Human Interest


Even if you’re not a religious person, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the Ten Commandments. It could have been from news reports about the controversy surrounding Alabama Supreme Court Justice, Judge Roy Moore, or from the Charlton Heston movie of the same name, but most people over the age of 50 are at least aware the Ten Commandments exist.

The majority of Americans see the Ten Commandments as a religious symbol. In the book of Exodus in the BIBLE, God delivers these commandments to Moses at Mount Sinai after he delivers the Israelites from decades of bondage. Moses was chosen by God to lead, “His people” from slavery to freedom, and after their migration to Mount Sinai, God presented Moses rules for “right living”. Those were the Ten Commandments which for centuries have been the foundation from which Judeo-Christian principles and ethics have guided human society’s development and enabled civilization to survive and flourish.  

I fear, however, the Ten Commandments are victims of mis-interpretation of the separation of church and state. Instead of protecting religion, this separation has suppressed it, and led to the removal of all religious symbols from public buildings and all religious references from public discourse. Amendment I of U.S. Constitution states the following: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”. This brief sentence clearly states that “freedom of religion” means the U.S. Government cannot legislate restrictions on religion nor can it establish a state religion. Also, the government cannot prohibit citizens from practicing their religion. Modern judicial rulings, however, have actually had a negative effect on public religious expression by banning prayer, eliminating any reference to God, and removing displays of religious symbols such as the Ten Commandments. I don’t think the founding fathers had any such restrictions in mind. 

The best known recent example of the separation of church and state was the controversy surrounding Alabama Judge Roy Moore. Moore was the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court who had the audacity to have a granite block etched with the Ten Commandments on display in his courtroom. Later, on the wall of his courtroom, he displayed a wooden tablet with the Ten Commandments carved on it. For these terrible practices, and because he was  accused of basing his judicial rulings on religious principles, he was removed from office. More about that later.

Why, then, are the Ten Commandments so controversial? Why are they hated and erased from public consciousness? I will attempt to answer that question, but first, a synopsis of the commandments.

Of the Ten Commandments, civilized society recognizes only two of them as crimes against our fellow man. “Thou shalt not kill,” the strongest commandment, is punishable by death or life imprisonment. Currently, murder is shunned by society as the ultimate evil, but more and more elected politicians seem to favor more lenient punishment. “Thou shalt not steal,” is the second of the crimes against society. But theft, looting, shoplifting, etc. are being given a pass in today’s world. These crimes are not punishable unless the stolen items are valued above a certain dollar amount. On occasion stealing has been regarded as “reparations” for prior racial  oppression. 

The other eight commandments are moral judgements that God intended as guidelines for harmonious relationships between men, women, children, and God. For these commandments to have meaning, one has to believe in God and have a moral conscience. It is these commandments which stir the brew of controversy and anger many people. Some of these are regarded as modern adult behavior and are OK, as long as no one gets hurt.

“Thou shalt not commit adultery,’ means husbands and wives should be faithful to one another. No fooling around, no mistresses, no lovers! Are you kidding? Haven’t you been to the movies, lately, or watched sitcoms, dramas, or “family shows.” Infidelity is portrayed as normal, red-blooded American behavior. You’re weird if you don’t have affairs. Do you suppose that’s why so many marriages end in divorce?

“Thou shalt not covet,” your neighbor’s house, wife, car, or his success. You shouldn’t be jealous of your neighbors or lust after his wife. This is destructive behavior which leads to infidelity or animosity. Again, modern culture portrays covetousness as competition, not sin. Be happy with your achievements and blessings because they come from God’s grace toward you. “Keeping up” with your neighbors leads some to financial ruin.

“Thou shalt not bear false witness,” means you should not lie. In today’s world, it’s impossible to know who’s telling the truth and who’s not. We have to view anything we hear with skepticism because lying is pervasive. Facts get twisted, misrepresented, or prejudiciously interpreted to further a cause or discredit someone or something. This commandment is ignored more than any.

“Honor your father and your mother,” because they conceived you, brought you into the world, reared you, educated you, and loved you. They gave you the tools to have a productive life. Be obedient to their rules. However, God did not want parents to be abusive, drug-addicted, alcoholic, or neglectful. He wanted family love and harmony. Today, we see dysfunction and rebellion far too often. 

The last four commandments do not fit with modern society. People have trouble relating to them because God and religion are being eliminated from society and have no place in many lives. These are:

   “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me”

   “Thou shalt remember the Sabbath day”

   “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images”

   “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”

Many people view the Ten Commandments as suggestions and not dogma. The principles aren’t taken seriously by a majority of the population. Muslims remember the Sabbath every day while many Christians are religious only on Sunday. Taking the Lord’s name in vain is commonplace in movies and personal conversations. People have become desensitized to profanity and can’t speak without cursing. Because of the open acceptance of profanity, even  U.S. Presidents use it.

“Graven images” and “other Gods before me” refer to our personal idols and things that control our thinking and behavior. We worship false gods who don’t represent good. An example might be Elvis Presley whose every word or move stirred us into an unrealistic frenzy.

Or our minds get entangled in activities that lead to us to ruin like gambling, substance abuse, or pornography. These diversions become our god, and we are led to destructive behavior and isolation from and rejection by loved ones. 

So why are the Ten Commandments taboo? Why are they being eliminated from public consciousness? After all, they were given to Moses so his people would have a set of standards by which their lives would be right in the sight of God.   

One reason is the false concept of separation of church and state. Religion, it’s said, should not be promoted by governmental agencies or bodies because of a twisted interpretation of the First Amendment. Conversely, and wrongly, the government has erased, and actually suppressed any trace of religious expression. People are led to believe religion is something only the uneducated care about.

A second reason is the commandments represent principles that millions of “modern” people reject. Today’s “moderns” don’t believe in God and don’t accept religion. They believe they, not God, are in charge of their lives, and they are responsible only to themselves. They are free to do whatever they want, whenever they want, without judgement. Their sense of right and wrong becomes skewed and adultery, lying, covetousness, and swearing become acceptable behavior. Their only accountability is to themselves. They say the Ten Commandments were principles for another time, a totally different society than now exists. They are antiquated ideas  designed to make us feel guilty. So, like Vice President Dan Quayle’s comments about family values, mocked mercilessly by the media, the Ten Commandments are just part of religious fantasy and are suggestions, not dogma. 

This attitude has led to a conflict between the religious and the non-religious that extends into all aspects of life. The religious are cast as ignorant, crazy, and believing in fantasy while the non-religious are amoral and unethical liars. Changing the minds of either side is impossible. Christians believe the Ten Commandments are a blueprint for a life pleasing to God—a life unencumbered by sin. Today’s “moderns” reject these principles because they are accountable only to themselves and think sin is a concept for a past era. 

I see no agreement or common ground on the Ten Commandments. Disagreement will only worsen. The religious will extol them while the secular will disparage them. It’s another of the elements that deeply divide modern America. These differences must be resolved or America will not survive as the land of opportunity it has been for 256 years.


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