The Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) is one of the oldest and simplest set of laws ever laid before man, and yet all these thousands of years after they were transcribed by Moses on Mt. Sinai, they're still widely taught and known throughout both Western and Eastern societies.
What is it about these commandments that make them able to withstand the test of time to be handed down this many generations, and why is it that people still feel the need to teach them to their children?
In the following paragraphs, we'll answer those questions and discuss why we still teach the ten commandments:
1. They Make Society a Better Place
First and foremost, the ten commandments retain their importance in modern cultures because of their positive effects on society as a whole. The fundamental principle of most of the commandments is to “do unto others, as you would have others do unto you.” For example, if you follow that logic, you would not have to be told not to steal, commit adultery, or murder. Thus, the commandments establish a very basic agreement between all citizens that they will not do serious harm to each other as long as these commandments are held.
2. They Resonate with All Generations
The key to the ten commandments' longevity is that they can never become outdated. Regardless of your era in history, you would never want someone to steal from or murder you or someone you know, nor would you ever teach your kids to do something like that (this is true for most people at least). These are just fundamental wrongs that we inherently know are not good for us as a species, and it is therefore easy for society as a whole to embrace and promote these principles for millennia without interruption.
3. They Help People Improve Quality of Life
In addition to advising people against actually committing horrid crimes, they also discourage you from having potentially destructive thoughts. For example, being jealous of someone else's belongings or their spouse, or obsessing over something to the point where you're idolizing and deifying it in your mindset. These are negative personality traits that the ten commandments aim to address, and they're lessons that most of us can agree upon.
Is Morality Subjective?
There is a huge debate raging about whether morality is subjective or universal. Many argue that there are no universal “rights and wrongs,” and this is true on an advanced level (many states and countries have different laws, for example).
However, on a basic level, nobody wants to be robbed or murdered, so to somehow justify that killing or robbing another person could be considered “right” in a unique individual's mind, does not mean that the act itself would bring about a righteous, virtuous, or admirable outcome, as defined by the definition of those words themselves.
We can all agree that words do have definitive meanings, and since we are free to express ourselves and describe our experiences using words that have very absolute definitions, we can therefore deduce absolute definitions of right and wrong, based on whether the outcomes would be desirable on a society-wide basis. For example, if everyone began killing and robbing each other, would that be good for society as a whole? Of course not, therefore those acts are intrinsically “wrong” or “bad for us.”