Friday, January 27, 2012

Ten Rules to Live By

I think one of the great pastimes of creative atheists is rewriting religious ideology, and there’s probably no other single religious dogma that gets more attention in Western culture than the Ten Commandments.

This isn’t to say there aren’t other horrible sets of rules in the Bible, or that other religions don’t have other sets of rules which beg to be altered. The Ten Commandments just stand out for us. Both Christians and Jews claim to honor them, though they can’t seem to agree on how to number them, and Muslims are pretty fond of them, as well.

Atheists and non-monotheists, however, will see many of the Ten Commandments as being… well… dumb.

I’ll be using the Augustinian numbering, since I was raised Catholic.

Commandments 1-3 are some of the most ignorant trash in the whole Bible. It’s full of crap, like: punishing people of the third and fourth generation of someone who worships another God; don’t misuse magical words; don’t work on the Sabbath… and don’t let your animals do anything, and the same goes for any visitors to your town.

It’s not until Command 4 (or the 5th, if you go by the numbering of most Protestants and Jews) that you have a rule that makes any sense at all. It’s a solid rule: honor your father and mother so that you can maintain your inheritance. That’s a pretty good rule, and so rarely do you see a Commandment justify why you should.

I wouldn’t say it’s one of the top ten most important rules… but it’s not a bad rule. Obviously there are plenty of examples where you may have to escape the clutches of abusive parents, but it’s still generally a good commandment for most people.

You shall not kill… more accurately rendered sometimes as “don’t murder,” which takes care of legal caveats we have placed on the rule, like exceptions for self-defense and obviously war. Another good commandment, so we’re 2/5

With number 6, it’s a little bit fuzzier. Again, there are exceptions, and they hold up. I assume if you’re in an open relationship, or you and your spouse are mutually interested in swinging or swapping or whatever the kids are doing these days… it’s not technically adultery, since there is no deception or betrayal.

But what I think makes the adultery commandment so unfair is that, by Biblical standards, if you get divorced and remarry, you are a de facto adulterer. I’m not a fan of divorce, but sometimes it’s just necessary. It’s often better for everyone involved to separate than for a couple to stay together. To demonize people who lose love and look for it elsewhere is just pathetic. This rule is written by jilted wife-beaters, I have no doubt about it.

Stealing is wrong. Not much more to say, another good commandment (I’m calling it 3.5/7)

Again, #8 is a good one. It’s really bad to bear false witness against your neighbor. Today, we call this perjury, but most people extrapolate that honesty is a good policy based on this commandment, and I suppose it’s generally true, but not enough to be a good rule. Still, I’ll give it to the Bible on this one, since the commandment doesn’t say, “Don’t lie.”

Commandments 9 and 10 are not good at all. For one thing, I’m surprised Christianity can be followed by capitalists, since it’s coveting that drives capitalism. I see nothing wrong with coveting. What is bad is if you kill your neighbor to steal his stuff and his wife… but we covered all of those acts already with #5, #6 and #7.

Total score: 4.5/10

Basically, the Ten Commandments don’t even score a D- with a 14 point curve. That’s pretty bad.

I’d like to think that if I put together a list of ten rules, I could get at least a C- (or 7/10). In fact… if I were God and I got to make these rules, I would only want about 7/10 to be good rules. I get why some of the rules aren’t all that great, I really do, but I wouldn’t waste the opportunity by aggrandizing myself.

So, here it goes… completely off the top of my head…

1. Don’t rape anyone. Rape includes forcing someone into any sexual act against their will, having sex with someone who is unconscious, or having sex with someone younger 16, unless they are older than half your age plus seven (the half+7 rule).

2. Don’t murder anyone. Abortion is never murder, nor is it murder if you kill a home intruder… but that isn’t an invitation to drag them down to your rape dungeon, which I hope you only have for consensual use.

3. While you’re not murdering people, don’t hurt people, either. Don’t punch people, don’t kick people, don’t slap, smack or spank people… unless it’s part of some weird sex thing, don’t hurt other people. Can I just point out at this point that perverts are really screwing up some of these rules?

4. Try not to be such a pervert. Save something for when you’re older, otherwise you’re going to end up hanging from a scarf dead in your closet with your pants around your ankles before someone you know finds you and has to stage it like a suicide. I’m not saying, “Don’t be a pervert,” but show some fucking restraint, literally.

5. Don’t steal.

6. Don’t damage other people’s things. If you damage someone else’s property, you should pay to fix it or replace it.

7. Do not make false accusations of criminal activity against someone.

8. Sometimes it’s easier to skip asking for permission and just ask for forgiveness. Smile, nod, then do what you want. Don’t break any of the prior rules in the process.

9. Encourage others to take the high road. It reduces traffic on the low road.

10. If you believe everything you read, it would be better for you to be illiterate.


  1. What about don't make, use or trade slaves?


    Don't force your children to fulfill your dreams? (aka Let them live their lives)

    1. If you manage to keep a slave without breaking any of the above rules... go for it. I think that's called "owning your own business."

      I'm not sure I understand your second rule. Are you saying one of the ten most important rules to live by includes not pushing your kid into sports/acting/beauty pageants?

    2. Definitely, especially for beauty pageants... But I was mainly referring to adult children. Once they are adult, accept that they want to live their life: do not tell them who to marry or who not to marry (you might council them, but don't insist if they will not listen to you), what carrier to embrace or not to embrace, etc...

    3. When my parents act like that, as an adult, I tell them to fuck off. That generally works, especially at Thanksgiving.

    4. As to 1, i do not see where robing a person of their liberty contradicts your commandments... You don't have to rape them or to hurt them nor to murder them, nor to steal from them, etc...

