Many think of religion as obedience to a set of moral laws or commandments. While it is true that there is a "moral obedience" component to religions, in most cases this is a gross over simplification. At the minimum, there are rituals, meditation and/or worship involved. In all of these, there are different attitudes and different notions as to what is being accomplished by a given religious observance in the context of a particular tradition. We will lay this discussion aside for the moment but it is well to keep it in mind as we consider what many think is the common moral center of humanity.

As far as a moral center is concerned there are common features but not complete agreement. This is what would be expected if the notion of law had a common origin. Adam and Eve had a simple regime of laws indeed only one commandment: "Do not eat of that tree." Jewish tradition has it that God gave Adam and Eve a set of rules when they left the garden to establish justice on the earth. These rules were expanded and given to Noah as the Noahide Laws.

According to traditional Judaism, G-d gave Noah and his family seven commandments to observe when he saved them from the flood. These commandments, referred to as the Noahic or Noahide commandments, are inferred from Genesis Ch. 9, and are as follows: 1) to establish courts of justice; 2) not to commit blasphemy; 3) not to commit idolatry; 4) not to commit incest and adultery; 5) not to commit bloodshed; 6) not to commit robbery; and 7) not to eat flesh cut from a living animal. These commandments are fairly simple and straightforward, and most of them are recognized by most of the world as sound moral principles. Any non-Jew who follows these laws has a place in the world to come. The Noahic commandments are binding on all people, because all people are descended from Noah and his family. ( 11/26/09)

There is scriptural warrant to think that all people actually do have some inbuilt notion of what the law of God requires:

13For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) (Romans 2.13-15)

The contrast that Paul is making is between the Jews who have the revealed Law of God and the gentiles who do not. The wider point is that it does little good to have the revelation if you ignore it. But the observation that we can make with Paul is that this sort of moral center exists and we can perhaps explore it. (Additionally there is a long tradition of laws as can be seen here most these codes were thought to be of divine origin.)

This discussion is centered on the Ten Commandments from the Bible that can be found in Exodus 20.1-17 and repeated in Deuteronomy 5.6-21. These may form a summary of Judeo-Christian morality but they are by no means the last word. For example, the Jews have found 613 mitzvot or commands in the Torah and there are numerous other regulations in the Halakah. But strict obedience to these is not the sole purpose of religion in the Christian (or even the Jewish) sense. In his book on the 10 commandments Alistair Begg, a Christian, paraphrases Psalm 19.7-13:

The laws of God are not irksome to His children. They are precious and sweet. They warn of danger on either side of the path and there is great reward in keeping them (Begg p.191)

Here we see that the attitude of the heart is key to the observance of the law and this attitude transforms the observance of regulations into the joy of obedience. From inside a particular religion this attitude is not uncommon. From outside religious circles the rules, laws or commands sound like restrictions.

Following is an attempt to compare the fundamental commandments of world religions with the Ten Commandments from the Bible. There are those who do not think that the Bible or Christianity is not clear on these either so I offer a short discussion on that topic here. The fact that there should be this moral center that would be reflected in these commandments is fundamental to the Moral Argument for the existence of God, but that is yet another discussion.