Ten Commandments for Atheists, pt. 2

The ironically named Christian, proprietor of Free Thinking Joy, asserts that the Ten Commandments are perfectly compatible with atheism. It is absurd on its face to think that any of the first four commandments, which center on man’s relationship to God, could be followed or even understood by atheists. Christian’s analysis is flawed, as I have shown in my first post.

The second six commandments give rules for relating to fellow humans. It is perfectly reasonable to assume that any atheist is capable of both understanding these rules and living them out on a day-to-day basis. I haven’t heard of any notable atheists that live otherwise.

The only problem is that the atheist views breaking these commandments as torts rather than crimes. This becomes especially noticeable for the commandments dealing with adultery and murder. A violation of these commandments is absolute, not situational.

5. Honor your father and mother.

Agreed–“Because, once you are a parent, you like to be respected by your own children.”

6. You shall not commit murder.

Christian says, “There have been many violations against the Sixth Commandment in the name of God.” However, there have also been violations by atheists. As I’ve stated in my previous post, the actions of one group have nothing to do with the other group. Since the claim of the post is that the Ten Commandments are perfectly compatible with atheism, merely pointing to another group that violates the commandment doesn’t belong here.

Philosophically, this isn’t 100% compatible with atheism. Natural selection, a component of philosophic naturalism, wants the weak and the sick culled out. This means that murder in some forms, such as euthanasia and abortion, is perfectly acceptable given the right set of circumstances. The general theistic view respects the dignity and right to life of all human beings, regardless of status, sickness, or number of cells. The atheist version makes us little better than animals.

7. You shall not commit adultery.

Christian returns to flawed reasoning with this commandment:

The wording is not quite how a secular humanist with a modern sexual ethic would put it. There are modern forms of ménage à trois, and they may work in some cases. But if you do not like your sex partner to have partners besides you, you should keep the same rule for yourself.

This is fine, if one subscribes to situation ethics. The commandments, however, were not designed with that in mind. They were designed to be absolute rules, hence their pronouncement as “commandments.” Very few would argue that they should be called the Ten Suggestions.

That said, Christian’s view grows out of the mistaken assumption that adultery is a tort committed against a spouse or significant other rather than a crime against God. The entire Holiness Code given to Israel is essentially God’s equivalent to a revised criminal code. Adultery isn’t just an offense against one’s spouse; it is a crime committed against God.

These “ménage à trois” that “work in some cases” might be perfectly fine with a spouse. But that doesn’t mean that God will be fine with them; in fact, the Bible teaches the opposite. Adultery, according to Jesus, is committed the moment you look upon someone with lust. With that in mind, we can hardly assume that God would condone the act even if the spouse does.

8. You shall not steal.

Agreed–“you do not want to be a victim of theft.”

9. You shall not lie.

Agreed–“Because you do not want him to do it to you.”

10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s property.

Agreed–“Because it is easier to prevent a conflict than solve it later.”

Christian concludes:

I have shown that it may be easier for an atheist than for observant Jews and Christians to keep the first three commandments. The big part of the rest has nothing to do with God, therefore atheists and believers are equally fit to keep it or violate it. The only instance where atheist will lag behind is the Fourth Commandment, but this may not be the most important one.

I disagree that Christian has shown that it is easier for atheists to follow any of the commandments, let alone the first three. The atheist is equipped to keep Christian’s version of the commandments, but that is a false understanding of them. He is dead wrong to think that the rest of the commandments have nothing to do with God, for the commandments are crimes against Him, not torts against humanity. Finally, I agree that the atheist will lag behind on the Sabbath day, for he will not esteem any day above any other. But Christian’s response is to minimize the commandment, which is fallacious. All of the commandments are important or they wouldn’t be on the list.

About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on April 15, 2008, in Apologetics, Bible Thoughts, Theology and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Very good article. I’ve found your site via Yahoo and I’m really glad about the information you provide in your articles. Btw your sites layout is really broken on the Kmelon browser. Would be cool if you could fix that. Anyhow keep up the great work!

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