Rewriting the 10 Commandments

With all of the talk from many people on the religious right, I have thought many times about what would I say are the 10 most important rules or laws that society should live by. Obviously those like Pat Robertson, Ted Haggard, and others would like us to use the 10 commandments from the bible. But Which Ten Commandments?

Unfortunately that is a question for another time. If it’s one you’re interested in, I highly recommend checking out that link. But in the meantime, I’ll go with the typically understood (at least in the US) version of the 10 commandments.

So let’s see what we’re talking about here:

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

There are certainly a few worthy ideas in this list

George Carlin had his take on these 10 commandments:

And while Carlin was a genius, and I can never hope to hold a candle to his wit, I think he did miss a few ideas. He focused only on what was already there, and not what was missing. I hope to come up with what I feel is the definitive list of rules to live by. And like Carlin, I am not shooting for a specific number, if it happens to be 10, so be it. If not, then it’s not a big deal. The idea is to have the best rules, but a specific number of rules.

So with that in mind, let’s see where we should start.

For me personally, I find the biggest oversight of the bible, and of the founding fathers of the country I live in to be not condemning slavery. So I think the best place to start off a list of laws to live in a society should be: You shall not own other people.

Next up, I think most people would agree that protecting children is an important job for any civilized society. But there are many way to mistreat children, from pedophilia (I’m looking at you catholic church) to mental abuse (Jesus Camp) to neglect (parents who pray instead of getting their children medical help) and more. So to include all of them in one easy to remember rule I have the idea: You shall protect children from harm.

Now I don’t want to throw away all of the old commandments, at least not without a reason, so I think this is a good time to see what is most useful from those original 10. Carlin makes the point that the first four are just ridiculous, so I see no need to rehash that. But not murdering seems like a very good idea. However I think it can be improved slightly: You shall not kill, except in the case of defense of self or others.

Carlin does a great job condensing the rest of the 10 commandment into one simple one, and I see no reason to argue with his take on it, other than one slight edit: You shall always be honest and faithful, especially to loved ones.

So far we have a good list of rules, but obviously there are many things that will come up over time that I have not thought of already. So something akin to the “golden rule” seems like it would do a good job of showing the forethought that these original rules did not do. The original “golden rule” says do unto others as you’d have them do unto you, which is all well and good, but has a serious flaw; just because YOU might want something done, does not mean others would. But if we turn it on it’s face, it seems that it may work better: You shall not do unto others what you would not desire done unto you.

Now that last one is good, but it does not cover everything. Perhaps you’re the type of person who would want somebody to harm you, and therefor that one would not stop you from harming others. with that in mind, it should quickly be followed up with: You shall strive to cause no harm which can be avoided.

Now one thing that has always struck me is that most sets of laws say what you can not do, or in a few cases what you must do, but none of them say what you should do from a moral perspective. And I think that in MOST cases this is good, but perhaps not in all cases. I want a rule that would proactively help to avoid something liek the holocaust from those who have no regards for the rights and lives of others: You shall fight against evil and not shrink from the responsibility of being a good citizen of the world.

The next rule is one that I think would make the world and ever increasingly better place to live in for all time, and one that really just seems like the type of think that anybody who cares about future generations should already be striving to do: Leave the world a better place that it was when you got here.

That last rule I think would serve humanity well for all time is one that could potentially call into question even this list itself. It is one based on curiosity, knowledge, understanding, and a search for the way things work. Nothing is so sacred that it is beyond questioning, no belief so well-supported that it does not need any more reexamination, and that includes those ideas put forth in this list: Question everything.

And with that, I find my list at a stopping point, but not necessarily complete. I invite others to critique my list, to make suggestions, to point out what I may have overlooked, and to follow these rules themselves, and in doing so, hopefully make the world a better place.


About Rodibidably

Jeff Randall is a frequent volunteer for free-thought organizations, including the Center For Inquiry – DC. Having been blogging since January 2008, he decided that a community of bloggers would be an interesting new experience (or at the very least a fun way to annoy his friends into reading his posts more frequently). Since finding out about about the existence of, and then joining, the atheist/skeptic community in 2007 he has been committed to community activism, critical thinking in all aspects of life, science, reason, and a fostering a secular society.
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7 Responses to Rewriting the 10 Commandments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Nice. One suggestion – my understanding of the definition of “murder” is that it is unjustified killing. So, killing in self-defense (or in defense of others) is by definition not murder.

    Murder is also commonly defined as “unlawful killing”. Killing in self-defense or in defense of others is not unlawful, so it is not murder.

    Common usage seems to support both these definitions. We dont say a U.S. soldier murdered an Iraqi soldier. If a girl is being attacked and she kills her attacker, we describe it just like that – “She killed him” as opposed to “She murdered him.”

    • Jeff Randall says:

      You are correct. It should say “kill” instead of murder, because IMO the ONLY justification for killing is defense of self and others. All other types of killing ARE murder.

  2. Sarah says:

    cool 🙂

  3. poietes says:

    Carlin was the master, hands down.

    I like your list. It makes complete sense. The last four, though, are the best, kind of a blend of Native American, Confucius, and Einstein. My kind of thinking.

    • Jeff Randall says:

      Carlin was a genius, and the fact that he is dead and Dane Cook still lives is yet another nail in the coffin of the idea that there is a god… 🙂

      I’m glad you like the list. It seems to me that not only would it be a great start to a society, most of the ideas here just seem obvious to me, and therefor should be fairly easy to follow. Obviously history has many examples of these not being upheld but I think part of the reason for that is that many people don’t see some of these ideas as goals, and frankly they should…

  4. Jakob says:

    Have you seen this?

    Christopher Hitchens take on the ten commandments.

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