May 19, 2024

Better Commandments

On April 26th, I’ll be at Stephen F Austin State College in Nacogdoches Texas, where I will be talking about the Damn Commandments. Imagine you’re the supreme being, and you’re going to provide the top ten rules for all of mankind, and that’s the best you could come up with?!

It occurred to me that I should present a list of better commandments than were given in Exodus. At the same time, I would not be so arrogant as to compose such a list myself. I have a few ideas, but they all sound like hippy slogans; others might think of something better.  So if you could include one guideline to be handed over to Bronze age Israelites, and passed down for all generations thereafter, how would your commandment read?

64 thoughts on “Better Commandments

  1. “Thou shalt not enslave another person” would be a pretty important thing to put on the list. I guess it is of more importance that you not boil a goat in its mother’s milk! Strange!

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  3. Know ye that him who speaketh as a prophet of the Lord is a false prophet. All his words are lies and they shall be shunned as the scorpion and as the viper. Listen not for thy soul’s sake and the sake of thy neighbors.

  4. I actually did a youtube video about this where I wrote my own 10. One of them was, deny no right or privelege to another that you claim for yourself.

  5. Shared humanity transcends all differences–or perhaps thou shalt not try to demote anyone from the status of human.

  6. It’s been done, but I find ‘Treat others as you would want to be treated’ covers most human interactions pretty well. Not perfectly, since others might not want to be treated the way you want to be treated, and in some cases how someone wants to be treated may not be the best way to treat them. It is also tainted by its association with those other commandments. But I don’t think these are disqualifiers. The ethic of reciprocity, if fully taken to its logical conclusion, renders any other commandment unneccessary.

    Remember that you are all stuck on this rock together. Even the people you hate, even the people who want opposing things. You are all in the same boat, and you are all going to the same place. Better to make it a good place. You have a reason to love your neighbor as yourself, and it is not because this or any other commandment tells you to, but because you share your neighbor’s fate. What affects him today will affect you tomorrow. Remember that as inherently interdependent social creatures we have a responsibility to others to deal fairly, and understand that the most accessable starting point for fair dealing is to begin with what you know of what you want, and apply it (flexibly) to what you think others want. In personal relationships or society at large the best way to establish a precedent of the type of treatment you want for yourself is to extend that treatment to others. You make the world you live in, and then you have to live in it.

  7. Thou shalt not attempt to enumerate and forbid all possible harms one person may do unto another. Instead, thou shalt follow some guiding principle, with the knowledge that thou mayst not have thought of everything on the first go.

    Not exactly pithy, but I think the spirit is important. I honestly think attempting to provide commandments at all is a bad approach, no matter how good you can make them.

    1. This one is actually good, as suggestions go.

      But it is indeed hard to make pithy. So I tried, because why not, and got even less pith:

      Remember, always, that harm is experienced only by those who are harmed. The experience of harm is held in complete isolation, and is only communicated by language and direct interaction with and compassion for the harmed. Remember also that language, interaction and compassion are always incomplete and imperfectly understood.

      In short: Decency requires a great deal of homework.

  8. Realistically, they need extensive footnotes. “Though shalt not kill” is kind of vague.. does it include self defense? If you reinterpret it to “though shalt not murder” it provides no information, since murder already means “a killing that is not permissible”. Is it permissible in war? When is war permissible? Etc.

    “Treat others how you want to be treated” is a good catch-all, but it needs to be 1) explained, 2) taken seriously.

    1) What if they want to be treated differently than you want to be treated? “When treating others how you would want to be treated, take into consideration how their desires and experiences differ from yours, and thus how you WOULD want to be treated if you were them. Also when making laws which effect other people, think about how you would feel about the law if it effected you.”

    2) How many Christians ignore this? I would guess “most of them”, since Christians don’t as a whole act better than non-Christians, and yet they have a commandment to do so. If Christians ACTUALLY OBEYED this, America would be a nation of Ned Flanders. It’s not, so clearly they don’t.

    1. ..and I spelled “thou” wrong. Great.

