment ends and the next begins. There is a slight difference between Catholic and Protestant versions, with Catholics combining the first two into one and splitting the last one into two. The 10 Commandments as traditionally known as fond in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, but there is an alternative 10 in Exodus 34. However the alternatives are daft and nonsensical so it’s no surprise they are ignored.)

1.       Thou shalt not have other Gods before me

This is effectively religious suppression. Were we to base our laws on the First Commandment, then no religions but Christianity would be allowed. This is the logic of the Taliban. Instead of promoting diversity, the 1st Commandment is sectarian and narrow minded. Ever hear of freedom of conscience? This is the complete opposite of our most cherished freedom, freedom of thought. Instead of telling us to think for ourselves, we are commanded that we must worship whether we like it or not. This is why no constitution can ever be based upon the Ten Commandments, it violates our number one human right, freedom of thought.

(Finally isn’t it extremely vain and petty that God’s first rule for mankind is all about himself?)

2.       Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth, Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

What is the point of this? This is the most ridiculous commandment possible. Instead of teaching humanity important lessons for future generations that will make the world a better a place, he is focusing on this drivel. What is a graven image and what’s wrong with it? Do you not think this commandment would have been better used to condemn racism or slavery, or anything that causes harm to humanity instead of this nonsense? It is also the longest and most detailed commandment, which seems a waste of space, considering how little detail is given for murder and stealing, you know the commandments that actually matter.

Graven image is often interpreted to mean statues, though there is debate and it could mean pictures too. Seeing as the Catholic Church is full of religious statues and many Catholics have holy pictures, aren’t they violating this commandment? Which according to God, is on the same level as murder (if not more important as it is listed first).

But this commandment outlaws all statues that resemble anything on Earth, so Christians should not permit any statues, or even photos. The worst part is the absurd punishment. Apparently God is a “Jealous God” so not only will we be punished, but so will our descendants to the third and fourth generation! What sort of atrocious law punishes people for crimes that not only did they not commit but occurred before they were even born? How they will be punished is not explained or why, or even what harm is done. Again this is Taliban style fanaticism and narrow mindedness.

3.       Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain

This commandment isn’t entirely clear, is it simply cursing God that’s prohibited, or it saying things like “God damn!” or exclaiming “Jesus!”? Also why is this important? These are supposed to be moral codes for all humanity for all eternity, why are you wasting time on this nonsense?

Many people treat these commandments are absurd nonsense, but they have a sinister side. This commandment prohibits free speech. It declares you cannot criticise God, as though he a celestial dictator of whom no complaint is allowed. The freedom of speech is measured by the freedom to criticise, if we cannot criticise, then we cannot speak freely. The 3rd commandment is a clear violation of our human rights. This is particularly relevant in Ireland where in 2009 the government introduced blasphemy laws for reasons that were known only to themselves.

4.       Keep holy the Sabbath day

Why? It is not clear how the Sabbath should be kept holy, are you not allowed to do anything (like fundamentalists believe) or is it just work that is prohibited? Seeing as this rule is being widely violated nowadays, will everyone who works on Sunday be punished in the afterlife? Perhaps on the same level as thieves? What day is the Sabbath, Saturday or Sunday?

Again this is a pointless restriction on our lives. God is like a cruel master who enjoys making our lives difficult, not because it helps him, but because he can. The Bible records the story of a man who collected sticks on the Sabbath. He was stoned to death for violating the 4th Commandment. Every religion has its own Taliban, not just Islam.

5.       Honour thy father and mother

This is hardly an offensive rule, but does it really deserve to be included in the top 10 rules for humanity? Don’t children honour their parents anyway; is it really necessary to make it a commandment? What about in the cases of abusive parents? In case you were wondering the penalty for not obeying this law is death (would it be anything else?). Is it just me, or is executing children for not obeying their parents (in other words acting childish) the most revolting thing you’ve heard today? (Apart from the other commandments)

6.       Thou shalt not kill

The first genuinely good commandment. We can all agree that killing is wrong and should be prohibited. The only question is why all those other nonsense commandments were ahead of this one on the list. Why are they even on the same level as killing someone? It is also a law that could hardly be considered divinely inspired as pretty much every society has been able to figure out by themselves that murder is wrong.

