This article is one of the Unity Classics written by legendary leaders of Unity. Some date back decades, even a century. That’s why the language may seem a bit formal, and the writers sometimes used masculine nouns and pronouns that were considered proper for their era.

The phrase “The Ten Commandments” has become the “great cliché” of Western religion. Often it is used as an excuse for noninvolvement with the religious establishment. “Oh, I don’t go to church. I just live by the Ten Commandments. What more can one do?” Yet how many persons who parrot the cliché could repeat even five of the commandments? Or locate them in the Bible? Or even have a Bible in their homes?

We have been taught to keep the commandments, and we have kept them all too well. We have enshrined them like religious relics in sealed containers on the altar. Thus, it could be said that one lives by the commandments in much the same way as many persons live by a neighbor, never learning his name, let alone having any understanding communication with him.

If Jesus was anything, he was an iconoclast, breaking with the traditions of the past, and giving emphasis to the “practice of the Presence” in the present. He sets a tone that clearly indicates his belief in the need for every individual to break down the tablets of stone so as to find in them a workable formula for victorious living. He said: Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time … But I say unto you … (Matthew 5:21 ASV).

Undoubtedly, a widespread commitment to the truth of the Ten Commandments could touch off a great spiritual Renaissance in the world today. But this could happen only if there were a mass commitment to the breakup of what Gilbert and Sullivan call “platitudes in stained-glass attitudes.” If we could break through the crystallized shell of the Decalogue, we would discover some marvelous guidelines for the integrated life. How great is the need in our society for spiritually integrated people!

Our Mistaken Ideas

The religious world is rife with clichés. The Ten Commandments is only one. Michelangelo’s masterwork on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel has helped to create another. It is the stereotype of God as a man. True, it is a big man, a powerful man, a majestic and wise figure of a man, but still a man, with all the possibilities of wrath and capriciousness. Cecil B. DeMille made skillful use of this cliché in the motion picture The Ten Commandments, which is thus a grossly misleading caricature. For though we do not actually see the big man “out there,” we hear the booming voice of wrath, and we see the “work of his hands.”

Paradoxically, the commandments themselves are intended to turn us from this very kind of distorted imagery. The hand of God etching the commandments on tablets of stone is cinematography at its best and communication at its worst. For it completely misses the symbolism that is so important to understand the narrative of Moses’ spiritual experience. It totally misses the full meaning of Mount Sinai.

We have been taught to keep the commandments, and we have kept them all too well. We have enshrined them like religious relics in sealed containers on the altar.

For generations, Bible researchers have tried in vain to locate Mount Sinai, the high mountain on which Moses is supposed to have received the tablets of stone from God. Perhaps they have been looking in the wrong place. [Unity cofounder] Charles Fillmore defines Sinai metaphysically as a “high or exalted state of consciousness.” Because of the cliché of the big man “out there,” we repeatedly lose the sense of infinite Mind “in whom we live and move and have our being.” In the account of Moses’ wilderness experience, he seems to say, “You don’t have to go anywhere to get into infinite Mind.” For at the burning bush, he records hearing a voice from within, saying, “Put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5).

It is important to recall that Moses came to Mount Sinai after many years of spiritual development in the wilderness of Horeb. During this period, there evolved within him a strong awareness of the omnipresence of God, and of man’s oneness with “the One.” All else in the Sinai story must be seen against this backdrop. In his inner search for ways to help his people to find their freedom, he perceived that the causes of their suffering were in their attitudes and sense of values. His goal was to bring them into an awareness of “the Lord our God is one” (the Jewish Shema). These were undeveloped people, thus, in an experience of cosmic perception (Mount Sinai), he evolved a set of guidelines that were designed to meet their needs at the level of their ability to comprehend.

Outgrowing Morality Laws

Look carefully at the commandments. It appears that they are restrictive laws set down by fiat of the divine dictator. Surely they seem to be careful lines of conduct by which the Israelites must live. However, law is not coercive, but supportive. The commandments were (and are) fences to keep the undeveloped ones from wandering. Children need fences, and teenagers may need curfews and times of “grounding.” But there must come a time when they “put away childish things” and move on toward maturity and self-reliance.

The Ten Commandments are usually considered to be the basis for morality. However, morality deals not with spiritual law, but with “accepted rightness.” Recent history has revealed dramatically that it is a short step to the rationalization that “everyone is doing it.” The great need of every person is to understand his inherent spiritual nature, and thus that it is not a matter of what is being done, but what is the very best he can do. It is not enough to be superior to other persons; we should strive to be superior to our former selves. Beyond morality is a whole new dimension of metamorality. It is the deeper meaning in the Ten Commandments …

Metamorality is an idea whose time has come. It could be a powerful instrumental in bringing light and effectiveness into all the many well-meaning attempts to create a moral climate in our schools, our business community, and in our political system. Don’t be bashful in bringing its message to the world. But keep a balance by remembering, “Let there be peace (integrity, honesty, fair play) on earth, and let it (them) begin with me.”

Excerpted fromBreaking the Ten Commandmentsby Eric Butterworth (Unity Books, 2011).