THE story of Moses and the Ten Commandments was drilled to me since early childhood. I remember various picture books of this fierce, bearded man holding two stone tablets. Some of the illustrations had lightning flashing over dark skies behind him.
In my younger years, I believed that these 10 edicts were the highest exemplars of human conduct, the gold standard of morality. Little did I know that I would one day look at these with a more critical frame of mind, discarding some as useless and seemingly the product of an insecure deity (the first through third commandments), while rephrasing others to better emphasize an underlying value.
Thou shalt not kill and Thou shalt not steal, for example, could be rephrased in a more positive light as Be kind to others. The value of kindness already encompasses the injunction against killing and stealing, but it is also against slavery, rape, torture and other means of unkindness not mentioned in the Ten Commandments and even practiced or tolerated by the Israelites at that time.
Many humanists have thus attempted to rewrite the Ten Commandments. And they sound better even. Let me share some of these with you.
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, or as owned, or as slaves.
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 - why would God create so many homosexuals only in order to torture and destroy them?
6. Be aware that you, too, are an animal, and dependent on the web of nature. Try and think and act accordingly.
7. Do not imagine that you can escape judgment if you rob people with a false prospectus rather than with a knife.
8. Turn off that [expletive deleted] cell phone - you have no idea how unimportant your call is to us.
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 commandments should contradict any of the above. In short: Don't swallow your moral code in tablet form.
1. Love well
2. Seek the good in all things
3. Harm no others
4. Think for yourself
5. Take responsibility
6. Respect nature
7. Do your utmost
8. Be informed
9. Be kind
10. Be courageous
1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
2. Do not think it worthwhile to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
3. Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavour to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent that in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool's paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.
But perhaps the best rewrite came in the form of a meme I saw the other day, brilliantly compressing the entire Ten Commandments into one sentence: Don’t be a dick.
[Send me your thoughts at email@example.com. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.]