THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
(A.K.A. THE DECALOGUE)
Their current status
Topics covered in this essay
Comparison of the Decalogue with modern social beliefs:
The Ten Commandments have widespread respect in North America,
even among some Atheists, Agnostics, and other non-Christians. However, many of
the individual commandments are currently ignored. Some -- particularly
those dealing with slavery, expecting non-Judeo-Christians to worship only of
Jehovah, and treating women as property -- are considered quite immoral and
intolerant by today's secular standards.
The following table compares the original commandments with today's
||No other Gods
||Only the Hebrew God is to be worshiped.
||Our Multi-faith culture accepts
worship of Buddhist, Hindu & other Gods/Goddesses.
||No graven images
||No images or likeness allowed of anything in heaven or on
||Images are frequently used:
crucifix, cross, statues, photos, symbols, etc.
||God's name in vain
||Keep any oath to God made while signing a contract.
||No longer applicable. We do not usually take oaths when
||Worship every Saturday.
||No longer done by almost all
||Victims of childhood abuse often reject parents. Some store elderly
parents in nursing homes.
||Do not murder people.
||Capital punishment and homicides widespread in
the U.S. - higher than for other industrialized countries. Physician
assisted suicide being introduced.
||Men may not have sex with married or engaged women
||Not well followed. Various surveys indicate an adultery rate in vicinity of
||Kidnapping people into slavery prohibited.
||Not applicable; slavery
abolished in North America.
||Perjury remains a serious crime.
||Coveting neighbor's possessions
||No coveting his house, wife, slaves, animals or any other
||Coveting is a feeling, not under conscious control, and thus is not a
sin. We no longer keep slaves. Most of us no longer consider wives as property.
In modern-day society, we appear to have rejected many of the Ten Commandments. Even as
we maintain a high level of respect for the Decalog, few people can fully recite them.
fewer know their true meaning, and very few actually follow them as
||Commandment still followed closely:
||#9 - Prohibition of perjury in courts.
||Commandments that are often broken:
||#5 - Abusive parents often not honored. About one in three elderly parents
in nursing homes
are abandoned by their families and never visited.
||#6 - Murder rate high, particularly in the U.S. Capital punishment
in many states. Assisted suicide is available in Oregon.
||#7 Adultery is widespread.
||Commandments considered redundant:
||#1 - Worship of other Gods is allowed in a multi-faith culture.
||#2 - Images (drawings, symbols, statues, photos) are acceptable.
||#3 - Oaths to God are no longer sworn when signing legal contracts.
||#4 - Saturday religious services are not widely practiced by Christians
||#8 - People in North America are no longer kidnapped into slavery.
||#10 - Our entire economy is based on coveting neighbor's property. Slavery has been
abolished. Women are no longer considered property, except by abusive
boyfriends and husbands. Coveting a
neighbor's possessions is a feeling. Psychologists recognize that feelings
are generally outside a person's control and are thus not sinful.
Of the above, there are three commandments whose current meanings are very different
from the original. They have essentially been re-written:
||#3: This has changed from not violating an oath associated with a legal contract, to not
using God's name when swearing.
||#7: This originally prohibited a man (whether married or not) from having sex with a woman who is married or
engaged. It is now applicable to both men and women. Some have further
expanded its meaning to include sexual activity between a married person and any person
who is not their spouse (whether the latter person is married or not)
||#8: This originally banned kidnapping people into slavery. it is now interpreted to
prohibit all stealing.
Does the Decalog need to be changed?
Seventh Day Adventists and other Sabbatarian
denominations (churches which worship on Saturday) believe that the original Ten
Commandments, were intended as
a universal set of rules for all people and eras. Thus they will never need to be revised;
they will never go out of fashion. Other conservative Christian denominations
generally agree, with the exception of #4 (worshiping on
Religious liberals might point out that the sets of commandments
were drafted some 3 millennia ago for a pre-scientific, religiously intolerant society in
which women were considered property, slavery was widespread, numerous sins and
crimes punished by the death penalty, religious freedom was restricted, and polygyny was common. Since the
Ten Commandments were written, western culture has changed in dozens of ways.
We have, for
||Become multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-faith.
||Given women the vote.
||Approached equality of opportunity for men and women (except in the Armed Forces and
||Replaced polygyny with monogamy or serial monogamy.
||Essentially eliminated the death penalty in all western countries other than the
||Banned the practice of burning people alive.
||Begun to accept people with a minority sexual orientation as deserving of
full human rights.
||Increased the importance of individual human rights.
Elsewhere on this web site, we have outlined
some of the negative effects that the Ten Commandments may have if posted
in a government office or public school. Also listed are two attempts to
produce revised sets of Ten Commandments that are compatible with modern
A large percentage of people regard the Decalogue as being of prime importance. They are
regarded by many as the fundamental moral commands of the Judeo-Christian faith. But not
that many adults are aware of what the Ten commandments actually say:
||A poll by the Sunday Times in London England revealed that only 17% of Anglican
clergy were able to cite all 10 commandments. The poll is believed to have been held in
||We are searching for other surveys. Any help would be appreciated.
Dr. William Snell, Jr. of the Department of Psychology at Southeast Missouri State
University is conducting a series of "Psychology Investigations" via the Internet.
One survey called "Religion and the Ten
It studies "people's views about religion and religiosity. Volunteers taking the
survey are "asked to respond to a series of questions about the Ten Commandments,
several other aspects of religion/religiosity, and parenting behaviors."
A report on this study is not yet available. 1
The First Amendment Center and the American Journalism Review
released the results of a poll on 2003-AUG-1. They found that:
||60% of adults said that it was acceptable to post the Ten
Commandments in government offices.
||35% said that they should not.
N = 1,000. margin of error is 3.1 percentage points. 2
Related essays on this website:
"...Psychology Investigations conduced by Dr. William E. Snell...,"
"Survey: Majority of Americans OK With Ten Commandments, Pledge in
Public," Religion News Service, 2003-AUG-5, at:
Copyright © 1999 to 2007 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2007-SEP-26
Author: B.A. Robinson