      Speaking of footnotes, an all-knowing god should think to tell us when zygotes become people. Maybe God can only see a few decades into the future and beyond that uses reason, and thus he never expected anyone to believe that a microscopic clump of flesh with no brain was a “person”. (Or maybe the men who wrote the book could not predict that there would be a raging debate about this in the future, since they were just human men with no access to any deity.)

  9. 1. Cause as little harm and suffering to living creatures as possible.

    2. If anyone tells you they know what I want, they are lying. If I want you to know something, I’ll tell you by displaying it in giant letters on the surface of the moon.

    3. Now leave me alone.

  10. The only three in the “original” 10 ,that seem all that mostly significant are the ones against murder , theft and fraud. The idea that the Ten Commandments are some sort of ultimate source of morality is foolish. There is better moral advice even in other parts of the Bible.

    Throughout the Bible, there is a running theme of opposition the exploitation or neglect of the poor. None of the 10 address this issue. Thou shalt not stand idly by while thy neighbor goes hungry or lacks shelter might have been nice. Again, I freely admit that this sentiment is widely expressed throughout the Bible, but for the very top ten rules, not saying “,God damn” or making a sarcastic remark about Dad was seen as more important.

    The Bible is extremely weak at best on the issue of rape–qualified condemnations of it in some instances, shocking indifference in others and occasionally utterly disgusting blatant support for it. Imagine if “thou shalt not rape” had been on those tablets.

    Going farther, what about a ban on all assault, which is a normal part of modern legal codes?

    1. Huge plus one one the question “Why isn’t rape in there?”

      Honestly (to my shame) never thought of the glare in that.

  11. Before you act rashly or make an important decision, think about the consequences of the decision for others, for yourself, and for the larger world.

  12. The problem with “commandments” is that, due to their nature, exceptions are not built into the “system”. I prefer something more akin to “suggestions”, rather than commandments, so there is latitude in adhering to them.

    In that vein, I present:

    Do no harm to others (meaning humans, not necessarily other living beings).


    Forgive me for just dumping a link, but this is a great list of “stuff that should not be done but that religion does anyways”. You could make a great list out of just listing the opposite of the items in the link.

    I would go with:

    – Face the facts of a situation.

    – Don’t treat people like objects.

    – Don’t treat objects like people.

    – Give other people the chance to rise above their environment.

    – Try to rise above your own environment.

    – Try to improve your environment

    There, I can make do with 6.

  14. 1. Question everything. Even this (thanks Cognitive Dissonance!)

    2. Treat others the way THEY would like you to treat them

    3. Do not own people as property.

    4. Do not rape anyone.

    5. Do not take life without a just cause (self-defense, mosquitoes for disease prevention etc)

    6. Do not say in 200 words what can be expressed in 20 (I’m looking at YOU, CS Lewis!)

    7. Preserve the environment for future generations.

    8. Love your children.

    9. Think outside the box.

    10. Value justice above mercy.

    1. 3 and 4 are already the result of 2.

      7 should be preserve the environment because it is worth preserving.

      9 is the result of 1. Though sometimes the box is there for a good reason, and being outside the box is stupid. Antivaxxers are pretty much out of the box.

  15. Thou shalt learn about the world around thyself and always ask why or how rather than accepting magical claims.

    Thou shalt solve thy disputes by honest and reasoned discussion and not with pointy sticks, for an argument that must be defended by destroying the opposition is weak and should be discarded.

    Thou shalt play nicely with others, regardless of gender, race, sexual identity or anything else that makes them ‘different’.

    Thou shalt take these as guidelines and think for yourself to determine appropriate behaviour.

    Thou shalt not claim to be infallible, or guided by an infallible power, everyone screws up so get used to it and take it like a grown up.

