The term "Decalogue" or "Decalog" is derived from the Middle English "decaloge" which comes from the Latin "decalogus," which in turn originates from the Greek "dekalogus." "Deka" in Greek means "ten".
The Ten Commandments are a brief summary of certain basic rules of behavior. They do not specifically address some of the most active of today's moral controversies, such as abortion, corporal punishment of children, the death penalty, equal rights for homosexuals, same-sex marriage, physician assisted suicide, pre-marital sex, etc.
There are three versions of the Decalogue mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament). All are different. They are at Exodus 20:2-17, Exodus 34:12-26, and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. The version in Exodus 20 is by far the most commonly cited.
Depending upon how Ten Commandments are interpreted, the Exodus 20 version contain a total of 19 to 25 separate instructions. These have been traditionally sorted into ten groups. Unfortunately, various faith groups sort them differently. This makes inter-faith dialog very difficult at times, and can cause conflicts over which version of the Decalogue is to be displayed.
Do Christians follow the Ten Commandments?
Although the Ten Commandments are held in high respect by many Christians, two of them are routinely broken by some Christian denominations -- at least if they are interpreted literally:
Should everyone follow the Ten Commandments:
The U.S. is the most religiously diverse country in the world. Southern Ontario in Canada is regarded as the most religiously diverse region of any country in the world. Both nations share a legacy of religious freedom and religious tolerance. The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution as requiring a complete separation of church and state. Canadian culture largely separates church and state by tradition. However, the Ten Commandments were created within an entirely different culture with very different expectations of its citizens. It was a theocracy where church and state were blended. Everyone was expected to follow the state religion. A person following a different religion or proselytizing a different faith could find themselves sentenced to death.
This culture clash has produced criticisms of some commandments within the Decalogue:
What the public believes about the Ten Commandments:
There is a gap between what the Ten Commandments actually state, and what the public perceives that they say. Most people incorrectly believe that all of the Commandments govern moral behavior in society: to not lie, steal, commit adultery, etc. In reality, the first four commandments are religious in nature, uniquely related to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They are offensive to the followers of many other religions. Only the last six relate to moral behavior in society.
A widely believed misunderstanding is that the entire Decalogue forms the foundation for the North American legal system. The statement by Sonny Crawford and Pat Lazenby, grand presidents of the Order of Eagles is typical. The Eagles is the service group that sponsored the installations of hundreds of monuments containing the text of the Decalogue across the U.S. They wrote in a joint statement: "The Fraternal Order of Eagles has promoted the Ten Commandments not in an attempt to impose religion on the masses, but rather in recognition of their role in the very foundation of our legal system...Our very laws are built on the bedrock moral precepts of the Ten Commandments." This is only partly true. The first half of the Ten Commandments are a series of commands about the recognition of God. It is only the second half that deal with actual behavior towards other humans. The latter are common to almost all religious systems and are seen in many religious and secular law codes -- some of which preceded the Ten Commandments. Law codes in the U.S. and the rest of the western world are derived from a variety of sources, including the Ten Commandments and Pagan Roman laws.
Some North Americans feel that everyone should follow all of the Ten Commandments, whether they be Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Wiccan, etc. They push for the Decalog to be posted in schools, court houses, publicly owned parks, etc. where people will get the impression that the governments and school boards promote Judeo-Christianity.
Others feel that posting the Decalogue can generate religious conflict, and make some of the public feel like second-class citizens. Some feminists, civil libertarians and others find portions of the Ten Commandments repulsive. They favor restricting the Decalogue to religious and other private property.
Legal battles about displaying the Ten Commandments:
Governments in the U.S., including public school boards, are required to remain neutral on religious matters. This means that:
Posting the Ten Commandments clearly promotes the main Abrahamic religions -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam. By requiring religious services on Saturday and threatening people if they do not worship Yahweh, the Commandments denigrate the remaining world religions which are followed by about half of the human population. Thus, to be constitutional, the Ten Commandments cannot be posted in isolation. They can only be displayed along with other sets of religious laws in order to meet the first criteria. They must be accompanied with secular laws to meet the second criteria. That is, they would have to be part of a cultural display.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the Fraternal Order of Eagles erected as many as 4,000 markers, statues, and monuments featuring the Ten Commandments in public parks, government buildings, etc. Some were involved in the promotion of the 1956 film, The Ten Commandments, and were dedicated with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner present. They played Moses and the unnamed Egyptian Pharaoh in the movie.
There were occasional lawsuits filed prior to 2002 to force the removal of these monuments. In 2001. the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court order that a Ten Commandments monument in Elkhart, IN, be removed. It has since refused to hear similar cases. Conflict escalated in 2002-NOV, when U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled that the presence of Chief Justice Moore's Ten Commandments monument in the Alabama state courts building "constitutes government endorsement of religion." He ordered that it be removed. Since then, dozens of lawsuits have been launched across the U.S. Many have been launched by branches of the American Civil Liberties Union in different states, and by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
USA Today reported:
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Consultants on Religious Tolerance