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Sep 15 2013

Since you consider yourself greater than God

Sometimes the aphoristic compression of Twitter can be useful.

Noel McGivern @Good_Beard

The Ten Commandments are a useless code of morality they ignore rape and child abuse and put the vanity of an imaginary deity before murder.

Harper @Irishbloke

@Good_Beard Would you mind giving me your 10 commandments since you consider yourself greater than God?

Harper’s reply sums up a lot of what’s so wrong and terrible about religious thinking, in just those few words.

One part is the circularity that enables the firmly closed mind. He assumes that there is god and that god is moral and “great,” and thus that it’s an outrage to think about “The Ten Commandments” at all.

Given this firmly closed mind and this focus on the wholly irrelevant (imagine derailing a discussion of the First Amendment into a discussion of the character of, say, James Madison), Harper simply ignores the substance and goes for a plain old “shut up, that’s why” instead.

But the substance is the point; it’s the point of what Noel McGivern said and it’s much of the point of atheism. The Ten Commandments suck. Harper makes himself unable even to perceive that by means of his dogmatic assumptions.

Mine? Sure, why not.

  1. Don’t be cruel.
  2. Love justice.
  3. Embrace equality.
  4. Practice compassion.
  5. Be generous.
  6. Do what you can to make the world better.
  7. Aim for truth.
  8. Think carefully.
  9. Share what you learn with others.
  10. Amuse.

34 comments

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  1. 1
    Alverant

    A link to a recording of George Carlin’s monolog about the 10C is all Good_Bread deserves.

  2. 2
    Marcus Ranum

    “Be nice to your fellow animals”

    So, a couple years ago I was visiting a friend, who is pretty devout and has 2 kids. Somehow the topic of religion came up, and I asked if she’d like to see something cool. I turned to her kids and said “hey, let’s play 10 commandments!” and pulled out a notepad and a pen, and got the kids to rattle off a couple ideas for commandments. They got into it and it was oretty fun, actually. We made a short list and read it off to their mom, who was suitably impressed. Then I said, “Isn’t it interesting that in 10 minutes a 12 year old and a 9 year old can come up with a better set of precepts to live by than your god?”

  3. 3
    Marcus Ranum

    Another fun thing to do about the 10 commandments is figure out whether the person is talking about Cecil B. DeMille’s 10 commandments or the ones that allegedly came from Moses. Because a huge percentage of Americans seem to have confused the two.

  4. 4
    machintelligence

    I don’t claim to be greater than God — just morally superior.

  5. 5
    sawells

    I claim to be greater than God in the sense that I am real and God is fictional.

  6. 6
    Al Dente

    All we need is Bill & Ted’s “Be excellent to each other.”

  7. 7
    Peter N

    Christopher Hitchens’ Ten Commandments are pretty good:

    How might a decalogue look if it was written for the 21st century? I never quite trust myself beginning a sentence by saying “thou shalt not”, but let’s see if we can adapt this famous question.

    Number One: Do not condemn people on the basis of their ethnicity or their color.

    Number Two: Do not ever even think of using people as private property, or as owned, or as slaves.

    Number Three: Despise those who use violence, or the threat of it, in sexual relations.

    Number Four: Hide your face and weep if you dare to harm a child.

    Number Five: Do not condemn people for their inborn nature. Why would God create so many homosexuals only in order to torture and destroy them?

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

    Number Seven: Do not imagine that you can escape judgment if you rob people with a false prospectus, rather than with a knife.

    Number Eight: Turn off that fucking cell phone. You can have no idea how unimportant your call is to us.

    Number Nine: Denounce all Jihadists and Crusaders for what they are: psychopathic criminals with ugly delusions and terrible sexual repression.

    Number Ten: Be ready to renounce any god and any faith if any Holy Commandments should contradict any of the above.

    In short, don’t swallow your moral code in tablet form.

  8. 8
    unbound

    I’m with Al Dente, only need one that Bill & Ted summarized for everyone.

  9. 9
    Tessa

    I’m with Al Dente, only need one that Bill & Ted summarized for everyone.

    But what if we also want to party on, dude?

    I can never believe it when people try to say the 10 commandments are “just good ideas” or even secular when they are trying to defend them staying in courthouses. Yeah. Makes me wonder if they’ve even read them. Just look at the first four.

  10. 10
    naturalcynic

    Since most of the 10C’s are what not to do…
    1. Don’t be a dick
    3. Don’t be a dick

    19. Don’t be a dick.

    Because any commandments are better than what God purportedly said [actually nothing]

  11. 11
    Ophelia Benson

    I notice something pretty glaring that Hitchens left out.

