Monday, January 5, 2015

"Ten Non-commandments" - A First Pass

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:

  1. Be sensitive to your sense of the sacred.
  2. Seek learning and wisdom for life.
  3. Commit to personal growth and healing, for yourself and others.
  4. Forgive yourself and others.
  5. Work towards the betterment of the world.
  6. Respect the Earth.
  7. Love (social) justice.
  8. Cultivate humility.
  9. Be thankful.
  10. Pursue peace.