Unfortunately, there is no detail about this commandment. Despite spending several chapters describing the tent the commandments are to be held in, only a single line is spent on this important rule. God apparently didn’t think the most important rules for humanity deserved much time or elaboration. Thus there is debate over whether it is killing or murder that is prohibited. Is killing in self-defence justified? What about war? Manslaughter? These are important issues, but more space is given to describing prohibitions of graven images.

7.       Thou shalt not commit adultery

What’s wrong with adultery? Sure it hurts the partner who is being cheated on, but what if the relationship is in serious trouble and the person has a good reason? Why is it anyone else’s business? What right do priests have to go nosing into other people’s sex lives? The punishment of death is widely disproportionate and something only the Taliban would enforce.

8.       Thou shalt not steal

This is another good rule. We can all agree that stealing is wrong, it’s so obvious a point that people had figured it out by themselves before the 10 Commandments. Unfortunately, no details are given so it isn’t clear what happens to people who are forced to steal. The starving for example. Or imagine I have been kidnapped but I can escape by stealing the kidnapper’s car. Am I allowed to do this or is this prohibited?

9.       Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour

This is arguably the best commandment. Not only does it prohibit lying, but it gives details. It is not just lying that is condemned by specifically lying that hurts other people. After all, we all tell white lies, but it is false accusations and perjury that are prohibited. This is the level of sophistication and common sense that is lacking in the other commandments.

10.   Thou shalt not desire thy neighbour’s wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour’s house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or anything that is thy neighbour’s.

Several problems with this one. First of all greed and envy are inevitable and unavoidable, prohibiting them is like prohibiting farts. It’s going to happen whether you like it or not. Many argue that greed is actually a good thing and should be encouraged not banned. It is argued that greed is the driving force of capitalism and the main reason we do anything. Some say if we did not envy successful  people, we would have no motivation to improve our lives.

Secondly, it prohibits envying any of your neighbour’s property, including their wife. This is blatant sexism which views women as property like an ox. They belong to men and have no say of their own. It also describes servants as belonging to the master, which indicts they are slaves (they is a lot of debate on this, but I feel it reasonable to view this as including slavery). So God sees slavery decides not to condemn but only condemn envy of your neighbour’s slaves. And we call this God loving and just?

Thirdly, it punishes thought crime. Unlike the other commandments which focus on actions, this one deals with thoughts. It is an attempt at mind control. It isn’t enough to condemn teft and adultery, thinking about them must also be condemned. Totalitarian dictators tried to control every aspect of their subjects lives, but they never got inside their minds. Their thoughts were the one place where they could be free. However, religion tries to control even that.


So there is the Ten Commandments, a bunch of irrelevant, immoral, vague and simplistic rules that have done more harm than good. It is hard for anyone to look at them and believe that an all-powerful creator of the universe designed them, even I could come up with better rules and I’m a 21 year old student. In fact, I might just do that . . . .


Filed under Religion

24 responses to “The Terrible Ten Commandments

  1. My friend, there are loads of shit you can draw from these ten laws. Take the first one: God clearly implies that there are other Gods that exist other than him, but hey you are not allowed to follow any.

    Number 3 is celestial dictatorship gone more radical. In a free and democratic country you can criticize your boss and sometimes call him a dickhead, and he won’t send you to rot in the prison forever. But this God doesn’t let you make fun of his name otherwise you will rot in hell forever, not only for your life as your human dictator can do, but for the whole afterlife, and people have the courage to say the God loves you!

    Number 10, it sounds like there is no harm if your wife desires her neighbor! The important thing is that you, dirty mail pig, don’t desire her.

