The Ethical Atheist's 10 Commandments

What do you think of the Ethical Atheist’s 10 Commandments? Here is the summarized version:

  1. Thou SHALT NOT believe all thou art told.
  2. Thou SHALT seek knowledge and truth constantly.
  3. Thou SHALT educate thy fellow man in the Laws of Science.
  4. Thou SHALT NOT forget the atrocities committed in the name of god.
  5. Thou SHALT leave valuable contributions for future generations.
  6. Thou SHALT live in peace with thy fellow man.
  7. Thou SHALT live this one life thou hast to its fullest.
  8. Thou SHALT follow a Personal Code of Ethics.
  9. Thou SHALT maintain a strict separation between Church and State.
  10. Thou SHALT support those who follow these commandments.
(Just to be clear, I didn’t write these. The link takes you to the site where these came from.)
  • random guy

    Personally I don’t think atheist’s should be in the business of making commandments. We all know where that leads.

    Doesn’t the first one kind of invalidate all the others anyways?

  • Jonboy

    Atheists, dogmatic? Now where did that idea come from I wonder…

  • http://unreasonablefaith.com Daniel Florien

    @Jonboy: I’m not following. Did anyone say they were dogmatically following this list of suggestions?

    • AnonymousAtheist18

      Can we please replace ‘man’ with human or humans? I think it’s time we get away from the sexism and exclusion of women from important issues that religion has always advocated, don’t you?

  • Warren

    I think what Jonboy and random guy are saying (and I agree) is that this kind of thing, while good humor, runs the risk of providing a target that theists can shoot at.

    One of the primary attacks on atheism is that it is just another religion. This sort of thing lends needless credibility to those making that idiotic attack.

  • http://unreasonablefaith.com Daniel Florien

    @Warren: That might be true by the way it’s put. So perhaps a better way to phrase my question is: do you think these suggestions are good?

    Sure, theists can shoot at it. But atheists have their list of things they think is moral or not moral, too.

    • http://AHS King Lear

      true, however one of the very important characteristics of atheists is that generally speaking, they do not have a list. morality comes down to what option hurts the fewest people. there cannot be a list that works for every single moral issue. each situation must be looked at separately if we hope to do what is moral. for example the christian commandments are far from what is moral. most simply have to do with not doing anything that would piss of their quaint and jealous god. and all the ones that seem to be moral are not always moral in all situations.

      • Sunny Day

        morality comes down to what option hurts the fewest people.

        I would add this: measured against ones own self interest.

        I’ve done things that weren’t the “right thing” but benefited me personally, and I still do.

        • Custador

          What King Ler is talking about is utilitarian ethics, which is certainly a step in the right direction versus deontological ethics, but it’s far from a complete model.

  • http://digitaldame.wordpress.com Digital Dame

    How about rewriting them as something like “Statements of Belief”, e.g., “We believe in NOT believing everything we are told, We believe in always seeking truth and knowledge…” and so on? Something along those lines?

  • http://emilaragundi.wordpress.com Emil Aragundi

    If anyone attacks the wording of these suggestions it’ll just show how little debating skills they have, nothing that I would personally worry about. I liked them, by the way.

  • http://whyareyousofat.wordpress.com McBloggenstein

    Personally I don’t think atheist’s should be in the business of making commandments. We all know where that leads.

    What does that mean?

    @Digital Dame: I think that is a very good point.

    That would be my only critique of these commandments. The fact that they are called “Commandments”, as if we are being pressured to follow them… much like the Christian’s ten.

    Calling them beliefs, or ideologies sounds more like an open minded person’s style.

    I understand that the “Thou SHALT” is probably poking fun at, and being sarcastic toward the real ten commandments, but I think we as athiests should always steer far away from any hint of dogmatism.

  • John

    This is a good list of suggestions, but I think a list of “atheist commandments” is nonsensical. First of all, atheism means nothing more than a lack of belief in any god. That is the only thing it means.

