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A decalogue is a version of the ten commandments . There is more than one version.

I wrote an earlier topic a few years ago, about the concept of sin and the ten commandments, before I knew of the Liberal Decalogue, though that was published in 1951. It certainly never came up while I was attending a Catholic grade school .We were taught only the Church approved Biblical version of the ten commandments (Decalogue)

There are two different versions of the Decalogue in the Bible, one is in Exodus 20, the other is in Deuteronomy 4 ; this chart compares them.

The ten commandments are also called the Ritual Decalogue or Ethical Decalogue.

Augustine in the 5th century also devised a new presentation of them.

The first five books of the Bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, are referred to in other parts of the Bible and by Jesus himself, as the books of Moses.

How could a single author record two different versions of the Decalogue even if the differences are minor? One possibility is God changed his desired wording of such an important document, between the two versions of stone tablets given to Moses. Another possibility involves a mistake in hearing the word of God before Moses recorded them differently on the stone tablets. Since God is supernatural he has no body and therefore no vocal chords, an organ found in many animals in nature for making sounds. The human being told the word of God via a 'voice in the head' might not be understanding the entire message correctly. Perhaps the more likely possibility is the interpretation of whatever Moses had written changed between the two versions. Another possibility is God speaks through something natural, like a person who is possessed. There are stories of a voice from heaven or in a mountain top cloud or from a bush (none of these sources has vocal chords) but again there is no assurance this message is conveyed correctly and that message via a nonhuman source is from the correct supernatural deity.
Either possibility brings up a critical point when reading ancient scriptures: it is impossible for anyone to know which biblical passages are the 'correct' interpretation of the 'word of god.'

In 1951 the British philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote the Liberal Decalogue, see below. This is an interesting non-religious view of proper ethics, using recommendations rather than the strict 'you shall not' commands in the Bible's Decalogue.

A Liberal Decalogue
by Bertrand Russell (1951)



    This Liberal Decalogue first appeared at the end of the article "The best answer to fanaticism: Liberalism" in the New York Times Magazine (16/December/1951). It was then included in The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, Vol. 3,  1944-1967.
    It shows the usual sharp mind and tongue of Bertrand Russell, never more at ease as when presenting his unconventional ideas.
    Perhaps the essence of the Liberal outlook could be summed up in a new Decalogue, not intended to replace the old one but only to supplement it.
    The Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate, might be set forth as follows:

    Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
    Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
    Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
    When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavour to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
    Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
    Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
    Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
    Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent that in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
    Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
    Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool's paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.


I see the Biblical decalogue (either of the two versions) is also called either the ritual decalogue or the ethical decalogue. Perhaps this nomenclature helps distinguish the liberal decalogue from the others.

The biblical decalogue is characterized by direct commands from someone either God, or Moses acting as his agent) exerting their authority. Most begin with 'thou shall not' while the liberal decalogue presents common sense recommendations. Man is a social creature and as a community or a social group develops a culture it will also develop its own rules for acceptable behavior. so rules like don't kill, don't lie, or don't steal would be present already in the local culture even before the introduction of a Christian religion. A culture defines behavioral norms while a religion defines which deity is responsible for unexplainable catastrophic events.

I find it rather ironic commandments for don't kill and don't steal are in the book of Exodus while in Deuteronomy-4 God tells the Jews to conquer and kill their enemies.
I also find it interesting the first commandment has God proudly declaring: "Thou shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God,..."


    Jealousy is an emotion; the term generally refers to the thoughts or feelings of insecurity, fear, concern, and envy over relative lack of possessions, status or something of great personal value, particularly in reference to a comparator.

Jealousy has connotations of insecurity, which seems incongruous for an all powerful supernatural being. However jealousy (and insecurity) could lead to the authoritarian tone in the Ethical Decalogue.
If someone remarks God did not mean that kind of jealousy then I must refer the reader to the point made above (near the top) about Moses and interpretations.
The ethical decalogue is a definition of ethics for an Abrahamic religion.

For a reference for ethics found in cultures outside of the Biblical influence following are links to the ethics defined in several Eastern religions. These religions offer ethical guidelines not rigid commandments. The descriptions in this format is awkward but I hope their respective rules can be grasped. I do not feel competent to provide my own complete interpretation (since I was raised Catholic though I can follow the perspectives below). I hope this coarse presentation still offers a general comparison with a Decalogue. The links are provided to the content being referenced.

Taoism also known as Daoism, is a religious or philosophical tradition of Chinese origin which emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao (literally: "the Way"). The Tao is a fundamental idea in most Chinese philosophical schools; in Taoism, however, it denotes the principle that is the source, pattern and substance of everything that exists. Taoism differs from Confucianism by not emphasizing rigid rituals and social order.

Taoist Ethics
By Bill Mason

Embracing the Mystery
Taoist Principles

Taoist Principles
By Bill Mason

Dynamic Balance
Cyclical Growth
Harmonious Action

Here is a summary of Buddhist ethics.

The Four Noble Truths refer to and express the basic orientation of Buddhism in a short expression: we crave and cling to impermanent states and things, which are dukkha, "incapable of satisfying" and painful. This craving keeps us caught in samsara, the endless cycle of repeated rebirth and dying again. There is, however, a way to end this cycle, namely by attaining nirvana, cessation of craving, where after rebirth and associated dukkha will no longer arise again. This can be accomplished by following the eightfold path, restraining oneself, cultivating discipline, and practicing mindfulness and meditation.

Here is a college's definition of chinese ethics, with another perspective on Confucianism.

The decalogue is part of the Abrahamic religions but is not part of the Eastern religions. The diversity of humanity must always be recognized especially when realizing different religions arose out of different cultures.

Date created 05/15/2018
Date changed 07/04/2018

removed broken links 12/04/2018

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