    • Yeah they are ridiculously flawed, even in how they are phrased. The neighbours wife or servants don’t seem to have any say in the whole coveting area. It doesn’t seem to be addressed to all people, but rather a reasonably wealthy male elite

  2. Some years back I recast the Ten Commandments in terms that I found meaningful. Here is the result.

    One. The truth is whatever it is. Do not prefer lies or illusions to fact.

    Two. Do not devote your life to the pursuit of money, popularity or social status.

    Three. Do not use the language of religion, patriotism or idealism to justify superstition, intolerance or cruelty.

    Four. Take time to rededicate yourself to your best aspirations.

    Five. Honor those who nurtured and taught you.

    Six. Do not treat the lives of other people as less valuable than your own.

    Seven. Do not break promises or betray trusts.

    Eight. Do not cheat or exploit people, nor deny them what is due to them.

    Nine. Do not speak of other people falsely or maliciously.

    Ten. Do not envy someone else’s possessions, reputation, achievements or happiness, nor make yourself unhappy by comparing yourself to others.

  3. Also, you might be interested in Bertrand Russell’s Ten Commandments. Like the Bible, he had two sets.

  4. Brilliant! It’s interesting that when I think about the 10 commandments, I remember the killing and stealing ones but have a vague blur about the rest – actually reading them all again for the first time in about 20 years I realise why! I don’t think any form of ‘commanding’ rules would be useful though, no matter how thoughtfully they’re worded. You’ve pointed out the flaws in the best ones already …

  5. I like how sam harris put it, these are not great commadements, and it would be easy to improve upon these.

  6. Nice deconstruction of the Lunatic Litany.

    Humans figured out right and wrong long before any formal/organised religion was ever concocted.

    Theism has always served as a means for a few to control and dominate a multitude. That is and always has been its main purpose.

    However, the most powerful “religion” in the world today is “capitalism” and it will soon be the “theocracy” that controls the entire human species. Mammon will become the “one true god”.

  7. tabitha75

    Blasphemy laws make no sense to me. How can there be a crime when there is no victim?

  8. I’m totally confused. I signed up to get emails when comments came through, and got loads. So I thought I’d come and look at them all in context and in order … and they’re gone! Am I crazy or stupid or have they all been removed for some reason? Now there are just other atheists agreeing with you, which is really rather disappointing.

    • Sorry but I’m not sure what you mean. I have an open comments policy and don’t delete comments. I certainly haven’t deleted or removed any comments from this post. I checked the spam folder, but there’s no relevant comments there (only spam). I haven’t received any notifications about comments. I’ve been getting a lot of comments on my other posts, perhaps there was some sort of mix up? Could you send me on details of who was commenting and what they were saying? I’m curious as to how this happened and what we’re missing out on.

  9. From my understanding of “Organization Behavior”, a part of business studies. Any organization shall define their committee in their own way.

    In this case, I agree with first 4 ten commandment (even I not Christian). The first four commandment determine who is Christian or may be follower of Moses within their scope of organization.

    In this case, I can just refer any professional bodies in world, i.e Engineering Council which I more familiar mention that to be a member of Engineering Council you must have a Eng degree with and must attend certain hour of course every year.

    What I can relate here an organization shall have a way to acknowledge their member and to educate their member. (Even I still can challenge on 2nd and 3rd commandment and the way of educate people in 4th commandment). The way how they interpreted the commandment is different issue, as we talk about concept of the commandment.

    As 5th to 10th commandment is general order to all member which should and easily be followed. As religion is a committee that everybody can join, it must be understand that “entrance qualification” must be simple and easy and can be adopted to all people especially low educated/ ex-criminal. Principle of moral/ethics will be adopted later as the main principle must being understand.

    I just can tell you, even 8th commandment are not easily being followed if you preach to mob/ gangster committee.