  12. 12
    Delft

    I’d like to see “Take care of yourself.” somewhere in there.
    Also being kind to animals and taking care of the environment.
    A good exercise certainly.

    Marcus Ranum@2
    Ooh, devious!

  13. 13
    Ophelia Benson

    Animals and the environment were meant to be included under trying to make the world better.

    I did want to include them but I also wanted to include the key general principles, so I stuck to the latter.

  14. 14
    patterson

    Don’t leave a mess

  15. 15
    Callinectes

    Why ten? There are better numbers than ten.

    Pi, for example. I want to see the Pi Commandments.

  16. 16
    Gregory in Seattle

    I follow the 12 Virtues

    Moderation
    Simplicity
    Flexibility
    Sustainability
    Industry
    Justice
    Cooperation
    Respect
    Honesty
    Curiosity
    Humility
    Tenacity

    The rest, as they say, is commentary.

  17. 17
    anthrosciguy

    I too am a Bill and Ted-nist. -nik?

  18. 18
    Jim S.

    The various offerings here are worthwhile. I took a different approach, in recognition of my life & family history. My 10 Biggies are intentionally patterned after the various Biblical versions of 10? 11? 12? Commandments.

    I sought to stand the premise of the Original on its head, and confirm its valid components while plugging their loopholes. The superstitious are allowed to retain a Deity (people being that way, mostly), without making It the #1 Rationalization In The Universe.

    http://heygetthis.wordpress.com/2010/02/10/331/

  19. 19
    grumpyoldfart

    Most Protestants take their 10 commandments from Exodus 20:3-17 while the Lutherans and the Catholics take theirs from Deuteronomy 5:1-22. Both sets, however, were delivered verbally. They were not commandments written on tablets of stone.

    It is not until Exodus 24:12 that we find a set of rules written on tables of stone: “And the Lord said unto Moses, Come up to me in the mount, and be there, and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments, which I have written.”

    But Moses was up on the mountain for so long that the Israelites got sick of waiting for him, and they started worshipping a golden calf (Exodus 32:1-4).

    Finally, after forty days and forty nights: “Moses turned and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand.” (Exodus 32:15)

    But nobody knew what the rules were because as soon as Moses saw the Israelites worshipping the golden calf, he: “cast the tables out of his hands and brake them.” (Exodus 32:19)

    It’s pretty certain, though, that “thou shalt not kill” was not on the list because Moses then set about killing all of his opponents! He called on the Levites to kill everyone who had worshipped the calf, “and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.” (Exodus 32:25-29)

    Then, in Exodus chapter 34, God decides to make another set of stone tablets to replace the ones that Moses had smashed earlier: “And the Lord said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first, and I will write upon these tables, the words that were on the first tables, which thou brakest.” (Exodus 34:1)

    And the words he wrote are recorded in Exodus 34:14-26. Those commandments are nothing like anything any Christian has ever heard but the author of the book of Deuteronomy definitely regards them as the real thing. In fact, for the first time in the bible, we are told that these are, indeed, the ten commandments. They are specifically described as: “the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.” (Exodus 34:28)

    Don’t take my word for it – read the bible and check it out for yourself.

  20. 20
    grumpyoldfart

    That reference to the book of Deuteronomy at the end of post #18 should be to the book of Exodus (chapter 34).

  21. 21
    heliobates

    While not a complete system, the basic ethical heuristic will get you a lot further than the 10Cs:

    Autonomy: behave respectfully towards all persons
    Non-maleficence: strive to do no harm
    Benificence: strive to do good
    Justice: be fair.

  22. 22
    Robert B.

    Harper begs the question – most people (not just atheists) are better than his God character because they reject the whole idea that goodness is defined by doing what you are commanded to do.

    If you watch the world go down in fire and horror, and you cry out in protest, saying, “But I followed all the rules!” there will be no one to forgive you.

  23. 23
    Maarten van den Driest

    Despite the wonderful answers that can be given to such a question – give me your 10 C’s since you think you’re so great – there is no way to answer what is actually going on. The thing is, this is not a question, it is a challenge or actually nothing more than a riposte, a verbal flourish.

    Believers who say things like this do not actually want to know. They meet your challenge with theirs in what they see as a spiritual battle. They aim a blow at you as part of what they think is their duty as a soldier for [insert god]. Understanding this helps with understanding why these people do what they do.

    There are preciously little believers who are actually willing, and able, to freely discuss the contents of their faith.

