The secular ‘ten commandments’?
Published: 9 July 2013 (GMT+10)
What basis do atheists have for positing a ‘new 10 commandments’? Are they merely ‘10 suggestions’? CMI’s Lita Cosner shows how these ‘new ten commandments’ are vastly inferior to God’s 10 commandments.
J.B. from Australia writes:
To the CMI team, A quick email to say that your site is a wonderful resource and I enjoy delving into your articles as often as I can (usually a couple of times a week). As both a scientist and a Christian it is so helpful to have logical arguments and alternative interpretations to present to my collegues (who are by-and-large atheist evolutionists, with some old earth christians as well.) Of course I also have a question I came across the following website [Weblink removed as per feedback rules—Ed.] which lays out a secular 10 commandments, some of which actually make some sense. I was wondering how you might go about refuting these? I find it much harder to refute topics where there is some congruence between Christian and secular beliefs. Thanks
‘The New [secular] 10 Commandments’1
First Commandment: Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.
Second Commandment: In all things, strive to cause no harm.
Third Commandment: Treat your fellow human beings, your fellow living things, and the world in general with love, honesty, faithfulness and respect.
Fourth Commandment: Do not overlook evil or shrink from administering justice, but always be ready to forgive wrongdoing freely admitted and honestly regretted.
Fifth Commandment: Live life with a sense of joy and wonder.
Sixth Commandment: Always seek to be learning something new.
Seventh Commandment: 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.
Eighth Commandment: Never seek to censor or cut yourself off from dissent; always respect the right of others to disagree with you.
Ninth Commandment: Form independent opinions on the basis of your own reason and experience; do not allow yourself to be led blindly by others.
Tenth Commandment: Question everything.
CMI’s Lita Cosner responds:
Thanks for writing in. This atheist’s 10 Commandments are interesting, but they reflect nothing other than his own preferences. I think they’re vastly inferior to the biblical 10 Commandments, because the 10 Commandments were objective—you know what the definition of lying, murder, adultery, etc. are and you could be pretty sure whether or not you’d broken them. But “In all things, strive to cause no harm”? “Treat your fellow human beings, living things, and the world in general with love, honesty, faithfulness, and respect?” How does one define these things in concrete terms? The 10 Commandments convict all who try to live by them because none of us are perfect—we’ve all lied, we’ve all coveted, we’ve all dishonoured God’s name in various ways. In this way it points us to salvation in Christ because the Law condemns us—it can’t save. This atheist’s 10 Commandments leave one with a sort of nebulous ‘warm-fuzzy’ feeling that ‘we’re doing okay’, which is probably precisely the purpose of the list (if one can give the author the benefit of the doubt of having thought that much about them).
There have been lots of codes of morality over time, most of them not inspired by God, and most of them aren’t entirely wrong—for instance, most law codes punish murder, rape, and theft, because human societies throughout history recognize the destructive tendencies of these acts. But “do not covet” was the Commandment Paul focused on in Romans 7, and that’s a curious commandment, isn’t it? If I want John Smith’s position at work, or his shiny new car, or so on, it doesn’t really hurt John Smith—there’s already a commandment saying I can’t steal his things. But the Bible forbids me to even enviously desire his things—something that apart from the Spirit’s transforming power, we can’t do. In this commandment, God’s law is focusing on a condition of the heart, something that most other law codes do not do (of course, the New Testament, given to Spirit-empowered believers, takes this to a whole new level).
God has given ‘common grace’ to humanity—this means that He gives good things like food and other provisions, and basically every good thing that is common to humanity. One of these things is that He restrains evil to a certain extent—if evil were allowed to develop to the extent it could in every person, chaos and unremitting violence would be the result. I think that we can chalk up the good and true things that pop up even in unbelievers’ law codes to common grace, but we can also point to the weaknesses in their codes and the superiority of God’s law.
A closing thought: What is the atheist’s standard? What I mean is, who can he point to as the embodiment of everything his code points to? We believe that right and wrong are based in the character of God Himself—He is the standard. And of course, Jesus’ life is what perfect obedience to the Law looks like.
- The New Ten Commandments, www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/essays/the-new-ten-commandments, accessed 13/6/2013. Return to text.