Many atheists–including Aron Ra, Christopher Hitchens, and George Carlin–have already commented on the 10 commandments. So what do I have to add? Nothing but my unique perspective. I want to tackle these supposed divine commandments because I believe doing so is one of the most effective ways to demonstrate that the Bible is not divinely inspired.
Since the only version of the Bible that all Christians seem to agree on is the King James version, I’ll be using that in this post. Let’s dive in, shall we?
1. “I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” – Exodus 20:2-3
Wait a minute, I don’t remember God bringing me out of Egypt. This is must be a reference to the Jewish people’s escape from Egypt as described in Exodus 14. Since I never had to escape from Egypt, and since I’m not even Jewish, I have to wonder whether these commandments even apply to me. But Christians insist these commandments apply to everyone, that they are the foundation of morality and should be displayed on public property. How can that be if they were obviously written for bronze age Jews?
Here’s another question: How could I have any other gods if there are no other gods? The answer is simple: When the 10 commandments were written, there were lots of gods. Until about 2600 years ago, most religions were polytheistic. In fact, even the Israelites worshipped other gods such as Asherah and Baal. But Yahweh was the god of the armies, and eventually his followers declared that he was the only god. (For a detailed account and a list of sources, watch A History of God.)
2.“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under 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. ” – Exodus 20:4-6
At the time this was written, it was common for pagans to carve idols out of wood or stone and worship them. But God is very jealous. He’s the only real god, so only he should be worshipped, right?
I was an agnostic for several years before I started to realize just how strange and creepy it is that God wants to be worshipped all the time. Apparently he gets some sort of pleasure out of seeing people wave their arms in the air or fall on their knees and moan. I can understand him wanting to be loved and thanked, but worshipped? It’s the kind of demand you would expect from an evil god.
The other thing that bothers me about this commandment is the idea that you can be punished for the sins of your grandfather and great grandfather. So if my father’s father’s father (who I never even met) worshipped graven images, am I going to be punished for that? I thought God was supposed to be just.
3. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” – Exodus 20:7
This one seems so petty. If I stub my toe and yell, “Goddamnit!” do I deserve to go to Hell? I also find it disturbing that we’re on the third commandment and there’s still no mention of murder, rape, or slavery.
4. “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” – Exodus 20:8-11
This is even worse the last one. Apparently God rested on the seventh day (an all-powerful God needs rest?), so we have to do the same for some reason.
In a way this is my favorite commandment because it’s the one Christians ignore the most. They praise companies like Chick-fil-A for being closed on Sundays, but they have no problem working on Sundays themselves. After all, a lot of jobs require you to be available on Sundays, and everybody’s gotta make a living, right?
Wrong. Check out Numbers 15:32-36: “And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day. And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him. And the Lord said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the Lord commanded Moses.”
Seems a little harsh. Surely Christian apologists have a good explanation for this story. I checked the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry. According to them, God wanted to make an example of this man. Nice.
You might be tempted to point out that technically the Sabbath is Saturday. Go ahead. It doesn’t change any of the points I’ve made.
5. “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” – Exodus 20:12
This one seems pretty reasonable. But what about children with abusive parents? I guess we’re supposed to assume God makes exceptions in these cases, although it doesn’t say anything about exceptions. It’s amazing how many assumptions we have to make when reading the Bible. You’d think God could have been more specific.
6. “Thou shalt not kill.” – Exodus 20:13
We’ve finally gotten to the commandment about murder. Notice it didn’t even make the top 5. Perhaps these commandments aren’t meant to be in order of importance, but then why didn’t Moses add, “In no particular order” before revealing the list? God had to know people would assume the first commandment is the most important and the tenth commandment is the least important. You could argue that they’re all equally important, but then you’d be saying that taking God’s name in vain is as bad as murder.
Also, there really ought to be a huge asterisk next to the word “kill.” According to the Bible, killing is justified in the case of children who curse their parents (Leviticus 20:9), adulterers (Leviticus 20:10), false prophets (Zechariah 13:3), fortunetellers (Leviticus 20:27), homosexuals (Leviticus 20:13), nonbelievers (2 Chronicles 15:12-13), witches (Exodus 22:17), women who are found not to be virgins on their wedding night (Deuteronomy 22:20-21), and so forth. The list goes on and on.
Christians are fond of saying that the laws in the Torah don’t apply anymore because thanks to Jesus we are under a new covenant. If that’s the case, then why do the 10 commandments (which are also found in the Torah) still apply?
7. “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” – Exodus 20:14
Fair enough. Although I can a imagine a few possible exceptions. For example, what if someone in an abusive relationship leaves and eventually sleeps with someone else while he/she is still technically married?
8. “Thou shalt not steal.” – Exodus 20:15
Another good one. But again, exceptions are possible. Can you blame a starving child for stealing bread? This is why I don’t believe morality can be a simple list of do’s and don’ts.
9. “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” – Exodus 20:16
Yet another good one. I’m pretty sure this is about being a witness in a court of law, in which case it’s an excellent rule.
However, some Christians believe it is about lying in general. If that’s the case then I have to disagree. There are many circumstances in which lying is the moral thing to do (a classic example is of someone lying to the Gestapo about whether he has Jews hiding in his attic).
Morality isn’t about following a list of rules; it’s about minimizing suffering and maximizing happiness in whatever way is necessary.
10. “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.” – Exodus 20:17
It’s now clear that God set up the rules so that failure would be inevitable. It’s human nature to want things you don’t have. Granted, for your own psychological health you shouldn’t obsess over your neighbor’s possessions, but how can it be considered a crime to do so? That is completely unreasonable.
Well, that’s it. The 10 commandments. They are said by many to be the foundation of Western civilization, yet they say nothing about pedophilia, rape, slavery, or genocide. Perhaps if they did, there wouldn’t have been so many religious atrocities throughout history.
Of course, there are people who will completely ignore every point I made in this post. They’ll tell themselves that I’m not seeking wisdom from the Holy Spirit, or that Satan is confusing me, or that I’m misinterpreting the commandments because I don’t understand Hebrew, or that I’m not considering the full historical context, or something else.
But if God wants the whole world to follow these commandments, why did he make them so confusing? If Moses had written down a clear list of rules that included things like rape and slavery, and if he had written them in every single language, modern and ancient, I would be so impressed that perhaps I would believe they really were divinely inspired.
As it is, I see no reason to give these commandments any more weight than all the other “divine” commands supposedly given to men throughout history.