    5. I think you do have to hurt someone to enslave them, and you are stealing them, literally, in that you are treating their very being (which they are entitled to) as your property.

      Now, as to whether you can sell yourself... I don't know. However, you can't enslave someone against their will given the rules I listed (at least, I don't think you can).

  2. ...but in the end, the 10 commandments or 10 rules are really irrelevant, because no culture, on the long run, abides by its own basic rules...

    catholicism -> inquisition
    Puritanism -> burning witches
    American Constitution -> Slavery / no voting rights for women
    universal declaration of human rights -> colonialism or Guantanamo

    On the other hand, it might well happen that cultures, although aggressive in their basic rules tones down, either for lack of power or in order to adapt to less aggressive cultures surrounding them...

    1. Most rules are really only important in terms of legal enforcement. I assume no one is perfect, though rules are best when, if they are followed by all, the result is a functioning society that is fair.

  3. Well my point is that any society/culture/ideology gets to a point where the "legal system", whatever it might be, does not enforce the basic rules, sometimes even their contrary.

    In general, when those in power have no interest in following the basic rule, they find a legal loophole or exception that will eventually become so big that the rule can be considered invalid.

    This is way you have to judge a society/culture/ideology by what they actually do, not by what they say they would do.

    1. If a society is enforcing contrary to a rule, then it ceased to be the rule. Enforcement is law, probably more so than legislation. I think a good example of what you mean would help me understand, because I'm not getting what you mean.

  4. Oh, I am sorry. English is not my mother tongue, so it might be that my way of thinking and my use of language are quite far away from US norms.

    I agree with you on this point: enforcement is law.

    However, there is often (or even always) a gap between law (in theory) and enforcement (in practice).

    It happens that people try to compare ideologies/cultures by comparing their "basic rules" or "scriptures" or "basic laws".

    My point ist that those scriptures or basic rules are irrelevent most of the time. What counts is how the rules are enforced in practice. So I think that rather than comparing theoretical rules, one should compare what is really done.

    1. First off, I thought your English wasn't bad. Don't worry about that.

      Is there some particular law that is written but that society is not enforcing? Are people getting away with murder somewhere? I know here in the states, there is a bit of a problem when it comes to enforcing rape laws, but for the most part, I'm not aware of any laws we need which are unenforced... if anything, we just lack certain laws.

      The basic idea of a legal system is that if a law is on the books and someone brings up a grievance, every court in the land will rule in accordance with the law, not social convention.

      Is there some particular law you have in mind which is being ignored?

  5. Well I think that our society here in Europe is a three-class-society, rebuilding the kind of feudalism the enlightenment sought to abolish.

    We have citizens
    We have foreigners with permit
    we have foreigner without permit.

    Democracy & legal system uphold the rights of citizens as best they can, and, to some extend, also for foreigners.

    But foreigners without permit are spoiled of their rights, for the simple reason that as soon as they go to court, they will be evicted, so they have no interest in going to court. Believe you me, people take advantage of that.

    Or take the blind eye democracies turned, all through the last and present centuries, to torture of non-citizens.

    the french army practiced torture during the colonial wars, e.g. in Algeria. Officers doing it were promoted (for the good results they got from interrogations). At the same time, torture was strictly forbidden in metropolitan France.

    The same happened now with regards to the Afghan and Irak war. The US laws prohibit torture, but they found a loophole to practice it out of american soil.

    Take extrajudicail liquidations (like the one of Bin laden, I am afraid to say). The law allows no leeway for executions without trial. Yet those liquidations are accepted.

    1. I see what you mean. There is a serious problem with the accepted dehumanization of non-citizens.

      I had not put much thought into it, but the US certainly has at least two of those classes. I might be wrong, but foreigners who are here legally in the US are treated pretty much equally (at least from a legal standpoint, maybe not socially in all situations, and they may be deported if they break the law in some other way). However, if you are in America illegally, or you're in a nation we don't like... we treat you pretty atrociously.

      I don't think history will forgive these actions. You're right, we will be judged by what we did, not only what we stood for.

      Though to be fair, these are usually not rules, but principles. I think the operating principle in this above example for us is, "Never torture people or kill them without trial." Those who justify what we've done would say those people as not subject to certain laws... they're just wrong, horribly, horribly wrong.

  6. Actually I want to say that there is no correlation between the quality of the founding principles and the "fairness" of a culture/ideology/society.

    In fact, the better the founding principles are, the greater the risk of abuse. Christianiy thought they had found the receipe for an ideal society - love and forgiveness (or whatever). Since this ideal was so good, they did not want anyone to live without it: hence the forced conversions. It was out of charity. They also killed witches out of charity, in order to secure them the life to come in paradise.

    So I like to play a mind game in order to see how the ideal of enlightenment/atheism based on the universal declaration of human rights could be abused.

    I think Irak and Afghanistan were good examples: we will bathe you in blood in order to bring you democracy. This is exactely what the catholics did in their worst periods.

    Or take another example: Dawkins thinks that serious biology/geology is incompatible with the bible. So far so good, I think he is right. But where does he go from there? Shaming and mocking people who want to learn evolution with him and still uphold their religious convictions? I think he crosses the thin line towards intolerance quite a few times. So I could imagine that Dawkin's disciples, the members of the atheist church, could really harm religious individuals in the name of dawkin's principles - for example by making a rule "no tenure in Biology for members of an established religion founded on the bible". By the way, this is the way it was done in Soviet Union.

    There is always a possibility of doing something bad for a good reason or of perverting a good principle into something bad. It does not depend on the quality of the principle, it is inherent in the concept of "principle".


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