The 10 Commandments have been a fixture of Christian moral standards for centuries. How do the 30 million+ atheists in the U.S. see these pillars of Godly behavior?
Part II: Commandments 6 – 10
6. Thou shalt not kill.
Let’s assume that this means murder, because we kill all the time to eat. And I’m not just talking about meat eaters. Carrots, potatoes, and lot of other plants selflessly give their lives so that we may keep using the same hole on our belts.
So then the question becomes, do you really have to spell out a rule telling people not to murder each other? That sort of belaboring the obvious is an open invitation to an avalanche of rules that anyone with a functioning brain really doesn’t need.
- 6.A Don’t kick little old ladies.
- 6.B Don’t kick average size old ladies.
- 6.C Don’t kick ladies who still consider themselves late middle-aged.
You get the point.
Believe it or not, even non-Christians unexposed to the 10 Commandments generally believe murder wrong.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
In my house, this rule is immutable, but there are polyamorous folks and other swinger types who happily live in open marriages where a little side action is perfectly acceptable. I don’t think the government or the church should decide what works for couples who knowingly decide to bend tradition a bit.
For me, adultery would have unpleasant consequences, but just because my wife can shoot the ash off a cigar at 150 paces doesn’t mean someone else can’t enjoy a non-standard relationship paradigm.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, stealing is wrong. Even apes and wolves know that. Try grabbing a gorilla’s last banana and making a run for it. When he catches you, shakes you like a can of spray paint, eats the banana you stole in front of you, and shoves the peel into your ear, that’s his way of saying stealing is wrong.
Because he instinctually knows – as do we – that stealing is wrong. How many apes can recite the 10 Commandments?(Probably about as many as congress members.)
The point is that if apes don’t need this spelled out, why do we?
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Again the writing is a bit unclear. (You’d think God could afford good writers.) I’m assuming that we also shouldn’t lie to people who are not technically our “neighbors.”
If we’re talking about general everyday lying, then yes, it’s not a good way of operating. Society depends on people actually doing what they say they’ll do. Imagine if Amazon only sometimes fulfilled its orders after your credit card was charged.
That being said, we all lie. Whether it’s telling a homeless person you can’t spare any change when you know damn well you can, or gushing over your niece’s indecipherable artwork, lies are a part of the fabric of civilized society.
Don’t get me wrong, Bernie Madoff is a lying sack of horse apples, but it isn’t the end of the world if you tell your spouse he or she looks good in that sweater when you really do have to leave right now if you want to catch the beginning of the movie.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.
Anyone who’s been to America knows that coveting is the cornerstone of our economy. If you take coveting out of the equation, a lot of businesses – Beverly Hills plastic surgeons, Rolex, Maserati, Gucci and DeBeers, e.g. — would go under in 5 minutes.
To my knowledge, my neighbor has no servants, oxen, or asses. (It means donkeys, right?) So I don’t spend a lot of time peering over the fence coveting stuff over there – though he does have a nice set of combination wrenches I wouldn’t mind having. But a little coveting might be a good motivating tool to get a person to work a little OT and save up for something that might improve one’s life.
In fact, I’ll consider it my duty as a good secular humanist to head over to Home Depot right now and get myself a bigger, shinier set of new wrenches. My neighbor can covet my stuff for a change…