I recently purchased and read my old friend/classmate John Figdor's book, "Atheist Mind, Humanist Heart: Re-Writing the Ten Commandments for the Twenty-First Century." It was very exciting to read, especially insofar as John has served as a "no-god-father" to my atheist identity.
In the book, Figdor (and co-author Lex Bayer) set out to create a secular, logical framework for creating humanist ethics. This project was very different from what I expected, which was the production of the actual humanist ethics. For a book about ethics, there is very little talk about love, justice, or otherness, and much about the nature of reality and goodness (in general). I found this very frustrating at first, but once I recognized the preliminary nature of the project, I came to appreciate the authors' respect for the individual need to discover one's own ethics.
The book ends fantastically, by challenging the reader to create their own "ten non-commandments," with guidelines to follow Figdor and Bayer's model-- that is, with about 5 non-commandments regarding the nature of reality, and 5 non-commandments regarding the nature of goodness. They also held a contest on their website for new non-commandments, and shared the winning responses in this Time article.
At some point when I have more time, I hope to do the philosophical legwork to answer their challenge. In the meantime, I had an interesting experience over vacation (involving attending an Orthodox weekday afternoon prayer service), and I've been thinking a lot about how the Amidah prayer has a lot of sentiments that can be re-worked into humanist ethics.
So, here's my first version (very rough, very plagiarized from the Jewish prayer book) of humanist commandments:
- Be sensitive to your sense of the sacred.
- Seek learning and wisdom for life.
- Commit to personal growth and healing, for yourself and others.
- Forgive yourself and others.
- Work towards the betterment of the world.
- Respect the Earth.
- Love (social) justice.
- Cultivate humility.
- Be thankful.
- Pursue peace.