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Debunking the Ten Commandments

The first fatal problem with trying to justify a morality based on commandments like the Ten Commandments is that the notion of commandments is anti-contextual, that is to say, they don't take context into account at all. But there is no such thing as an action without context - all our actions exist in a context that dictates what values they effect. Therefore commandments are false automatically because they assume a fantasy world where actions exist without context.

Another fatal problem is that commandments go against the virtue of moral autonomy as a general rule. They do not appeal to reason but to intimidation and force. They are, in short, anti-values and anti-virtues - believers can only act to repress them in other people. Thus commandments do not give us morality but in fact take it away.

Many of these commandments demand death for people who break them, making them against personal rights and freedom as well. All of the Ten Commandments go against our current laws as well.

In this short analysis, I am very generous, using most charitable interpretations (except for the "kill"-is-really-"murder" nonsense), and not, for example, including productivity for commandment 2, where Christians would most likely ban the trade of such images as well.

All references are from Logical Structure of Objectivism. Anyone who wants to read more about the logical justification of each value and virtue is free to consult and search the chapter I've listed for each.

Political values are described in chapters 3 and 7 of Logical Structure of Objectivism. Living in a free society is valuable to the individual because it permits the individual to make moral choices free from the coercion of other individuals. Society provides the context by which we can cooperate peacefully with each other, in accordance with man's social needs and fulfill our more basic values.

The fundamental right is the right of self-ownership - that we own our own bodies and minds, and be protected against attempts to attack our moral autonomy. Corollary to this is the right of action - that we are free to control our own bodies and minds - and corollary to this is the right of property - that we can own the products of our own work. From these three rights are derived all other rights, such as the right of free speech (communication in one's media property), the right of free thought (thinking in one's own mind) and the right of self-defense (protecting one's life and property with one's property).


1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Opposing secular values and virtues :

* Autonomy - the commitment to acting by one's independent judgment. (ch. 6) Necessary for the use of reason.
Commandment 1 orders us to subjugate our judgment. A person's independent judgment that other gods exist, despite the lack of evidence for either position, is considered inferior because of this commandment. Failure to follow moral autonomy leads to prejudice, social control and ultimately thought control.

* Non-coercion - one should not initiate the use of physical force against others. (ch. 6) Necessary for a free society and the use of reason.
Since there is no initiation of force involved in "having other gods", to punish someone for it is a violation of the secular virtue of non-coercion.

Opposing secular political right : Right of free thought. Anyone should be free to rationally draw conclusions on the religion, if any, they should believe in... as long as they do not use that religion to attack other people's freedom or the integrity of our institutions, as Christians do.

Better secular principle : Don't accept claims without evidence.


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:

Opposing secular values and virtues :

* Art - selective re-creation of reality according to value-judgments. (ch. 4) Necessary for the concretization and integration of principles in one's life.
The secular value of art is based on "likenesses of things", and therefore goes against commandment 2.

* Non-coercion - one should not initiate the use of physical force against others. (ch. 6) Necessary for a free society and the use of reason.
Since there is no initiation of force involved in "making graven images", to punish someone for it is a violation of the secular principle of non-coercion.

Opposing secular political right : Right of free speech. Anyone should be free to make and sell art. To prohibit it is to use coercion against a victimless action.

Better secular principle : Make art according to your rational value-judgments.


3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain

Opposing secular values and virtues :

* Non-coercion - one should not initiate the use of physical force against others. (ch. 6) Necessary for a free society and the use of reason.
Since there is no initiation of force involved in "taking the name of God in vain", to punish someone for it is a violation of the secular principle of non-coercion.

Opposing secular political right : Right of free speech. Anyone should be free to say the name of any god in any way they want, as they are free to draw their own conclusions on religion and decide whether any god should be respected or not.

Better secular principle : We give power to words when we make them taboo. Destroying the taboo destroys the power of its words.


4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

Opposing secular values and virtues :

* Productiveness - the commitment to taking responsibility for achieving one's values. (ch. 5) Necessary to apply one's rational understanding into action.
Commandment 4 goes against the secular virtue of productiveness by limiting the individual's choices of production, making one day out of seven useless. It orders progress to be limited by fiat.

* Non-coercion - one should not initiate the use of physical force against others. (ch. 6) Necessary for a free society and the use of reason.
Since there is no initiation of force involved in productiveness, to punish someone for it is a violation of the secular principle of non-coercion.

Opposing secular political right : Right of action. Anyone should be free to work at any time they desire, in accordance with the demands of the free market. It is in the interest of some people to contribute to other people's free time, as weekend grocery sales demonstrate.

Better secular principle : Work whenever you want.


