In my last post, I introduced this response to the 10 non-commandments of Atheism that some dudes compiled. I don’t believe these dudes or this list is representative of all atheists any more than I believe the Tea Party is representative of all Christians. But, this list does represent a fairly common set of beliefs for our culture, which we often accept without questioning. I have encountered the larger ideas and attitudes behind these beliefs at various points in my life, and I’d like to respond to them now.
So without further ado, the ten non-commandments:
- Be open-minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence.
The implication here is that if religious people would only stop being so close-minded, and really consider the evidence, they would alter their beliefs. And probably the most commonly noted example of this would be a little thing called EVOLUTION.
More on science in number 3, but I do want to mention first of all that if we have historically believed that the God of the universe could simply speak everything into being from nothing (think big-bang), why could God not also use an evolutionary process to accomplish creation? I’m certainly no expert in whether the creation account in Genesis should be read as six literal days or as six long ages, but I see no reason that science should not help us better understand God.
But I also think we could stand to use a little caution in our estimation of what we learn through science because, after all, the scientific method is a self-correcting process, and what it tells us is “most likely to be true” sometimes changes. In other words, while evidence matters, there is no need to elevate the scientific method above all other ways of understanding the world, and it doesn’t always get it right.
Just take the example of cholesterol. Remember how eating foods high in cholesterol was the worst thing ever for most of your life and then, about 5 seconds ago, science decided it’s actually fine? Thanks a lot, science, you filthy liar, for making me feel terrible about my love for bacon and eggs.
However, bacon is still not good for you. Sorry, Dad.
Anyway, for the theist, the evidence for God is everywhere. It is the astoundingly beautiful and intricate order of the natural world, the profound depth of feeling and desire for meaning and connection that we experience as human beings, our innate understanding of morality and sense of justice, our insatiable and powerful desire to know and be known. For many of us, it is not that we are closing our minds to the idea that we could be wrong, but that the evidence for the existence of God is too overwhelming for us to deny.
- Strive to understand what is most likely to be true, not to believe what you wish to be true.
I agree with this statement in that we should have the integrity to believe what we think is most likely to be true, not simply cling to something irrational that satisfies our needs. I disagree with the larger implication that this is what religious people do.
In my last post, I wrote a little bit about my own experiences with trying to live apart from religion, and how I became quite adrift and depressed. I described my return to religion as a return to peace and life. Does that mean my religion is a crutch? Maybe so. But does the idea that we might need a crutch mean that we invented religion to meet our needs? Or could it mean that we were invented with the need to connect with something greater than ourselves?
- The scientific method is the most reliable way of understanding the natural world.
Can you prove that statement is true by using the scientific method? No?! Then why would you believe it to be true, you silly silly person.
It’s not that I don’t think science is important. The scientific method has been an invaluable tool for understanding the world and making it a much better place. It’s just that when we regard the scientific method as the only reliable way of establishing truth, we forget that there are some things that science simply cannot tell us, and that these things are at least as important as the things it can tell us. We place too much faith in what ought to be a tool for understanding the world, not a process by which we define our existence.
I realize I made a leap from “most reliable way of understanding the natural world” to “only reliable way of establishing truth,” but well, I think that is what we have done as a culture. Because things like morals, values, good and evil are not scientifically “provable,” they have been relegated to the realm of imagination. But are things that can be established scientifically, like the dietary guidelines for cholesterol for example, really more reliable than things that are outside the realm of science, such as the moral judgement that slavery is wrong?
- Every person has the right to control of their body.
If we consider the natural world, we see quite a lot of violence. If it is wrong to control someone else’s body, it is certainly not because this is a law found largely in nature. It is a law which depends upon our understanding of the value of being a human being. I’m not sure how dependable such a suggestion is in a world where we are all just slated for death anyway. Of course I believe that persons have the right to control their bodies, but I think that this is a God-given right.
- God is not necessary to be a good person or to live a full and meaningful life.
This depends on who defines “good.” If God does not exist, and we define what is good ourselves, then yes, of course we can live a good life (according to ourselves.) If we decide that without the existence of God, certain attributes and actions that could be defined as “good” in absolute terms still exist (kindness, compassion and integrity, for example), then yes, an atheist could certainly display such attributes and perform such actions (and they often do.) But to acknowledge the existence of “good,” I think we might have to throw out non-commandment number 9.
6. Be mindful of the consequences of all your actions and recognize that you must take responsibility for them.
Unless you don’t get caught. Then you actually don’t have to take responsibility. Because you’re just going to die like everyone else, regardless of your actions. Sure, it might feel good to do the right thing. But sometimes? It feels really good to do the wrong thing. And it’s super easy to talk yourself into feeling OK about doing something that’s really not OK. I’ve done it, and you probably have too. Responsibility Shmeshmonsibility.
7. Treat others as you would want them to treat you, and can reasonably expect them to want to be treated. Think about their perspective.
Good advice. So good, it may have been recognized 2000 years before this current enlightened age, when Jesus Christ said the following: “And the second (of God’s two greatest commandments) is like it: love your neighbor as yourself.”
8. We have the responsibility to consider others, including future generations.
If all there is, is now, why am I responsible to consider anyone else? The lives of future generations will be as fleeting as mine. See number 6. Responsibility Schmeshmonsibility.
9. There is no one right way to live.
If that is the case, why would I abide by any of these commandments? You are writing commandments that you think are right, but you don’t think that right exists! Come on, people!!
Saying there is “no one right way to live,” suggests that there are many right ways to live – at least I think that is the intention. This is true in the sense that some people may like gospel music while some people prefer classical. Some people enjoy a soak in the tub, and some people prefer a shower. Some people like to eat sushi and some people like to eat chimichangas, and all of those are OK. Especially because eating cholesterol is FINE.
But could there be, “one right way to live,” if you are talking about morality? Could it be that there are certain beliefs that prescribe certain actions, and that are true? For example, if we believe that across time and place it is true that people have inherent value as people, should we then take certain actions, such as treating them as we would want to be treated? Isn’t that the right way of living? And isn’t it non commandment number 7?!?
I think that this item is indicative of a broader societal attitude that we can all be right, except the people who don’t think we can all be right – those people are wrong. See how that works? It is a pleasant idea that completely contradicts itself.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t respect the beliefs of people with whom we disagree. But I also think that in the name of pluralism we have decided it’s somehow inappropriate, or even wrong, to publicly acknowledge and debate our opinions about things like religion and morality, and that instead of engaging in respectful dialogue we should just accept that “we’re all right, in our own way” (except for those who disagree with this tenant.)
- Leave the world a better place than you found it.
See number 8. There’s a lot more to say, but I’m going to stop because this is a blog, not a book. And also because when I ponder existential questions for any length of time: