The Ten Commandments 2.0

Here are the foundational moral principles by which to live our lives, according to:

God

1. I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

3. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain: for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

5. Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

6. Thou shalt not kill.

7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.

8. Thou shalt not steal.

9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.

From the King James Version, Exodus 20:1-17.

Christopher Hitchens

1. Do not condemn people on the basis of their ethnicity or their color.

2. Do not ever even think of using people as private property.

3. Despise those who use violence or the threat of it in sexual relations.

4. Hide your face and weep if you dare to harm a child.

5. Do not condemn people for their inborn nature.

6. Be aware that you, too, are an animal, and dependent on the web of nature. Try to think and act accordingly.

7. Do not imagine you can escape judgment if you rob people with a false prospectus [i.e. by lying to them] rather than with a knife.

8. Turn off that fucking cell phone.

9. Denounce all jihadists and crusaders for what they are: psychopathic criminals with ugly delusions and terrible sexual repressions.

10. Be willing to renounce any god or any faith if any holy commandment should contradict any of the above.

The blog Common Sense Atheism points out a couple of flaws. (But I think Number 8 is key!)

Greg Epstein

1. Seek the best in yourself and in others, and believe in your own ability to make a positive difference in the world.

2. Pursue truth and honesty in all you do; and be wary of allowing power, status, or possessions to substitute for moral courage, dignity, and goodness.

3. Be positive and constructive rather than negative and disrespectful.

4. To be healthy, you must balance work, play, and rest.

5. All members of the family should respect each other.

6. Same (Do not commit murder).

7. Same (Do not be unfaithful to your husband or wife).

8. Same (Do not steal).

9. Same (Do not lie or speak badly about others).

10. When you see nice things owned by others, let them be your inspiration, rather than a source of bad feelings. If there are things that you want, work hard to get them.

From his book Good Without God. Epstein clarifies that this is merely an exercise in providing a humanist response to a specific religious text. “But in looking for an ethical code for today, we shouldn’t necessarily think we can get by through merely formulating responses to the Ten Commandments. Doing so would imply, after all, that the early Jews and Christians had their ethical priorities straight in a way that they did not. Certainly the vision of what was ethically best for a group of priests and rabbis two millennia ago shouldn’t have the final say on what issues are most ethically pressing today.”

Sam Harris

If you think that it would be impossible to improve upon the Ten Commandments as a statement of morality, you really owe it to yourself to read some other scriptures. […] [W]e need look no further than the Jains: Mahavira, the Jain patriarch, surpassed the morality of the Bible with a single sentence: “Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being.” Imagine how different our world might be if the Bible contained this as its central precept. Christians have abused, oppressed, enslaved, insulted, tormented, tortured, and killed people in the name of God for centuries, on the basis of a theologically defensible reading of the Bible. It is impossible to behave this way by adhering to the principles of Jainism. How, then, can you argue that the Bible is the clearest statement of morality the world has ever seen?

From his book Letter to a Christian Nation. I suppose one might argue that human nature would lead some people to do terrible things anyway, with or without religious exhortations; but at least with a benign religion — or no religion at all — such people would be harder-pressed to argue for the moral rightness of their actions.

Adam Lee

1. Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.

2. In all things, strive to cause no harm.

3. Treat your fellow human beings, your fellow living things, and the world in general with love, honesty, faithfulness and respect.

4. Do not overlook evil or shrink from administering justice, but always be ready to forgive wrongdoing freely admitted and honestly regretted.

5. Live life with a sense of joy and wonder.

6. Always seek to be learning something new.

7. Test all things; always check your ideas against the facts, and be ready to discard even a cherished belief if it does not conform to them.

8. Never seek to censor or cut yourself off from dissent; always respect the right of others to disagree with you.

9. Form independent opinions on the basis of your own reason and experience; do not allow yourself to be led blindly by others.

10. Question everything.

From his blog Ebon Musings, where he discusses each of these principles in detail. He also offers a critique of the Original Ten.

It seems to me that the point of all these exercises is to demonstrate that our values shouldn’t be slavishly dependent on a tribal code of ethics formulated over two thousand years ago. Rather, our morality should arise from our best ideas today — from our ability to critically examine our traditions in order to keep what’s good and discard what’s irrelevant, and from our ability to think creatively, independently, and bravely about the best ways to respond to our modern moral dilemmas.

Hitchens says it best: “Don’t swallow your moral code in tablet form.”

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