5. Honor thy father and thy mother:

Opposing secular values and virtues :

* Justice - the commitment to evaluating other people objectively and acting accordingly. (ch. 6) Necessary for the accomplishment of our values in society.
Interpreting commandment 5 very generously, as an order solely to praise or respect and not to obey, it still breaks the secular virtue of justice, in that it asks us to not evaluate objectively one's parents, or not act accordingly. In breaking justice, we almost always break the virtue of honesty also - the commitment to grasping the truth and act accordingly.

* Non-coercion - one should not initiate the use of physical force against others. (ch. 6) Necessary for a free society and the use of reason.
Since there is no initiation of force involved in "taking the name of God in vain", to punish someone for it is a violation of the secular principle of non-coercion.

Opposing secular political right : All of them, potentially. Our societies make children subservient to their parents in the name of social stability, supported by the political power of parent voters. We must reject any such subservience as a breeding ground for incompetence and abuse, religious or otherwise.

Better secular principle : Judge your parents and act accordingly.


6. Thou shalt not kill.

Opposing secular values and virtues :

* Non-sacrifice - the recognition that one should not devote oneself to other people's values. (ch. 6) Necessary for the accomplishment of our values in society.
By demanding that we forego self-defense in favour of extreme pacificism, commandment 6 demands sacrifice, breaking the secular virtue of non-sacrifice.

* Commandment 6 also stands against forms of recreation such as hunting.

Opposing secular political right : Right of self-defense, as anyone should be free to use lethal force against a lethal threat, and right of action, in the cases of most animal killing.

Better secular principle : Defend yourself against the initiation of force.


7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.

Opposing secular values and virtues :

* Justice - the commitment to evaluating other people objectively and acting accordingly. (ch. 6) Necessary for the accomplishment of our values in society.
By demanding that we forego certain kinds of relationships, commandment 7 goes against the secular virtue of justice, in that it demands that we do not act accordingly to the desirability and willingness of others to participate in consenting sexual relations.

* Commandment 7 also stands against the value of sexuality, in certain contexts.

Opposing secular political right : Right of action. Anyone should be free to enter into consenting relationships with others, in accordance with their rational judgment.

Better secular principle : Relationships should be guided by the consent, values and needs of the individuals, not religious institutions.


8. Thou shalt not steal.

Opposing secular values and virtues :

* Non-sacrifice - the recognition that one should not devote oneself to other people's values. (ch. 6) Necessary for the accomplishment of our values in society.
By demanding that we forego stealing necessities of life in emergency situations, commandment 8 demands sacrifice, breaking the secular virtue of non-sacrifice.

Opposing secular political right : Stealing is permitted in emergency situations where one's life is threatened. In this case, the virtue of non-sacrifice, as discussed, applies.

Better secular principle : When your life is in danger, think about your life first.


9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

Opposing secular values and virtues :

* In its non-political form, goes against prudent predation and some other special contexts. In its political forms, however, there would be more important values against it, including the right to free speech.

Opposing secular political right : Right of free speech. Anyone should be permitted to tell untruths about other people's lives, as long as they do not commit fraud in so doing, simply because determining truth and untruth is the responsibility of each individual.

Better secular principle : Assume responsibility for your speech and actions.


10. Thou shalt not covet...

Opposing secular values and virtues :

* ALL values we do not already possess.

* Purpose - the commitment to values and accomplishment based on them. (ch. 4) Necessary to apply one's rational understanding into action.
* Integrity - the commitment to acting in accordance with principles in pursuit of long-range values. (ch. 5) Necessary for a healthy moral character (i.e. action in accordance with reason).
* Productiveness - the commitment to taking responsibility for achieving one's values. (ch. 5) Necessary to apply one's rational understanding into action.
By demanding that we not pursue values that we do not already possess, commandment 10 forces us to forego purpose, integrity and productiveness in most contexts.

* Non-coercion - one should not initiate the use of physical force against others. (ch. 6) Necessary for a free society and the use of reason.
Since there is no initiation of force involved in coveting, to punish someone for it is a violation of the secular principle of non-coercion.

* The repression of feelings is also extremely counter-productive and mentally damageable, leading to a degradation of all spiritual values.

Opposing secular political right : Right of free thought. It's absolutely ridiculous to prosecute anyone for their emotions, as they are facts of the human brain. To even propose this as a commandment is the height of the absurd, but it's expected from a religion which also supports stoning for the sins of their fathers.

Better secular principle : Emotions are not a standard of knowledge. Treat emotions as they are - guides to your internal states. Don't repress or give into them, but treat them like any other fact.


It's interesting to note how almost all of these commandments threaten man's moral autonomy. No wonder presuppositionalists argue so strenuously against moral autonomy... the so-called foundation of their morality consists of a litany of hatred against it. To this, we must make clear that reason, not faith, is the sole foundation of knowledge, and that moral autonomy and freedom, not subjection, are the foundation of a moral and responsible society.

To the Christian hatred of the individual, we must oppose love of reason and freedom. We must make clear that everything, even the Christian presuppositions, start from the individual mind, not from doctrine. This is our "theology of salvation".