- You shall respect no gods other than me
- You shall create no images to serve
- You shall not use my name for vanity
- You shall rest in creation
- You shall understand your parents
- You shall not murder
- You shall not cheat on your partner
- You shall not take which is not yours
- You shall not make claims of actions done by others that you know to be false
- You shall not choose to envy others
How can it be that for thousands of years the Abrahamic religions and their followers have found meaning in the Ten Commandments, however, with a modern mind they just don’t make sense as rules to govern society. Ostensibly, the first four are vanity on the part of God, then worse the next arguably supports enabling family abuse in its most literal sense. This leaves only the last five which are seemingly fundamental rules that practically every government in the world enforces in some form. Therefore, even the value in these last five statements must be independent from the religion itself. With the modern mindset, these commandments seem to range between common-sense to aggressively wrong. One could argue that whoever decided these to be the commandments is doing so out of shortsighted vanity, otherwise all of them would be result in real, tangible benefits to society. It is not hard to see how so few people know what the full list of commandments is when they are at best paid lip service, and at worst used as an archaic tome to justify illegitimate authority.
There have even been cases of individuals writing their own secular commandments. Cristopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and even Bertrand Russell threw his ideas into the ring. These alternative commandments can be consistently boiled down to ideas like, be kind to people, find ways to be happy, and exercise free thought. However, the imagined scenario these individuals are writing for is consistently that of a priest dictating rules for their congregation. In reading things like; “Do not condemn people for their inborn nature”, “In all things, strive to cause no harm” and, “Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric”, It is clear they are clearly written to be ‘for other people’ and made with good intentions. It is true that if everyone followed these alternative commandments then we would have a better society. The failing for any of these to be influential is that these are functionally shallow ideas, typically already integrated into the personality of the writer, and ultimately might as well be saying “if more people were as reasonable as me then there would be less suffering”. Despite this, the major concession is that these written alternative commandments can easily be imagined to produce better societies if they were genuinely shared by the wider community. Given the fact that so many people can write better ‘rules for society’ suggests that the intent of the Ten Commandments is not to be ‘rules for society’.
I am going to reframe the commandments in the following pieces in a way that I have not seen done before. The Ten Commandments will be reframed as if they are written by God, that is to say the entity which has your personal highest interest in mind. Given the fact that this writing could easily get bogged down in the details of what exactly God is, for the sake of the following pieces I will replace God with the secular idea of the ‘conscience’. The value in this short hand swap is because, with respect to the enactment of the Ten Commandments the written description of both God and the conscience are very close.
- God, a judgmental character determining who gets into paradise and who doesn’t based on a value system he wants you to succeed in. However, God is quite willing to damn people who do not follow him. God’s ostensible plan is set out so that an individual can succeed and spend eternity in paradise.
- The conscience, an entity pressures you to make the right decisions which almost always have long term benefit, and an individual can know if they are acting against their conscience by asking it. Those times we go against our conscience and things then go wrong we can feel significant internal strife, guilt, regret, and depression. The motivation of the conscience seems to align with long term success such that, if taken to the extreme, one could build paradise on earth.
This also allows the following discussion of the Ten Commandments to occur without the baggage associated with discussing religious texts and what wider descriptions of God should or should not be included in an absolute description.
The Ten Commandments exist within the domain of truth. For something to be really ‘true’ it must be able to model the future, and the more initial conditions that can be allowed for a given truth, makes that truth more true. In effect, if statement X and statement Y are both true, then the one that is an accurate model of the future under more circumstances is more true. In effect “the sun will rise tomorrow” is a statement with more truth than “I will eat tomorrow”. Now imagine if we were to create a computer of enormous size, with access to all current information and capacity to model the future. It only has one job, to make an ruleset for life that would promote success regardless of the individual conditions of a person; place, time, or wealth should not be required for the ruleset to function. What would a model like that produce? If one were to consider humankind through time to be a kind of computer, then it might be possible that thousands of lifetimes across the world with iterations through hundreds of minds have brought forth the Ten Commandments as possibly the most “True” considerations one should use to govern themselves, regardless of an individual’s personal circumstances. The depth of their truth might even justify the seemingly vain order the commandments are placed in.
For the following pieces I have also iterated on the King James Bible’s version of each of the Ten Commandments. I have done this in large part for readability, particularly with respect to the final commandment which lists a menagerie of things that God does not want you to want. However, I will be addressing the specific wording of the particular Commandment when it is relevant to its understanding. It is worth noting that this is not the first time the Commandments have been changed to address a new culture so I hope it can be forgiven in this instance.
I hope that through these writings I am able to adequately reframe this ancient information so that it may once again be contemporary wisdom. I will detail the value and meaning I have found in each of the Ten Commandments despite the discredit awarded by my secular mindset and scientific disposition. In modern times it is right that if the truth inherent to the Ten Commandments is not evident on examination then they should rightly be disregarded as so many have done.
I have found a vein of understanding that I think is of the highest importance and I hope you will do me the honour of reading further as I reconcile the Ten Commandments.
Onwards: The First Commandment