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Sin and the Ten Commandments

The Biblical Ten Commandments seem an attempt to define wrong behaviors or sins within a Christian religion. According to Wikipedia and the ‘Augustinian’ division, they are:

1) Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

This aligns with the autocratic rule of the Egyptian Pharoah and the Persian King, whose political structure could serve as a possible model for those living in the wilds of the Middle East. Oddly this commandment has absolutely no bearing on interpersonal conduct so committing this sin will affect no person.

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

This is rather similar to the first commandment, apparently directing the Biblical followers there can be no dissension, but rather only submission to the autocratic rule. Again, like with the first, committing this sin will affect no person, though perhaps its occurrence might lead to some agreement among those dissatisfied with their ruler (so such dissension must be suppressed and this commandment is one to support that effort).

3) Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.

The idea that humanity must work on only 6 days, with no work to be done on the 7th, is odd within the context of religion. The reason given is the Lord blessed the sabbath day. Again, just like with the first two, committing this sin will affect no person but will just offend the supernatural entity.

However in a practical sense for contemporary society, everyone should take some time away from daily labors, to spend time with family. At the time of Genesis, the Jews did not live in large communities so the daily social networks were much simpler. The justification for this commandment is from the supernatural, not from the family or community.

4) Honor thy father and mother.

Humanity (not just the countries influenced by the Judeo-Christian religions) has a family centered social organization, as in family first, community second. This commandment is only restating the existing social structure for human beings should be maintained. Committing this sin (weakening the family unity) causes discord in the social organization.

5) Thou shalt not kill.

This commandment is in line with continued health of any community. Committing this sin is harmful to any community, for many obvious reasons (fear, longevity). Oddly, at various times in the Old Testament God actually commanded his followers to kill others in clear violation of this commandment (like Numbers 21, Numbers 31, Leviticus 26, Leviticus 27, 1 Samuel 15).

6) Thou shalt not commit adultery.

This commandment is also in line with the continued health of any community. If the spousal relationship is not honored by the community, then the foundation for the human social structure will crumble. The family raises the children, so a broken parental relationship will affect the children. The family unit allows labor specialization to benefit the community through efficient use of its social and material resources, so a broken or distrustful (like suspicion of adultery) husband/wife relationship affects their emotional well being and that distress could affect their interactions with others. Committing this sin can be very disruptive to a community.

7) Thou shalt not steal

This commandment is also in line with the continued health of any community as long as the ownership rules are clear. Stealing implies a violation of the rules for property ownership. If a community has some concept of common vs individual property, stealing has different consequences for the respective types of property. Committing this sin can be disruptive to the economic organization of any community.

8) Thou shalt not bear false witness

This commandment not to lie is also in line with the continued health of a social community, where trust and respect for one’s neighbors is important. Committing this sin implies the sinner should not be worthy of the trust and respect of others.

9) Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house.

10) Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s.

These last two commandments are apparently a recognition of inherent inequalities of any social organization.

Every human being is not identical and has different skill sets with different personalities. It is natural for someone to be in some way more valuable to a community or a social organization than others. People have to accept and be tolerant of these inherent differences. It is important to recognize personal relationships should always be more important than material possessions.

It is ironic, considering the 10th commandment, that capitalism is such a widespread economic model given those with the capital seek to use the efforts of others but by offering only the absolute minimum possible compensation for those efforts. This tendency to widen any economic inequalities, where those that are rich get richer while those that are poor are unlikely to ever leave that lower class, must lead to those at the bottom wishing to have the possessions and comfortable living observed with the upper economic classes. The current method of advertising in nearly every form of media (print, television, internet, billboards, etc.) so integral to our consumer economy  is based on seeking a behavior (wanting what one does not currently have) counter to the 10th commandment.

When exploring the notion of sin, the first 3 commandments are barely relevant since the transgression is against a god not a human, so they have no role in interpersonal behaviors. The other commandments apparently attempt to define expected behaviors in a simple social structure, which is based on the family for raising children and for labor specialization (since the spouse can learn and apply skills to benefit the community without worrying about someone else taking the children or the other spouse while occupied in applying those skills).

The needs of society have certainly changed as the world’s population grows, leading to increased urbanization. Small rural communities have different rules for behavior, where everyone knows everyone else, compared to large urban communities, where many in the community are strangers but are expected to follow certain norms. The 10 commandments might seem appropriate for a small community where trust in one's spouse and on others in the neighborhood is very important.

As humanity has grown, authoritarian organizations find it easier to take root where a small number of people can maintain control over the larger majority. This is seen in governments (bureaucracies hinder empathy, leading to the abuse of many; wars between countries result in deaths and misery for many but with the leaders having no remorse for those suffering as the inevitable ‘collateral damage’) and in corporations (people are treated as a resource to be consumed, just like the earth’s minerals).

The original commandments implied there would be some level of empathy among those in the small community. Large social organizations enable those at the top to no longer treat those at the bottom as human beings. The concept of sin is plainly insufficient to manage this situation. Respect for those in a lower economic class, or of another race or religion, or in a foreign country is important but so often lacking in contemporary society; unfortunately there are few consequences for such unsociable behavior. The commandments are not focused on unsociable behavior but rather on conformance to expectations of a supernatural god.


created - September 2013
last change - 09/02/2013
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