Commandments-Standing-In-Desert

Smashing The Tablets

SOME THOUGHTS ON ETHICS AND RELIGION

“If God does not exist, everything is permitted” is attributed to Dostoyevsky’s Ivan Karamazov. Did he mean that it is impossible to have a moral code of conduct without believing in God? In fact, one could argue the opposite. True ethics exist only in the absence of an authoritarian and watchful God. For of what value is good behavior if it stems from fear of punishment or hope of heavenly rewards?

Ethics evolve when people have emancipated themselves from external diktats and internalized the values they have absorbed from their parents, teachers, mentors and other influential individuals in their life. That is what is meant by leaving childhood and becoming adults.

So then shall we reexamine the Ten Commandments in that context to see how much relevance they have today? They definitely need dismantling.

–Let us first get rid of the three in which an irascible and capricious God enjoins us to obey only him.

–Some commandments should become optional–Keeping the Sabbath and honoring your father and mother. That is up to each one of us to decide.

–Covetousness and adultery are certainly undesirable but not sinful.

–Killing, stealing and bearing false witness have now entered the criminal code and therefore are redundant.

Having smashed the tablets, we need to proceed to building our own set of values. I have identified six commandments for myself and would like to know what guideposts other people have decided on.

1. Thou shalt not be cruel and hurt others deliberately, whether humans or animals.
2. Thou shalt not betray anyone’s trust.
3. Thou shalt not force thy beliefs onto others.
4. Thou shalt not be greedy and accumulate wealth at the expense of others.
5. Thou shalt be solely responsible for thy actions and not blame thy parents, genes or environment.
6. Thou shalt get rid of the concepts of sacredness and blasphemy. No people, places or objects such as relics are sacred. All are subject to questioning.

These then are my six commandments. What are yours?

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18 comments

  1. God “exists” or “does not exist” is a matter of belief as neither can be proven wrong. But my problem is with the concept of “GOD”. If he is the creator, if he is all knowing, if he is all controlling (also over our minds) and if all of us are his children; then the world that we live in or the way it had been for the past 3000 years puts serious questions on his capability and intention. Its is easy to overlook evil by saying “Its his will”; but which “GOD”/father will willfully sit and watch(omnipresent) killing, rape, torture and other evils that existed from the beginning of human existence. The large-scale genocides starting from the first documented “Trojan War” to “Chengiz Khan” to Hitler to very recent Rawanda and hundreds in between probably lived and prospered because “GOD created man in his own image”. Then maybe he disassociates himself form these mass killers by saying”I have given them free will”. But then what about natural disasters. If he is(all controlling) is it necessary for millions to die ( including innocent children) due to famine, flood and earthquakes. Then again maybe he is maintaining balance of nature.
    To me there are many “GODs” but they are more like the players in strategy games like “Age of Empires” where each takes any means possible to maintain his superiority. And that for me puts that “supreme being” more towards the definition of “SATAN” than “GOD”.
    Just my 2 cents.. oops and then there is money.

  2. Ok, so lets test this with a thought experiment: I love flowers. I love flowers so much that my dream is to be surrounded with flowers and I’d love to work in a flower shop or in a nursery that produces flowers. To receive a gift of flowers makes me supremely happy. With that in mind I make a point that when I visit someone I give a gift of flowers. Problem is that one of my friends has an allergy to flower pollen and it’s such a serious allergy that she is in misery during certain seasons when the pollen count is high. Although the thing that makes me supremely happy, flowers, causes untold misery to her so I do not visit with a gift of flowers. This ethic of doing unto others the way I would like to be treated falls down because not all of us have the same attitudes to, or the ability to enjoy what others regards as positive and beneficial. There are those who enjoy smoking, should they smoke in the presence of others? Should they pressure others to smoke? Most enjoy sex but to force it on another because one likes it strictly because one is in the mood is called rape. So the traditional Golden Rule that is set in a positive mode is impractical. Far better and more realistic to adopt the negative mode of the Golden Rule, introduced by Hillel in the 1st Century, that one should not do unto others what is hateful to oneself. First, the chances of an agreement between people about what they all hate is far greater than agreement than what is positive and enjoyable. Second by NOT doing what is hateful to oneself means that one cannot impose one’s standards and values on another, because the one who holds this negative ethic of the Golden Rule restrains himself from interacting with another while the positive Golden Rule asks one to act without regard to the suitability of the action relative to another. If one is wrong in applying the positive Golden Rule then one risks the chance of harming or offending another. If one adopts the negative Golden Rule, the rule of Hillel, if one makes a mistake applying that ethic with one’s fellow then there’s usually no real harm done.

  3. This is foolish even if the fools says god doesn’t exist the very fact that you have a concept of god its self proof that god exist you cannot denied something that exist because the very fact that you say god doesn’t exist you have the concept of god and second every man is born of having the concept of good they know what is good or bad for there neighbor whether you want to destroy him or help him that on your freedom that god like a father respects your freedom

  4. Whether people like it or not, God EXISTS… Jesus Christ WILL return… Better are the positions who trust in him or atleast keep their mouth SHUT & acknowledge that they don’t know rather than tampering with His (perfect) laws for the benefit of the whole humanity… Good & patient explanation given above… But I’m very impatient towards these “gods” who try to win an audience…

