I don’t know if any agnostics or atheists will read this post. I hope they will because it is imperative for everyone (certainly every American) to understand why the 10 commandments make sense—regardless of what you believe.
I could make a case that some variation of these ideas have been at the foundation of every religion and every civilized society since the beginning of time. It would actually be an easy case to make. By this I could show that any argument against these concepts is an argument against all of humanity throughout all of history. But I won’t.
I could make a case with countless present day examples where these ideas have proved efficacious and positive in every sense for the betterment of all. But I am sure you could dredge up some obscure cases or think up some hypothetical cases to argue the point, so I won’t even open that can of worms.
I could appeal to your heart in these matters because all 10 commandments really (bottom line) speak of the attitude of the heart, but that might be like spitting into the wind. I don’t know your heart. It may be calloused. Who can say?
So instead, I will appeal to reason—the same cold reason by which you claim there is no God.
1. No other Gods but God You may choose to limit reality to what you can perceive (and perhaps allow others to define their own reality based on what they perceive—very gracious of you). You may or may not also include what science has “proved” to be true—if you believe what you read. You may even insist that everyone deep down defines his or her own reality as you have, whether they realize it or not. Personally, I find that an incredibly small and closed system (universe), sort of like reducing the grandeur of the universe in order to live in your own bubble, but I won’t argue since it is your choice. You go ahead and believe whatever you want. You want to believe that you are the sole arbiter of your reality. You do not want to believe in God. Be my guest. I ask only one thing:
Please don’t make a god of yourself.
You may limit or isolate reality to your own perceptions, but unless you live in a cave and have cut yourself off from all human contact, real or not, life is lived in relationship. The 10 commandments are very much about establishing rules for relationships. You may be the Captain of your soul and the Master of your fate, but leave the god stuff alone.
If what is real for you is what you decide at the moment (what is true, right or good for you) it is hard to see how that, at times, will not impact others negatively. You may be crafty enough to avoid criminal prosecution, but people have defined that degree of self-orientation as “insane.” After a time of others being hurt, the people around you may recommend the asylum, or at least enough drugs to keep you sedated.
Please don’t take the cynic’s suggestion and return the favor—making God in your image. It isn’t healthy for relationships to make the world drink your kool-aid, just ask the followers of Jim Jones. And please don’t make a god of anything else, either.
2. Make no graven images into god either. Money, for example. Greed injures others. We all know this. And is it wise to lavish our time and energy on the car, the house, our hobby, our entertainment, our work rather than on our spouse and children? No. Every “scientific” study says this is a bad idea for the spouse, the children and ultimately for ourselves.
Graven images might not even be tangible things—you know like striving after power, success, fame, status, prestige, oh, so many possibilities. Please, remember that life is relationships. Please don’t make gods of things. Look: you claim there is no God. Fine, then be smart enough and sensible enough to mean it. Make no self-god and make no “thing”-god either, Okay?
3. No God vanity. This is the underline. Even if you choose not to believe in God, you understand the concept (unless you are a complete ignoramus). So don’t let vanity or pride get to you (self-god, mostly). Again, look: I know this means you have to keep enough of an open mind to allow others space and to allow that you may be wrong here and there. I also know this is anathema for Atheists: to allow for the idea that you may be wrong about ANYTHING. Define reality any way you choose, only remember that in life, relationships happen as surely as “**it” happens…
4. The Sabbath God suggests one day a week off to rest and make “holy.” You know, it is not a bad idea. Take one day to rest. We all should for our mental and physical health. And then do something with that day to contribute to others in some way. Again, not a bad idea. You know, that relationship thing again. You may think “holy” is a fools concept, but on a practical level, feed the poor, house the homeless, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, encourage the fainthearted, heal the sick. You got a problem with this once a week?
5. Honor your Father and Mother. We might add: respect your elders, give deference to those over you such as employers, be fair to those under you such as employees. Respect the teachers who teach you and train you and be a mentor in turn to those who follow after and look up to you. All of these are positive, relational ideas and worthy of consideration by all people.
More than that, this commandment specifically talks about family as the foundational unit in a stable society. Yes, the definition of what exactly constitutes a family is debatable, but the principal is good. Honor (respect) in relationships is a good idea even for atheists. It is what holds society together and keeps us all from tumbling off the precipice into abject anarchy.
Here, in the Sabbath rest and in the Honor of Mother and Father we have the ground for civilization. Maybe you don’t care about civilization… I don’t know your heart.
6. Don’t murder. 7. Don’t f**k around. 8. Don’t steal 9. Don’t lie about people.
These are so basic to society they hardly need to be mentioned. The home, community, state, nation, civilization cannot stand that allows people to kill whom they please, take what isn’t theirs, and lie about each other, especially in public where it damages most. Lying in public is malicious, manipulative, and wicked which everyone knows who has ever been on the receiving end. As for f**king around, after murder it is no doubt the biggest and most hurtful relationship breaker of them all. Reason says these things mater in any society. Reason also says the principal is what matters. States cannot legislate for every instance, nor should we encourage that sort of tyranny.
10. Don’t covet. And this last; it gets to the heart of the matter. Jealousy, envy, wanting things that are not ours, striving after stupid stuff, letting our desires rule over us. You may not want a God in the universe. You may not like the idea of letting some imaginary being rule over you. That’s fine, only don’t let your whims and desires (base desires) take God’s place either. To do so is only to ask for trouble, as the saying goes. And it may end up with others deciding you need drugs to keep you sedated…
I don’t know who may read this post. But if anyone of an agnostic or atheist bent has read to this point, I hope you can see how important these concepts are for all people in all times. Truly, life is lived in relationships and these are merely the foundation for keeping them positive and secure. You may not believe in God, but don’t let that blind you to these ideas. They are good and have been good throughout history for all human beings, even those who choose to live in a little reality bubble all alone.