    None of these “commandments” necessarily follow from atheism. Not that they aren’t all great ideas, but they don’t really have anything to do with not believing in god. If these were humanist commandments, then it would make more sense, because humanism is a broader philosophy

    Not to mention that the word “commandment” implies that someone or something is commanding something, and that’s not the case here.

  • http://unreasonablefaith.com Daniel Florien

    We’re all agreed they shouldn’t be called “commandments,” though like McBloggenstein said, it’s just alluding to the 10 commandments.

  • http://digitaldame.wordpress.com Digital Dame

    I am dismayed that atheists feel the need to come up with something like this, even tongue-in-cheek, to defend themselves against theists who try to claim atheists have no sense of ethics or decency (I really hesitate to use the word ‘morals’, it always seems to have a religious connotation) without “God”.

  • http://unreasonablefaith.com Daniel Florien

    @Digital Dame: Why does this dismay you? What is the matter with coming up with a list of things to follow in life?

    • http://AHS King Lear

      I think what she is saying is that it is a good list, but maybe shouldnt be associated with atheism

  • http://digitaldame.wordpress.com Digital Dame

    Why do you need a list?

    Is there anything on that list that was news to you?

    I think it plays into the idea that someone needs to tell atheists how to behave in a moral fashion, with good values. #8 is so vague as to be meaningless anyway.

  • http://suddenlyatheist.wordpress.com/ morsec0de

    I prefer the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s 8 “I’d Really Rather You Didn’ts”:

    1. I’d really rather you didn’t act like a sanctimonious holier-than-thou ass when describing my noodly goodness. If some people don’t believe in me, that’s okay. Really, I’m not that vain. Besides, this isn’t about them so don’t change the subject.
    2. I’d really rather you didn’t use my existence as a means to oppress, subjugate, punish, eviscerate, and/or, you know, be mean to others. I don’t require sacrifices, and purity is for drinking water, not people.
    3. I’d really rather you didn’t judge people for the way they look, or how they dress, or the way they talk, or, well, just play nice, okay? Oh, and get this into your thick heads: woman = person. man = person. Samey = Samey. One is not better than the other, unless we’re talking about fashion and I’m sorry, but I gave that to women and some guys who know the difference between teal and fuchsia.
    4. I’d really rather you didn’t indulge in conduct that offends yourself, or your willing, consenting partner of legal age AND mental maturity. As for anyone who might object, I think the expression is “go fuck yourself,” unless they find that offensive in which case they can turn off the TV for once and go for a walk for a change.
    5. I’d really rather you didn’t challenge the bigoted, misogynistic, hateful ideas of others on an empty stomach. Eat, then go after the bitches.
    6. I’d really rather you didn’t build multi million-dollar synagogues / churches / temples / mosques / shrines to my noodly goodness when the money could be better spent (take your pick):
    1. Ending poverty
    2. Curing diseases
    3. Living in peace, loving with passion, and lowering the cost of cable
    I might be a complex-carbohydrate omniscient being, but I enjoy the simple things in life. I ought to know. I AM the creator.
    7. I’d really rather you didn’t go around telling people I talk to you. You’re not that interesting. Get over yourself. And I told you to love your fellow man, can’t you take a hint?
    8. I’d really rather you didn’t do unto others as you would have them do unto you if you are into, um, stuff that uses a lot of leather/lubricant/vaseline. If the other person is into it, however (pursuant to #4), then have at it, take pictures, and for the love of Mike, wear a CONDOM! Honestly, it’s a piece of rubber. If I didn’t want it to feel good when you did it I would have added spikes, or something.

    Or, barring that, the tenets of Secular Humanism:

    * Need to test beliefs – A conviction that dogmas, ideologies and traditions, whether religious, political or social, must be weighed and tested by each individual and not simply accepted on faith.
    * Reason, evidence, scientific method – A commitment to the use of critical reason, factual evidence and scientific methods of inquiry, rather than faith and mysticism, in seeking solutions to human problems and answers to important human questions.
    * Fulfillment, growth, creativity – A primary concern with fulfillment, growth and creativity for both the individual and humankind in general.
    * Search for truth – A constant search for objective truth, with the understanding that new knowledge and experience constantly alter our imperfect perception of it.
    * This life – A concern for this life and a commitment to making it meaningful through better understanding of ourselves, our history, our intellectual and artistic achievements, and the outlooks of those who differ from us.
    * Ethics – A search for viable individual, social and political principles of ethical conduct, judging them on their ability to enhance human well-being and individual responsibility.
    * Building a better world – A conviction that with reason, an open exchange of ideas, good will, and tolerance, progress can be made in building a better world for ourselves and our children.

  • John

    Daniel:

    What is the matter with coming up with a list of things to follow in life?

    Nothing, but that’s not what this is. This is someone imposing a set of beliefs on me, just because I’m an atheist.

    Again, I don’t really have a problem with the beliefs themselves (individually, at least). It’s the imposition of them that’s the problem. I largely agree with all of them; however, the writer didn’t ask me first before effectively attaching me to them.

  • http://unreasonablefaith.com Daniel Florien

    @John: That makes sense if you think the guy is saying all atheists must live by these rules.

  • John

    @Daniel: Just re-read your #5 rephrasing of the question (whoopsy), which pretty much makes my objection moot. Also a broadly comprehensive 4-second Google search brought up at least a handful of competing lists of “atheist commandments”. So I guess it’s not that bigguva deal to me, so long as there’s competing memes :)

  • Jonboy

    Ahem…

    Perhaps I should have explained further. There seems to have been a great deal of discussion while I was in class, and I have to admit I prefer the secular humanist list, or even the FSM list (although I really do loathe every noodly bit of FSM nonsense.)

    What I meant in my original post might be explained by the definition of ‘dogma’ (which I got from dictionary.reference.com, in case anyone is hyper-interested):

    1. a system of principles or tenets, as of a church.
    2. a specific tenet or doctrine authoritatively laid down, as by a church: the dogma of the Assumption.
    3. prescribed doctrine: political dogma.
    4. a settled or established opinion, belief, or principle.

    So, what I meant was simply that atheists who criticize both Christianity’s specific doctrines and the unthinking acceptance of dogma in general should think twice before ascribing to this list (or really any other for that matter) any merit whatsoever. Part of this is simply because of the intentional reference to the ten commandments, which I get, but the whole thing is still more than slightly flawed IMO.

    Incidentally, I agree with Digital Dame’s assessment of #8, which is so general it strikes me as frankly ridiculous.

    @Daniel

    Sorry to come off as snarky, but it makes me wince when well-meaning individuals, theists or non-theists, send these clever articles to every single person in their address book without consideration for how well whatever it is stands up to any sort of close examination. No criticism for putting it up on your site (by all means put up whatever you’d like!) but the same 6th sense that makes me delete chain e-mails was tingling rather furiously when I submitted my original comment. =D

  • http://unreasonablefaith.com Daniel Florien

    @Jonboy: Well, I don’t think anyone here is “subscribing” to this list — I only posted it to see what others thought. This isn’t “here are the words from God you must obey” — it’s “here’s something I ran into on the Internet, what do you guys think?”

  • Ian

    I don’t think it’s philosophically rigorous at all. I think it’s a sort of grab-bag of things that sound nice, but can’t be taken seriously as ethics.

  • http://www.wazzasworthlesswitterings.blogspot.com wazza

    I think things like this are mostly to set off arguments, rather than to be actually followed

    and then you come away with your own idea of what sort of ethics you want to follow, which is the whole point.

  • http://www.athinkingman.co.uk/ athinkingman

    Great posting. Thanks.

  • http://wolfsden.wordpress.com Lone Wolf

    The name “commandments” may not be the best name but as commandments go there pretty damn good.