  24. 24
    sailor1031

    Just to add to GoF’s post above; here are a few of those ten commandments written by Moshe in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. NB these are just the ones carrying the death penalty for a violation:

    being a medium, spiritualist or a witch
    being an adulterer, committing maternal incest, committing bestiality, having premarital sex – if you’re a woman (no penalty for men)
    having sex with both a woman and her mother
    seducing some other man’s (supposed to be virgin) fiancee
    raping an engaged woman
    female prostitution
    murder (sometimes), kidnapping, cursing your parents, smiting your parents. letting your ox kill someone
    blasphemy, working on Shabat, ignoring a priest’s decision
    accidentally killing a pregnant woman, perjury
    being a male who is not circumcised
    eating leavened bread during the Feast of Unleavened Bread
    manufacturing anointing oil
    engaging in ritual animal sacrifices other than at the temple
    consuming blood this would include eating rare meat.
    eating peace offerings while ritually unclean
    waiting too long before consuming sacrifices
    sexual activity with a woman who is menstruating
    going to the temple in an unclean state
    teaching another religion (than judaism)
    a prophet whose prophecy does not come true
    gluttony and excessive drinking

    Remember these are just a few of the ten commandments from Moshe. I guess the word “ten” didn’t mean the same thing 4Kyears ago. Many primitive societies hadn’t figured out counting back then – a numerical sequence would typically be “one, two, er three, er er, many”. So what we really have is “the many commandments” since the original meaning of the word “ten” has obviously been lost.

  25. 25
    Minnow

    Interesting that all the alternatives miss out one of the originals that I think is pretty essential: Thou Shalt not bear false witness.

  26. 26
    Minnow

    Actually, reacquainting myself with the commandments, and they are not that bad really. I think I would want to keep seven of them, with a little bit of glossing.

  27. 27
    Minnow

    “I follow the 12 Virtues … Humility”

    ‘Irony’ didn’t make onto the list, obviously.

  28. 28
    A Hermit

    Some of these lists do seem easier to stick to than others. For example, I’ve never even been tempted to boil a goat in it’s mother’s milk, so I’m good with God on that one I guess…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ritual_Decalogue#Decalogues_compared

  29. 29
    besomyka

    I did this as a personal exercise a while back. Good way to reflect and try and figure out what’s important me. I guess these are the sorts of values that I’d hope I could pass on to any children that I might have:

    1. Do onto others as you would have them do onto you.
    2. You have the right to just treatment, and the responsibility to ensure justice for others.
    3. Do not overlook evil or shrink from administering justice, but always be ready to forgive wrongdoing freely admitted and honestly regretted.
    4. Admit your own transgressions and do whatever needs to be done to make amends.
    5. In all things, strive to do no harm.
    6. Think for yourself and form your opinions based on your own reason and experience.
    7. Listen to the thoughts of others freely expressed, never cut yourself off from dissent
    8. Respect the rights of others to disagree with you.
    9. Always seek to be learning something new.
    10. Value the future on a scale larger than the duration of your own life.

  30. 30
    besomyka

    I cribbed the wording from various places for two or three of them, but I forgot to notate and have forgotten :/

  31. 31
    maddog1129

    @#4

    I claim to be greater than God in the sense that I am real and God is fictional.

    That was the part that confused me about … is it Anselm’s supposed proof of God? …

    P1: God is that being than which no other greater being can be conceived.

    P2: It is greater to actually exist than not to actually exist

    Conc: God, the greatest conceivable being, actually exists.

    The standard critique is that P2 is false, and that it is not greater to actually exist than to not exist. I was never sure why that was. Not that I accept Anselm’s proof, mind you, but I’m not entirely sure that P2 is where it falls down.

  32. 32
    sawells

    @31 : the simpler critique is that the entire “proof” only gets you this far: if there were any such entity as “the greatest conceivable being”, then existence would be one of the properties of that being.

    But if there’s no such thing, then there’s no such thing.

    And there’s no such thing.

    The whole argument has a bit of legerdemain at the beginning: they assert that God “exists as a concept” because they’re thinking of the idea of God. It’s bullshit. Even if the idea of a God exists, the actual god doesn’t.

  33. 33
    Silentbob

    @ 29, 30 besomyka

    I suggest Dawkins was a major influence:

    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.

  34. 34
    Silentbob

    @ 11 Ophelia Benson

    I notice something pretty glaring that Hitchens left out.

    Of course!

    Number Eleven: If you’re a woman, don’t try to be funny.

    ;-)

  1. 35
    Structure, even spurious structure, is manifestly priceless » 21stCenturyFix.org.uk

    […] post on the Ten Commandments and contemplating their alternatives hits the issue of closed minds on the button.  Structure, even spurious structure, is often […]

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