  16. I don’t like the negative nature of the commandments. I’d prefer “Rights” to “Commandments.” Like “Do Not Murder” and “Do Not Steal” is not as strong or affirming as “Right to Life” and “Right to Property.” Rights are far more broad than Commandments. So going with that, I would say:

    1. Right to Life

    2. Right to Health

    3. Right to Property

    4. Right to Privacy

    5. Right to Liberty

    6. Right of Freedom from Discrimination

    7. Right of Free Speech

    8. Right to Organize

    9. Right to Education

    10. Right of Informed Consent

  17. I’m going with “wash your hands” as well as “cover your mouth when you cough”.

    For Bronze Age folk, that’s probably more than enough.

  18. One more — don’t shit upstream of your source of drinking water.

    That’s a big one.

  19. You have a pretty good one in a video of yours. “Thou shalt not discriminate on these bases…”

    I’m not sure what commands I can offer, but I do know good advice. “Listen first, speak much later.”

  20. So if you could include one guideline to be handed over to Bronze age Israelites, and passed down for all generations thereafter, how would your commandment read?

    Be thoughtful and helpful and kind towards the environment,plants, animals and people around you.

    PS. As God lemme tell y’all there are more worlds like this Earth and more stars than you can see without help although these worlds very different in some respects, look at the sky, don’t fear comets but study them and one day you will find a far vaster, stranger and more wonderful cosmos than you realise. Hint : An unknown planet (say Pluto or Neptune) willbe found two thirds aroudn tehsky inconstellation X 500 years from now. Or so.Course now youknow where tolook ypou’llhave toinvent the tech.

    PPS. Fossil fuels -don’t burn them – or use uranium fission. The design for the ideal hydrogen fusion reactor is **** (Rest of message sadly lost.)

  21. Can I try for ten?


    1) Love the world and each other, show this love in caring not harming others and the world.

    2) Enthusiastic consent in all matters of sexual nature is required – no rape allowed.

    3) If someone isn’t hurting or threatening to harm you, you have no reason to hurt or harm them.

    4) No slavery. People aren’t property and must never be treated as such.

    5) Avoid war when ever this is reasonably possible.

    6) Show mercy and justice in equal measure. Temper justice with mercy and mercy with justice.*

    7) Women must be listened to as well as those whose genders are strange to you, let them be, let them live, let them choose for themselves. This includes the right to abortion.

    8) Priests that behave unethically automatically lose priestly status and all their priestly privileges. Those who claim to speak for ME must behave like kind, thoughtful, reasonable people -and no gender constraints on them.

    9) You’re not perfect and don’t forget that – but don’t dwell on it too much either just remember that when you ever feel like pointing out other peoples sins. (Remember I judge them so you don’t have to.)

    10) Have fun! Because I am a loving god** I want you to enjoy life and be happy, take pleasure in what gives you pleasure provided you don’t hurt anyone else too badly.

    * Not a commandment but there is no Hell – Purgatory maybe with divine Justice for a limited spell but no infinite torture.

    ** Hey for the purposes of this anyhow. me a god? No way!

    1. 2) Enthusiastic consent in all matters of sexual nature is required – no rape allowed.

      I like your phrasing here very much– “Enthusiastic consent” locates the standard very well. With your permission, I will replicate and spread that meme. Aesthetically however, I would prefer to leave of the “no rape allowed”clause since it follows from the first clause; but you may be right to include it to “spell it out”” for the dense. For the same reason it would be prudent to also add a clause forbidding relations with the immature and infirm regardless of enthusiasm. Mohammed would claim Aisha was very enthusiastic indeed (shudder).

  22. Bonus commandments –

    Thou shalt not build nuclear bombs; no WMDs, no terrorism or killing in the name of religion or politics permitted.

    Thou shalt have reasonable sane gun laws.

    Thou shalt not interfere in other people’s sex lives unless they directly involve you as a participant by mutual agreement.

    Your all Chosen People and have to share the Promised Land in peace. God doesn’t play favourites and isn’t racist.

    Thou shalt try to work wonders and understand them and the cosmos. You have permission to use your brains and try and reach the Heaven(s) by yourselves. If you come up with something better than me, well congrats, I’m not a jealous or exclusive god.

  23. Here’s a rough draft of my own list:

    1) Thou shall treat others as thine own self.

    It’s the oldest rule in civil society, and it predates all religion. Any law or custom that favours one group over another is immoral.