  5. I think that the premise of Simone’s current blog is that there is no God. As I don’t share that position, I obviously will have a different take on these things. The more work I do in my field of astronomy, the more I see an incredibly beautiful, complex design and implementation of physical laws governing an amazing universe. This leads me to believe in some supreme being. The more I learn about the world, the more support I see for the records in the Jewish books of the Torah and the New Testament being factually correct, and not just stories. This includes the walls of Jericho being brought down, the parting of the Red Sea (National Geographic had an article on this), the finding of what appears to be remnants of a ship that could have been the Ark attributed to Noah, and the Christmas star.
    I try to think about the environment into which the tablets were introduced. I think the repeated statement that we are created in God’s image (including imagination, curiosity, free will, capacity for love, even the role of parents) makes me look at how people live their lives in a special way. In particular, I think of the choices and decisions I had to make as a parent, and I wonder if God faced some of those same questions when He looked/ looks at His children. I certainly don’t think of God as “irascible,” but loving and concerned, yet trying to let me make my choices. All we have to do is read a paper or listen to a radio news report or watch a TV news report to see very bad things going on all around us, and apparently getting worse each year. I think the further we have gotten from the Judeo-Christian approach to civilization, the worse things have gotten. Thus, I think keeping God central in our lives, and respecting His gifts to us, are good things to do. Keeping the Sabbath, which may be simply setting aside some time to contemplate our lives, to think about moral decisions facing us, to think about our priorities, may be a good recipe for good mental health, and doing that in the light of our religious beliefs may help us to make choices that are both good for us and for society. Similarly, I think some of the items that were prohibited were prohibited for good reasons – religious, ethical, or just common sense. I think adultery is wrong, not just undesirable, and that it leads to jealousy and betrayal and all the unhappy, sad, angry, resentful feelings that go with that. Thus, it seems inconsistent to look at Simone’s rules 1 & 2 and her statement that the commandment against adultery should be done away with!
    I guess I felt that the rules I got from my religious upbringing were good enough for me to follow, if I wanted to live my life as a good, moral person, so I never tried to create a separate list. I recognize that some of the rules the Jewish people followed more than a thousand years ago were likely due to what was good for the population, such as the prohibition against pork that at that time could lead to bad diseases. Some of the rules were symptomatic of the culture, but I find it interesting that the 10 commandments, those that are attributed to God, not to men, did not deal with women being viewed as unclean or second class citizens, for example. And Jesus’s teachings were similarly aimed not at the enforcement of rules for rules’ sake, but fundamental, simple concepts that apply to everyone – keep God central in your life, love your neighbor as yourself, forgive those around you, not just once, but many times, help your neighbors that are worse off than you are, etc..
    I think if I could follow these teachings (Old and New Testaments), I’d be a happier and better person. I think as our society moves further from these teachings, rules, whatever, the worse our society becomes. I prefer we get to choose what religion we follow, but I would point out, as others have, that our constitution provides freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion. The rules state that the government won’t enforce a particular religion, but not that the government will actively try to hamper the practice of A religion of my (and others’) choice. Thus, if someone wants to pray in a different way, with different premises, in a different building, OK. If that other “religion” includes an active plan to destroy other religions, kill all those who don’t believe the way that religion believes, and states openly that it is OK for people of that faith to deceive, defraud, and kill those who don’t follow that same religion, I am opposed to that group of people, and that religion, although I don’t really consider that a religion.
    Just my take on things.

  6. There should probably be something in there about helping others less fortunate than yourself, but the problem with that is the same as #4, which is how do you define the appropriate amount of help just as it is hard to define what is the appropriate amount of wealth. This exercise shows how hard it is to write a rule that one can always apply. That is why I like decency and common sense as guidelines, but how would you ever write a rule about those?

    1. Hmm, how to “define the appropriate amount of help…(and)…what is the appropriate amount of wealth?” Fellow named Marx had one definition (in gender-exclusive terminology, unfortunately): “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”

      How that might work requires too complex a disquisition, but it’s an interesting goal for a humane humanity…

  7. gotta go with number 4…thou shalt not exploit others to greedily amass more than you could possibly need and thou shalt assume some social responsibility…McDonald’s workers make a not-enough-to-live-on wage, while McD’s amasses billions in profits? Really? And is it necessary to go into other countries and fatten their citizens? Seriously?

  8. My father had quite an influence on me. He didn’t believe in God, but he always stressed the Golden Rule. That would be the closest to a Commandment that I could come up with, and believe me, I haven’t always followed it.

    1. Even the golden rule has its detractors–fussy people I suspect, saying: how do you know how other people would like to be treated?

      1. Good point, Simone! Although I’ve never heard anyone say that, I have no doubt but there would be someone out there who would! It’s just such a simple idea,the Golden Rule, but covers a lot of territory! And, I like it because it does not get too academic.

  9. Good thinking! Actually, what are called the Ten Commandments appear twice (with some variations) in the Hebrew Bible: Exodus 20:12-14 (on Mt. Sinai) and Deuteronomy 5:6-18 (on Mt. Horeb). The major difference between the two is that in the latter, the reason given in #4 for keeping the Sabbath is not that the creator rested on the 7th day, but that he liberated the Hebrew tribes from Egyptian bondage. It also, in #10, adds one’s neighbor’s field to the list of items not to be coveted.

    However, neither one of these versions is explicitly named “The Ten Commandments!” That honor is reserved for another list altogether — one that religious zealots never propose for mounting on courthouse walls or lawns. Exodus 34:17-28 covers the three harvest festivals, claims first-born animals and human sons for the creator, gives no reason for seventh day rest and includes other quite curious commands. (Those interested can obtain a comparative chart of all three versions by request to hershl@sholem.org

    1. Thanks for the information on the commandments. I used a streamlined version so as not to lose track of my point : they need revision.

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