Ten commandments of the six hundred or so scattered through the Old Testament; we keep them all, of course! They were the rules that Moses gave to his people to keep them in harmony with God. How many can we even remember (spoiler: Exodus 20)? How relevant can they be after, maybe, 4000 years? If we were writing ten commandments for ourselves today, what would they be? What would they be for us? Because the trouble is that we generally think rules should apply to other people.
Life has changed in the last 4000 years. Violence has decreased dramatically, even though most people don’t believe it. We do know that executions for frivolous offences such as shoplifting and poaching, and sadistic punishments such as flogging, amputation, impalement, disembowelment, breaking on the wheel and burning at the stake, have all but disappeared from society, making the atrocities of ISIS be widely condemned instead of just fitting a world-wide pattern. Even in Donald Trump’s USA, gun ownership is declining and gun manufacturers are filing for bankruptcy (yes they are!). Most of us don’t need to be told not to kill, but what about “No killing”? Should we withdraw our support from armed forces trained to kill?
So, what rules should we adopt to control our behavior now? We do need some rules because living peacefully in a society requires that we can predict how someone else will react to any situation. This gives us confidence to deal with them without fear. Society standards change in response to accumulated changes in the standards of many individuals. That leads some of us to bewail the deterioration of morals, but leads Christians to think that they have an opportunity to influence the whole world by personally adopting high, relevant, moral and ethical standards.
The thing about no stealing, for instance, requires a common understanding of property. Is avoiding inheritance tax the same as stealing funds from the treasury that would otherwise provide hip operations? Is downloading music without paying royalties the same as stealing? Resting one day a week: what about couriers working 24/7 just to make ends meet?
When the ten commandments were held in highest regard, many Christians nevertheless made their money out of the slave trade; we must try to avoid such double standards. We sometimes know that something is wrong, but also believe that “Everybody does it”, like exceeding the speed limit, for instance. This is never more obvious than when children refuse to wear elements of their school uniform, or want to sleep over at a friend’s house whose parents you don’t know. It is less obvious when it means investing money in activities that damage people or the environment, or worse, not even asking where our savings are kept for a good return.
Rules, commandments, laws, or principles, are there to restrict our behaviour. The best ones are those we impose on ourselves. Unless they do prevent us living more pleasurably, they are not much use. To be influential in changing society, they do have to be visible but without that bragging element of “I am better than you are”. So, what are your top ten commandments?