Secular Alternatives to the 10 Commandments: A Response to Louisiana’s Law Requiring the 10 Commandments in All Classrooms

Secular Alternatives to the 10 Commandments: A Response to Louisiana’s Law Requiring the 10 Commandments in All Classrooms

Today, the governor of Louisiana signed a law requiring classrooms in the state to display the Ten Commandments. According to the Republican governor, Jeff Landry, “If you want to respect the rule of law, you gotta start from the original law given which was Moses. … He got his commandments from God.”

Apparently, Governor Landry never bothered to learn that the scholarly consensus is that Moses, if he existed at all, was “largely mythical.” The governor also apparently never reflected on the fact that America is founded on the separation of church and state. The ACLU, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and others have already come out with a statement, observing that the new law results in “unconstitutional religious coercion of students.” The statement adds, “Politicians have no business imposing their preferred religious doctrine on students and families in public schools.”

Furthermore, Governor Landry apparently never took a moment to actually read the Ten Commandments. Because if he had, he may have noticed that they’re utterly unimpressive as far as moral commandments go. As Sam Harris wrote in Letter to a Christian Nation:

“If you think that it would be impossible to improve upon the Ten Commandments as a statement of morality, you really owe it to yourself to read some other scriptures. Once again, we need look no further than the Jains: Mahavira, the Jain patriarch, surpassed the morality of the Bible with a single sentence: ‘Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being.’ Imagine how different our world might be if the Bible contained this as its central precept. Christians have abused, oppressed, enslaved, insulted, tormented, tortured, and killed people in the name of God for centuries, on the basis of a theologically defensible reading of the Bible.”

In fact, you don’t even have to look at other religious groups to find improvements to the Ten Commandments. There are countless secular alternatives to the Ten Commandments, any one of which would be more appropriate for the classroom.

Consider the Ten Commandments by blogger Adam Lee, which Richard Dawkins included in his book The God Delusion:

  1. Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.
  2. In all things, strive to cause no harm.
  3. Treat your fellow human beings, your fellow living things, and the world in general with love, honesty, faithfulness and respect.
  4. Do not overlook evil or shrink from administering justice, but always be ready to forgive wrongdoing freely admitted and honestly regretted.
  5. Live life with a sense of joy and wonder.
  6. Always seek to be learning something new.
  7. Test all things; always check your ideas against the facts, and be ready to discard even a cherished belief if it does not conform to them.
  8. Never seek to censor or cut yourself off from dissent; always respect the right of others to disagree with you.
  9. Form independent opinions on the basis of your own reason and experience; do not allow yourself to be led blindly by others.
  10. Question everything.

Or consider the crowdsourced Atheists’ New Ten Commandments from the 2015 Rethink Prize:

  1. Be open-minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence.
  2. Strive to understand what is most likely to be true, not to believe what you wish to be true.
  3. The scientific method is the most reliable way of understanding the natural world.
  4. Every person has the right to control of their body.
  5. God is not necessary to be a good person or to live a full and meaningful life.
  6. Be mindful of the consequences of all your actions and recognize that you must take responsibility for them.
  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.
  8. We have the responsibility to consider others, including future generations.
  9. There is no one right way to live.
  10. Leave the world a better place than you found it.

Or even consider the Seven Tenets from The Satanic Temple:

  1. One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason.
  2. The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
  3. One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
  4. The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo one’s own.
  5. Beliefs should conform to one’s best scientific understanding of the world. One should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit one’s beliefs.
  6. People are fallible. If one makes a mistake, one should do one’s best to rectify it and resolve any harm that might have been caused.
  7. Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.

Finally, here’s ChatGPT, in response to the prompt, “Write 10 original secular commandments that are an improvement to the 10 commandments in the bible”:

  1. Value and Respect All Human Life: Recognize and uphold the dignity, rights, and worth of every individual, regardless of their background or beliefs.
  2. Act with Compassion and Kindness: Treat others with empathy, understanding, and kindness, striving to alleviate suffering and promote happiness.
  3. Seek and Promote Truth: Commit to the pursuit of knowledge and truth, encouraging critical thinking, honesty, and transparency in all interactions.
  4. Protect and Preserve the Environment: Take responsibility for the well-being of our planet, ensuring sustainable practices and the protection of natural resources for future generations.
  5. Support Equality and Justice: Advocate for fair treatment and equal opportunities for all, working to eliminate discrimination, prejudice, and injustice in society.
  6. Respect Personal Autonomy: Honor the right of individuals to make their own choices and live their lives according to their values and beliefs, as long as they do not harm others.
  7. Cultivate Peace and Non-Violence: Strive to resolve conflicts through dialogue, understanding, and non-violent means, promoting peaceful coexistence.
  8. Encourage Community and Solidarity: Foster a sense of community and mutual support, working together to address common challenges and enhance collective well-being.
  9. Pursue Lifelong Learning and Growth: Embrace continuous personal development and education, seeking to improve oneself and contribute positively to society.
  10. Practice Gratitude and Humility: Recognize and appreciate the contributions and perspectives of others, remaining humble and open to learning from diverse experiences and viewpoints.

Why not put that in Louisiana classrooms, governor?

Oh…right. Because you don’t actually care about promoting ethical behavior that would improve the wellbeing of your community. You just care about virtue signaling to your mythical deity from the Bronze Age.

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Peter Clarke is the editor-in-chief of Atheists for Liberty. He hosts the podcast Team Futurism and also writes the Substack newsletter The Decadence Project. Follow him on X @HeyPeterClarke.