- Published on Monday, 09 August 2010 07:25
- Written by John Draper
- Hits: 1602
Morality has changed over the centuries - in civilized countries, slavery is no longer acceptable, women have equal rights, birth control is expected, war is not glorified and many minor taboos have gone. So it is clear that if a higher power mandated morality, it is not fixed and not absolute. The average person gets their set of moral standards from their parents and to some extent from society's teachers such as high priests or their modern equivalent but where do they get their rules from? The short answer is that morality is handed down from earlier generations and is also virtually self-evident. It is clear that a society cannot function if indiscriminate killing or stealing is allowed. Society needs trust and that means lying must be unethical or at least minimized. So there is no need to have an external god, or a representative of such an entity, tell the rest of us what the rules are.
But in the interest of getting everyone "on the same page", it's good to document a short version of what we all agree should be the rules. Hence the popularity of the "10 commandments" - or even the single "golden rule".
One thing we should be clear on - simply submitting to the authority of a priest, imam or even policeman does not work for very long. Societies that impose laws or commandments that do not make sense soon provoke revolt. It's important that everyone, or at least the majority, agree with the law/rule/commandment. If we are all just submitting to authority (e.g. the authority of god under pain of hellfire), then sooner or later, like a child, we will test the authority and rebel.
If we look at the 10 commandments, it's clear that the first few are about submission to god and parents - submission to "authority". Since the only "authority" we should be concerned about is the correctness of the rules, then we don't need such rules. But this leaves only rules about murder, stealing, lying, adultery and coveting. What about slavery, rape and other sexual abuse? What about actions that prevent freedom of speech, religion, assembly? What about equal rights for women, social justice and a right to an education?
Following the "golden rule" is nice and simple but if we are going to discard the 10 commandments as being obsolete, it would be good to write down (document) a replacement with more detail. In his book The Code for Global Ethics: Toward a Humanist Civilization, Dr. Rodrigue Tremblay (photo right) shows that morality does not and should not come from god and proposes an alternative:
The Ten Humanist Commandments
- Proclaim the natural dignity and inherent worth of all human beings.
- Respect the life and property of others.
- Practice tolerance and open-mindedness towards the choices and life styles of others.
- Share with those who are less fortunate and mutually assist those who are in need of help.
- Use neither lies, nor spiritual doctrine, nor temporal power to dominate and exploit others.
- Rely on reason, logic and science to understand the Universe and to solve life's problems.
- Conserve and improve the Earth's natural environment-land, soil, water, air and space-as humankind's common heritage.
- Resolve differences and conflicts cooperatively without resorting to violence or to wars.
- Organize public affairs according to individual freedom and responsibility, through political and economic democracy.
- Develop one's intelligence and talents through education and effort.
Not quite the zip of the original but I also have a problem with this. Although I agree with the items and the sentiment behind them, I don't like the "commandments" label. I'm still being commanded to do certain things. I'd rather it be called something like: "A list of atheist beliefs and goals".
To be fair, in his book Tremblay does not make a big thing of his replacement commandments but instead pushes the idea that:
- Humanity needs a more advanced moral code than those provided by dogmatic religions;
- Religion-based moral codes are incomplete and inadequate for our increasingly shrinking planet;
- A reliance on the great universal humanist principles is the best way to guarantee human survival.
So he should have called his commandments: A Humanist Code. Still not the zip of "The 10 Commandments"!
More on his book: The Code for Global Ethics: Toward a Humanist Civilization At Amazon.ca
I think I'll stick to the golden rule and decide on interpretations and exceptions when I come to them.