    2) Thou shall learn how to think before making any argument.

    If people knew how to think, they wouldn’t be religious and they wouldn’t deny scientific fact. People who have learnt to doubt, question and check facts tend to have the strongest arguments.

    3) Thou shall not speak from ignorance.

    If you don’t know the facts of an argument or the lives of people being discussed, shut up, listen and do research. Unwelcome “advice” is unwelcome for a reason.

    And pretending to have knowledge only makes you look foolish when your ignorance is exposed. The educated know there’s no shame in saying, “I don’t know.”

    4) Thou shall not speak until thou is ready to listen.

    If you’re not willing to hear, respect and consider other people’s points of view, you’re not ready to give your own. You’re not the only person with a right to be heard.

    5) Thou shall never assume certainty of arguments or views, not one’s own or others.

    You can always be proven wrong, and when you have no evidence, you almost always are. And don’t assume or claim you know what other people think, either. False accusations and casting aspersions only makes you look dishonest.

    6) Thou shall not deny reality.

    Facts always trump opinion, without exceptions. Just because you don’t like a fact doesn’t stop it from existing or being true.

    7) Thou shall not place oneself or one’s group above others in tradition or law.

    Bigotry, sexism, racism, cliques, elitism and any other claims of “superiority” are predicated on the lie of being “chosen people”. We are all Africans. Laws are immoral when they favour or criminalize one group or certain groups.

    8) Thou shall take responsiblity for one’s actions and not rationalize them.

    The oldest lie told by religious criminals is, “god wants me to do this!” or “god will forgive me!” It’s done both to commit and encourage crimes, and to absolve oneself or others of responsibility for committing said crimes.

    9) Thou shall worship thy graven images in secret.

    All people have the right to have and practice religion in private, in their homes and in churches, behind closed doors.

    Religion has no place in public, not in schools, government, laws or the public square. It’s what the christians’ own prophet says to do (matthew 6:5-6).

    10) Thou and thine god shall not be vain.

    No matter how accomplished you are (degrees, experience, age), don’t think you’re better than anyone else. Everybody makes mistakes sometimes, and everybody is capable of being or doing wrong.

    Claims of “heresy” and “blasphemy” are a load of codswallop. If your “god” created the universe, then it can deal with a critic itself. It doesn’t need you to defend its ego or its feelings, especially by acts of violence.

  24. “Thou shall not rape.”

    Yeah, the “basis of all morality” according to Christians managed to leave *that* out. Some of them try to shoe-horn it into “Thou shall not commit adultery”, but that requires a willful mis-understanding of what “adultery” is, and also doesn’t preclude marital rape.

  25. 11) Thou Shalt not consider these commandments final. This shall not be the whole of the law. You must continue to improve thyself, and thy morality.

  26. I’ve never seen a list I was perfectly happy with, but here’s casual lunchtime attempt, in no particular order of importance:

    1. Treat others as they would like to be treated.

    2. Understand the interaction of human rights and responsibilities.

    3. Treat human rights and responsibilities as the moral foundation for governance, legislation and law.

    4. Apply empathy, reason and critical thinking to all decision making processes.

    5. Value education, honesty and integrity above success.

    6. Value equality and merit above tribalism.

    7. Value diversity and integration above specialization and mono-cultures.

    8. Fulfill a duty of care to the environment, especially the biosphere.

    9. Contribute to and expand the body of knowledge about the universe.

    10. Review all rights, commandments, laws and regulations periodically to ensure relevance and applicability.

    There’s a few in there that I want to tweak or clarify, but that seems to cover most of my basic tenets.

  27. Bugger. I knew as soon as I hit submit I’d think of something I hadn’t included.

    #. Understand the limitations and biases inherent in human rationality.

    Probably tweak number 4 above to include this.

  28. This is a great tip especially to those new to the blogosphere.

    Short but very precise info… Thanks for sharing this one.

    A must read article!

