What is the importance of the Ten Commandments for modern society?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As general principles for living, the Ten Commandments (found in the book of Deuteronomy in the Bible) contain excellent principles by which to live. The first four commandments are specific to an individual's personal relationship with God, though of course everyone does not believe in God. In general, however, those four commandments suggest that maintaining a healthy respect for the Deity in which one believes is a good thing. For those who have no such belief, these commandments should be seen as harmless because they only concern an individual's relationship with his Creator and should not impose anything upon those who have no such relationship.

  1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
  2. You shall not make idols.
  3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet.

The last six commandments concern how people treat others with whom they have a relationship. Respecting parents is a tenet which is nearly universal, and doing so is not likely to result in any harm. In fact, fostering a respectful relationship between parents and their children is generally considered to be a good idea.

Of the next five commandments, four of them have been codified as laws in cultures all over the world. Committing murder or adultery (which is not always categorized as a crime but is certainly not generally considered to be socially acceptable), stealing, or lying (specifically under oath) are all laws which keep order and maintain justice in civilized societies. 

The last commandment has to do with coveting; while this is not against the law, coveting (which is more than a casual wishing for) is not a good idea because of what it can lead to if it is taken to the extreme. Desiring someone else's possessions too much can lead to theft; lusting after an unavailable person can lead to adultery; coveting what someone else has achieved can lead to bitterness, envy, and even class or race warfare. Coveting can lead to a general dissatisfaction with life, even if a person never acts on the desire.

America was founded on Christian principles and tenets, including the Ten Commandments, and they have served as a foundation for many of the country's laws. Following the first four commandments will help Christians maintain a faithful relationship with God; following the last six commandments will help citizens maintain basic civilities and respect in their relationships with others.

pholland14 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Some of the Ten Commandments could be considered good rules to live by even if one is not necessarily a religious person.  There are rules all over the world against killing and theft.  Adultery is usually considered socially unacceptable.  Honoring one's parents is a good idea because it is essentially harmless, and it is usually a good idea to have a good relationship with one's family.  Lying is considered socially unacceptable as well, especially in social interactions and business dealings.  Taking at least one day a week off from work (honoring the Sabbath) is a great way to recharge from a busy workweek and could potentially keep one productive.  Coveting can lead to lying and stealing to get something that one does not already possess.  

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