The Atheist 10 Commandments

I got into an online discussion about whether there can be morality without a god. One position from a Muslim was that all morality comes from Allah starting with the first human (it was a little unclear as to how this would work since Islam was not founded until the 600s). One position was that morality is a social construct that is projected back onto whatever gods that society happens to have.

So let’s say there’s no god to tell us what’s moral. What would be your atheist 10 commandments that would give a framework for morality that could apply universally?

Atheists are humanists as opposed to deists, so commandments stating what they do and don’t believe/do would be antithetical to their basic belief that humans determine their own destiny.

10 Suggestions maybe? Seriously, I think the OP is looking for some form of behavioral guideposts analogous to the Commandments but applicable to non-believers.

I think George Carlin did a fine job of deconstructing and simplifying the 10 Commandments as commonly taught -

For a text version, or of course, you can watch -

But since I’m one of the humanists who work from the assumption of the social contract, the answers depend upon which social contract you’re a part of.

Granted it’s from religious text, but the Golden Rule covers a lot of ground.

You cannot simplify the whole of morality in ten short commandments, you even can’t pack it all in a national or international book of law, but I think the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights is a good start.

You may be interested in this TED talk:

It’s 18 minutes long, but I found it fascinating. The short version is that he presents results of experiments showing that many animals possess senses of empathy, reciprocity, prosociality, and fairness, despite presumably not believing in God.

But the Bible, and other such texts, are themselves products of human effort. So we can accept or reject any part of them on the same basis as any other teachings we might consider.

Look at the ten commandments:

  1. You shall have no other Gods before me
  2. You shall not make for yourselves an idol
  3. You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God
  4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy
  5. Honor your father and your mother
  6. You shall not murder
  7. You shall not commit adultery
  8. You shall not steal
  9. You shall not give false testimony
  10. You shall not covet

Cross out the ones that are explicitly about maintaining religious purity, and you get:

  1. Remember the Sabbath day ----
  2. Honor your father and your mother
  3. You shall not murder
  4. You shall not commit adultery
  5. You shall not steal
  6. You shall not give false testimony
  7. You shall not covet

That’s actually not a bad basis for running a human society. Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie, listen to people who can teach you things, avoid jealousy, and take a break every week to relax. Follow those rules, and you’d be doing pretty well.

If you are a “true believer”, the Bible is the divine word of God. Humans were just secretaries.

Well, let’s see how the originals stack up.

  1. I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me

Well, that’s gonna have to be edited down to just “You shall have no gods”.

  1. You shall make no graven images to bow down to in worship.

If we’re dealing with atheists, we probably don’t really need to spell that out, but it can’t hurt.

  1. You shall not use the name of the Lord in taking a false oath.

Maybe just broaden this to “don’t take false oaths in general”.

  1. You shall honor the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

I guess the secular equivalent here would be something like laws limiting work hours and mandating overtime.

  1. Honor thy father and mother.

Well, even the original had small print letting you off the hook if your parents are real jerks, so with that caveat this seems pretty unobjectionable. We could maybe broaden the principle to a general social obligation to care for the elderly.

  1. Thou shalt not kill.

Again, we’ll probably need some narrow exceptions for this to be entirely practical, but it’s a pretty good rule of thumb for daily life.

  1. Thou shalt not commit adultery.

Well, that sounds sort of judgmental. How about “You shall honor the terms of all agreements which you voluntarily enter into”?

  1. Thou shalt not steal.

Pretty good. Maybe add in a reciprocal obligation on society’s part to provide everyone with a sufficient income so they won’t have to steal in order to meet their basic needs.

  1. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Another one that holds up pretty well. Not wanting to be framed for crimes is an attitude widely shared by people of every culture and belief system.

  1. You shall not covet anything that is your neighbor’s.

OK, that one’s kind of weird. For one thing, it’s the only one which is commanding us to have a particular attitude, rather than to do or not do some specific action. And arguably coveting can be positive, if it inspires us to work hard to get what our neighbor has. Let’s send this one back to the committee to work on the wording.

There are many “true believers” who think that the Bible is the work of humans, (probably) inspired by god.

Yes, but since I’m not a true believer, I’m allowed to admit that this is bullshit. Some humans wrote this, for their human purposes of running a society. I can accept the parts of it that I think work, just like I would with a physics textbook from the 1880s. That text would be useful when it is talking about Newton’s Laws of Motion, but would be useless when trying to learn about atomic theory.

Atheists are people who don’t believe in the existence of gods. That’s it. They don’t necessarily agree on anything else. An “atheist 10 commandments” makes as much sense as a “people who don’t believe in the Loch Ness Monster 10 commandments”.

Christian view of the Bible: " Christians regard the Bible as their holy text. They follow the rules it contains for living life and can turn to Jesus’s teachings for moral guidance. The Bible is considered the sacred scripture of Christianity. Christians consider the Bible to be sacred because it contains messages from God."

No, in their view, it is the word of God. Why do think the orthodox believers are so stubborn about the 7 day creation et al? It’s because they truly believe it is the direct word of God. There is no room for interpretation of meaning.

Yes, but his statement was: “There are many “true believers” who think that the Bible is the work of humans, (probably) inspired by god.”

Since my comments are directed to that statement regarding TRUE BELIEVERS, they have nothing to do with what a non-believer says, does, or believes.

I don’t know where your quote came from. but it’s definitely not the stance of all Christians and their thousand of denominations. Many liberal Christians don’t view the Bible as the definite Word of God, but know, research and comment the texts as what they are, the writings of humans. Most of them think that the writings (at least the ones that are sympathetic and not embarrassing, they of course pick and choose) are “inspired by God”, but not literally the Word of God in the totality of the Bible.

Well, then, give me what you personally believe would be a moral code that should govern human behavior that does not rely on being judged by a god.

One of mine would be, “Thou shalt not shit thy neighbor’s thread.”

The best I could do as an atheist is perhaps a set of rules that I personally would follow. Would that be o.k.?


Interesting thread!

I’m not an atheist but I speak it decently well as a second language.

I. Thou shalt remember that thou art fallible and capable of error, hence thou shalt not enshrine a set of beliefs and call them Truth, that they never be questioned, and demand that all regard them as holy.

II. Thou shalt recall that ours is a social species, that surviveth by cooperation, and shalt therefore strive to live in peace with one another.

III. Thou shalt not nurture any sacred cow in the pasture of thy mind, but shall endure inquiry into any and all subjects, and give thy consideration to such questions.

IV. Thou shalt remain aware that the situation of others differs from thy own not merely by consequence of thy striving, and show compassion for those in more dire circumstances.

V. Thou shalt refrain from condemning the behavior of others before listening to their side of the story.

VI. Thou shalt not embrace the fallacy of assuming that what everyone else believes is necessarily correct.

VII. Thou shalt refrain from oversimplified answers and false either/or choices when they are posed, nor shalt thou pose the same to others.

VIII. Eschewing utiliarianism, thou shalt value knowledge for its own sake.

IX. Observe the Oxford comma, and respect the dependence of thy clauses.

X. For the duration of all thy days, thou shalt not query why we park in driveways yet drive on parkways, for such is an abomination.