  29. 0. I am the hypothetical lord thine god, but being a hypothetical perfect being who may not even exist, I do not require worship, religion or all of that. Should I existeth, I clearly I do not give two shits about your entire species, or I would actively intervene in it’s wellbeing, therefor don’t bother to worship me. But even so, I shallt for the funsies, give thy some tips for thine current time;

    1. Thou shalt preserve the planet which brought thee forth. In order to do so, thou shallt spread education and women’s rights, and free contraceptives, so that thy technology may progress and the women amongst though shall decide on the size of their families themselves and be not shackled by their fertility. All of this shalt be mandatory. Thou shalt preserve ones world and inform ones citizens.

    2. All are equal before me, thou art not better then anyone else. Thine opinion to the contrary is wrong. For whatever merits thee hath do not make thee worthier then another of the same basic rights that should be granted to all. Cease thine insufferable arrogance on the bases of whatever merit thy ascribeth to oneself and instead aspire to pleasant humility and friendliness. It maketh thee less odious to dealeth with really. ‘Tis in thine own favour.

    3. The people have the right at any times to imprison or even execute their leaders, under two third-majority rules. Weed the corruption from your people. Thine leaders shall be accountable to thee with their very lives. Thou ist allowed leeway in how to legally arrange this so that it is just. But make thine leaders truly, directly and personally accountable to thine people.

    4. The wealthier the criminal, the harsher the punishment. If those who already have should transgress against society and try to have more by means of force, corruption or dishonesty, all they have shall be taken from them and distributed to the people. Show no mercy on those who abuse power. And strip them of all such power. Thou must purge the evil from amongst you. Affluenza doth not existeth.

    5. Thou shall not knowingly deceive, or allow deceivers to deceive others. Whatever is publically proclaimed as true must be true or it shall not be proclaimed. Tolerate no liars. In private however thou may discusseth anything. But when in public a thing is presented as truth, it must be backed up by evidence, so that the people shall not be knowlingly misinformed.

    6. Thou shalt not torture, nor allow a torturer to live (or at leasteth to roam free). Thou shalt have a minimum of respect for the lives and wellbeings of others, me-dammith. And on that same note, do not enslaveth, provide eachother with a minimun standard of health and all of that. Don’t act like you don’t know how you should treat one another when it is clear you all damn well do.

    7. Selfishness and greed are not a virtues. Those would proclaim it so are vile deceivers. They shalt be banished from thine ranks into the wilderness to live according to the law of the jungle to which they ascribe. Or at least crammeth their stupid bullshit back uppeth their asses sideways. Enough with that crappeth.

    8. Hard work is not a virtue onto itself, safe when it is for a purpose and is properly rewarded. Thou shalt not overwork thine labourers. Not only must workers have enough freedom to experience life outside of work, a well rested worker is healthier and more productive then an overtaxed worker. Work to live, do not live to work, and be not afraid to let machines take over thine tasks, work less and enjoyeth the one life you assuredly have some more. Spend some timeth raising thine kids instead or something!

    9. Thou shalt not declare another human being infallible. No matter how much thine heroes may be an inspiration unto thee, thou shalt leave thine brain at the door and follow them blindly. They too are always to be held accountable.

    10. Children are not the property of their parents. They are entitled to true information, health and all those things, regardless of their parents belief. For they have rights unto themselves.

    11. Thou isseth allowed to opt for milder punishments for any of these transgressions, as long as transgressors art punished.

    12. For added bonus points, feel free to brutally sacrifice onto me, Aztec style; any of the following people; Dick Cheney, Vladimir Putin, any other politician along their ilk… Any of the Koch Brothers or any of their ilk. Or barring that, at least that bloody annoying piece of crap Ted Nugent. I doth fucking hate those guys. Don’t you? If you do too, I liketh the cut of thine jib!

    Sure, I could have gone for all the ‘be excellent to eachother’ crap everyone always does. But eh, I’ll toss some controversy in there. (If with some obvious tongue in cheek comedy.)

    but seriously…. Buck this corrupt system! Fuck this corrupt system! Letsee if you lot can do better misses and misters humanity. Because so far, thy doth not impress me much actually. You lot are kind of a bunch of arrogant dillweeds for the most part. But you know… some of you are cool so I know you can do better.