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  • Daddio

    After reading the 10 commands…err…suggestions, I suddenly had this profound urge to hurl. After each “suggestion” I responded with “Why?” and then my tummy calmed down. I realized that atheism just had a momentary longing for the good ole’ days of faith. Sometimes trying to find evidence to explain everything in life can be a bit tiring so it helps to come up with some doctrine…uhh…statements…to help us create a bible….I mean a code…umm…some identification markers to help guide our thinking on the path to enlightenment. Whew! Got a little confused there.

  • http://larianlequella.com Larian LeQuella

    A small set of changes to something I found at American Atheist:

    “Your petitioners are Atheists and they define their convictions as follows. An Atheist loves his fellow man instead of god. An Atheist affirms that heaven is something for which we should work now – here on earth for all men together to enjoy.

    An Atheist affirms that he can get no help through prayer but that he must find in himself the inner conviction, and strength to meet life, to grapple with it, to subdue it and enjoy it.

    An Atheist affirms that only in a knowledge of himself and a knowledge of his fellow man can he find the understanding that will help to a life of fulfillment.

    He seeks to know himself and his fellow man rather than to know a god. An Atheist affirms that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An Atheist affirms that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An Atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty vanquished, war eliminated. He wants man to understand and love man.

    He wants an ethical way of life. He affirms that we cannot rely on a god or channel action into prayer nor hope for an end of troubles in a hereafter.

    He affirms that we are our brother’s keepers; and are keepers of our own lives; that we are responsible persons and the job is here and the time is now.”

    This was written a while back, but I substituted affirm for belief. It could still use some tweaking since it sounds rather sexist to my ears at the moment.

    • AnonymousAtheist18

      ” It could still use some tweaking since it sounds rather sexist to my ears at the moment.”

      You’re not wrong there >__<

  • http://metroblog.blogspot.com Metro

    @Jonboy:
    ” it makes me wince when well-meaning individuals, theists or non-theists, send these clever articles to every single person in their address book without consideration for how well whatever it is stands up to any sort of close examination.”

    Holy sodding bonobos … A point we totally agree on! If the Pope wrote a Dogma dammning spammers, chain-letter-forwarders, and people who think I should “Look at this picture!” I might actually consider a return to church.

    @Daddio:
    Simply asking “why” to simple statements like these is, politely speaking, the response of a small child. Why not “Why not”?

    Your response could more easily be applied to the first commandment, of Torah fame. Which might also help your confusion problem if you discover the logical answer.

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  • http://celticfrog.blogspot.ca/ Alex McGilvery

    It’s funny, but as a Christian I have no problem with any of these “commandments”. I realize that this site isn’t the author, but I do wish that they were more inclusive. Are there not women atheists who need support? I recognize the literary technique of using archaic language to echo the Ten Commandments of the Torah. I would really like to see them modernized and made inclusive. If that is done. I would hang them on my office wall and see what conversation arises.

    • UrsaMinor

      Modernization of the language is trivial. Inclusiveness is more problematic (I’m assuming that you are rejecting the technically non-gendered use of “fellow man” in the sense of “other humans” just because it has the word “man” in it); while you gain (slightly) in gender-neutrality by changing “fellow man” to “others”, you lose the (rather important) stress on human fellowship.

      1. You SHALL NOT believe all you are told.
      2. You SHALL seek knowledge and truth constantly.
      3. You SHALL educate others in the Laws of Science.
      4. You SHALL NOT forget the atrocities committed in the name of god.
      5. You SHALL leave valuable contributions for future generations.
      6. You SHALL live in peace with others.
      7. You SHALL live this one life you have to its fullest.
      8. You SHALL follow a Personal Code of Ethics.
      9. You SHALL maintain a strict separation between Church and State.
      10. You SHALL support those who follow these commandments.

      “Shall” must be retained unless you want to lose the clear connotation that these are commands or exhortations. The language is changing, yes, but “Will” still doesn’t quite cover the same territory.

      But really, the original is in no way unreadable to modern eyes.

      • Len

        That’s a nice list :-)


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