    • But these are supposed to be the 10 most important rules for all humanity. Surely entry requirements could be dealt with later? They hardly need half the rules to be a preamble. Aren’t they supposed to apply to all humanity? I think your point got lost in translation because I don’t quite understand what you are trying to say

    • Religion is committee of believing god (I believe everyone agreed). From my understanding it was important to define the identity of the religion and definition of religion.

      “10 most important rules for all humanity.”
      I see it was a basic command/order for human, not moral rules. I like to understand the fundamental of 10 commandment as below:-
      1) The identity of commander
      2) Proclaim of absolute identity
      3) A protection of identity
      4) Establishment of Education Institute/ news propagation
      5) Family rules
      6) Human rules
      7-10) Minimum Social-society rule

      The focus of this command are emphasize to individual basis but it reflect the whole society if the command is followed. The idea of ten commandment is simple and direct forward.
      For civilized people, this command was too easy to be adopted and normally neglected. So, for them an improve principle are require to be implement as principle of moral, ethics, commercial law, freedom, etc. This is a sub rules, if anything bad happen, the universal rules will overrules the sub rules to return back to original condition.

      If this command was adopted to chaos country, problematic society, it was a good basic command.

      Still, I believe it was an universal command. Sorry for my language and my opinion as an outsider who know little about Christianity.

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  12. Karl Smitisburgh

    This is soooo true

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  14. Regarding the 10 commandments, you have to keep in mind that it is man’s innate nature to seek the least path of resistance (you may have learned that if you took psychology depending on the course level) weather today or 2k years ago. That being said, going on that premise do you really believe someone would just randomly thrust out a set of rules that inhibit and essentially task (or be a burden) to mortal man 2k years ago? Who determined that having adultery is wrong? That coveting thy neighbors wife / house / animals is wrong? That stealing is wrong? Of course sin was widespread back then, but nothing like it is today, nor to the degree in which it currently is. That is why the commandments were handed down by God back then to teach man morality and the warnings of what is wrong. Any one that disregards the 10 commandments (which all represent good in life) must understand that morality is NOT chemically dependent. It is a signature that was imprinted in each of us by intelligent design (God) If you choose not to respond to this I will take it for granted that you are in total agreement that if everyone followed the 10 commandments (today) we would have a perfect society. If not, now that you know morality is not possible via evolution, I would love to hear your response (specific and succinct ) to which of the 10 commandments is evil, wrong, does not make sense, etc, etc. as your diatribe above slants toward encompassing all 10 c’s together in a melting pot and spewing out hatred, spontaneous utterances without forethought and completely lacks statesmanship. In addition, you pro-port more of a self centered egotistical nature. (no offense, just a subjective observation… you have to take this analysis and move forward).
    Nearly everyone believes that people ought to behave in a certain way—a moral code. Yet, in order for morality to be meaningful, biblical creation must be true. Since God created human beings, He determines what is to be considered right and wrong, and we are responsible to Him for our actions. We must therefore conclude that evolutionists are being irrational when they talk about right and wrong, for such concepts make no sense in an evolutionary universe.

    • “That being said, going on that premise do you really believe someone would just randomly thrust out a set of rules that inhibit and essentially task (or be a burden) to mortal man 2k years ago?”

      So just because rules exist, they must have come from God? I think you left out a few steps here.

      “If you choose not to respond to this I will take it for granted that you are in total agreement that if everyone followed the 10 commandments (today) we would have a perfect society.”

      Why would you think that? The name of the post is the Terrible Ten Commandments! Of course I don’t think they’re good rules.

      “I would love to hear your response (specific and succinct ) to which of the 10 commandments is evil, wrong, does not make sense”

      I literally listed them one by one and gave a comment. What more do you want?

      “spewing out hatred, spontaneous utterances without forethought and completely lacks statesmanship. In addition, you pro-port more of a self centered egotistical nature.”

      And you waffle a load of nonsense in a condescending tone (no offense, just a subjective observation… you have to take this analysis and move forward).

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