    Probably better then I can do if you TRY.

    So try already!

  30. 1. Thou shalt not kill, excepting in self-defense.

    2. Thou shalt not steal.

    3. Thou shalt be honest and honourable in all of thy dealings.

    4. Thou shalt not rape, nor take advantage of other through force.

    5. Thou shalt not enslave another human being.

    6. Thou shalt be charitable to those less fortunate than thyself.

    7. Thou must remember that thy may not have thought of everything on the first attempt and that thou might be wrong, so think carefully.

    8. Thou shalt be open-minded and welcome new ideas, and be sceptical of those that seem improbable, as well as being aware that situations change.

    9. Thou should co-operate with others as thou canst achieve more together.

    10. People make mistakes and can hurt others, but if someone is genuine in their repentance, thou should be prepared to forgive them for it.

  31. Don’t make any life-or-death decisions based on superstition. At least TRY to have reality-based reasons for those kind of things.

    On a related note, “God told me to do it” isn’t a valid excuse.

    In general, being good to others is more important than being the perfect adherent to a religion or philosophy. If your philosophy requires you to be a dick to others, no matter how right your philosophy seems to be, consider that it might be wrong.

    You don’t have to put up with crappy treatment just to “get along” and “avoid making waves.” It’s ok to call out the crap.

    You might be biased, you might be the asshole sometimes, you might occasionally unintentionally or insensitively cause harm to others through your words or actions. In such situations, you need to learn to get over yourself. The past-you might have been a turd, but that doesn’t mean the present-you has to be a turd.

  32. 1. Boil your drinking water.

    2. No slavery

    3. The Eschaton* is not God, but if he/it posts commandments, I suggest you take them into consideration.

    *The very, very powerful, time-travelling AI in novels by Charles Stross

    and 4. teach all kids (yes, the girls too) a simple writing sytem and a decimal number system. If you don’t have one, invent it, pronto!

  33. Lots of good suggestions here. I’ve always been partial to George Carlin’s 2 Commandments:

    1) Thou shalt always be honest and faithful (to the provider of ones nooki)

    2) Thou shalt try really hard not to kill anyone

  34. @45. M :

    9. Thou shalt not declare another human being infallible. No matter how much thine heroes may be an inspiration unto thee, thou shalt leave thine brain at the door and follow them blindly. They too are always to be held accountable.

    (Emphasis added.)

    I think accidentally you left out a ‘not’ there, yeah?

    PS. Another “divine” rule – you want to play sporting games play fair – don’t cheat by trying to involve me! Win or lose by your own efforts and don’t credit and blame a god, goddess, spirit, devil, spirit or whatever. God plays zhirs own sports not yours ‘k? (Also taking drugs to win at sports – uncool.)

  35. 1 Go forth and multiply.

    2 Until the population begins to approach unsustainability. Then stop.

  36. Wash your hands, properly cook your food, treat each other equally with rights and privileges. No person may be owned, ever. Swap leaders at least every few years and for the love of everything keep track of your doings and learn from your mistakes.

  37. I’ve always liked one of Sam Harris’ commandment suggestions in The End of Faith, I’m surprised it didn’t appear above:

    Try not to fry all of your food.

  38. Some rather more useful ones might have been:

    ‘Thou shalt not lie with a hild, to know it carnally. (Adults may choose their partners.)

    ‘Woman and man shall be as equals. Thou shalt not oppress thy womenfolk, neither shalt thou stone them, if they be not virgins.’

    ‘Ye shall not rise up against other nations, but shall seek in all wise to find accord with them.’

    ‘Thou shalt hold no man slave.’

    ‘Thou shalt wash thy utensils with salt water, that they be cleansed of pestilence.’

    ‘Thou shalt bleach thy privy, even as thou bleachest thy garments, that sickness come not upon thee.’

  39. I came up with this sentence, which I think is the basis for all art, religion, and literature:

    “We must try to learn how to love one another before the stars go out.”

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