Nobel peace laureate Lech Walesa recently charged a committee of international moralists with the task of assembling a list of secular commandments that can be used by all mankind as a template for good living. He discussed this during his address to a summit of Nobel Peace Prize winners in Warsaw this week.
"We need to agree on common values for all religions as soon as possible, a kind of secular Ten Commandments on which we will build the world of tomorrow," stated Walesa.
Recent winners of the Nobel Peace Prize who might be considered quite intellectual enough to contemplate universal, secular morality include:
The European Union, Al Gore, Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, the United Nations, Kofi Annan, Mikhail Gorbachev, the United Nations again, the United Nations again, the United Nations again, and oops… the United Nations again.
That list is by no means all inclusive. I'm leaving out several anti-nuclear groups, some women's groups, Yasser Arafat, MLK, Mother Theresa and a handful of others.
So I thought it would be an interesting exercise to take a fresh look at the Ten Commandments that were handed down from God to Moses and which have served mankind for around 3500 years… and think about right and wrong from the perspective of a secular humanist. Maybe we can try to surmise what the world's great peace-thinkers would do to improve upon the Decalogue.
I don't know about you and I can't put my finger on why this is, but I feel a United Nation's initiative coming on. Yes, a UN study on secular morality which will require a panel of experts and several hundred million dollars to work through the problem of ethical inconsistencies in an attempt to homogenize and implement a moral code made in the image of man. The problem will demand – not a Ten Commandment styled solution, but a ten thousand page document filled with very little right versus wrong but a whole lot of rigorous feel-good-isms that will be ratified and then used to influence the doctrines and teachings of the world's leading religions (and our very own government) which mostly happen to use the Ten Commandments as the basis for their orthodoxy. So let's see what we're dealing with here…
1) I am the LORD your God. You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve. – Now obviously, if we are to oblige moral universality properly, we can no longer be attending to the requirements of God. If we remove our attention from God and focus on the bureaucracies created for the purpose of preserving world peace, this will better serve the benevolent goals of those organizations. Clearly, the First Commandment needs to go or at least be restructured so that the authority of internationalism shall not be questioned.
2) You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. – See Commandment One.
3) Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day. – There really isn't any particular need to keep holy the Sabbath once we've given a face-lift to Commandments One and Two. This is not to suggest that a deep reflection upon the entities that are bringing universal world peace isn't a worthy goal. This may be achieved through a commandment of weekly community service and perhaps a recitation from Das Kapital.
4) Honor your father and your mother. – In a world where fathers are more and more frequently being replaced by baby daddies, alternative families and daycare, honoring one's mother and father just doesn't make a whole lot of sense anymore. Where a mother and father once represented the constancy of the family paradigm, we can now look to various before and after school programs for providing a modicum of stability and childrearing.
We can note the parallel in God's command to honor one's father and mother who interpret and implement God's law within the traditional family as analogous to local authorities executing the State's law for displaced children whose parents are absent from their day-to-day lives. Perhaps a subcommittee can be formed to study Commandment Four and make it more relevant for today's changing family structures. It's possible that honoring their school mascots would encourage the permanence that has been deconstructed within the family model...as long as the mascot isn't the Red Skins. Maybe a more brotherly icon would be appropriate?
5) You shall not kill. – Not entirely outmoded, but there are times when the state has deemed killing to be an important part of universal efforts to curtail global climate change and overpopulation. It might better read, "You shall not kill unless the individual in question is inconvenient in which case, have at it." And once it's a commandment, there can be no further obstacles to free contraception, abortifacients and sterilization – so win-win for The Population Bomb crowd.
6) You shall not commit adultery. – Be serious.
This really could be amended to better reflect the global demand on natural resources which are never even once mentioned by God. It should be fairly obvious to the powers that be that secularism is not in the business of regulating who you sleep with. Per cultural trends, that should be left up to consenting partners. Instead, the international committee can take the opportunity to command a more relevant decrease in CO2 emissions… in which case please refer to our new Commandment Five.
7) You shall not steal. – We define stealing thusly:
- To take something unlawfully: to take something that belongs to somebody else, illegally or without the owner's permission
- To take something furtively: to take or get something secretly, surreptitiously, or through trickery
- To dishonestly present somebody's work as yours: to take something that somebody else has created, especially ideas, theories, or a piece of writing, and present it as your own
There are entire political parties throughout the world that are in business to redistribute wealth and possessions on behalf of the government for the sole purpose of garnering votes, so clearly Commandment Seven must better reflect an individual's right to equity even if that means taking from someone who has been more productive, frugal or just plain lucky. Further, this commandment must underscore the right of the government to determine the right of an individual to possess more than he needs along with the explicit understanding that government has the duty to level the playing field.
8) You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. – How on earth would anyone get elected if they couldn't bear false witness? How would they pass unpopular legislation? Or increase the debt ceiling?
9) You shall not covet your neighbor's wife. – We may be coming to a time when sacramental marriage will go the way of the dinosaurs anyway. Since so few people even bother with the boundaries associated with matrimony, this may be a good opportunity to sanctify international efforts to contain nuclear proliferation and secularly bless wind farms which are increasingly more prevalent than spousal fidelity. After all, even one of the Nobel laureates has admitted to lusting in his heart.
10) You shall not covet your neighbor's goods. – Gracious, if you can't covet them then how will you ever enforce the individual right to equity? The government simply will not be able to perform the secular rites of redistribution if it can't stoke resentment over who owns what. No. The newly revised Seventh Commandment cannot be obeyed unless the Tenth commandment is deleted or replaced. Might I be so bold as to suggest "Thou shall attend a publically funded college or university," so that the new secular Ten Commandments can be taught vigorously to the masses who hunger for moral clarity?
I am sorry if I seem to be projecting an air of impertinence about a matter that many in theistic or moralist circles may see as a positive turn toward establishing universal codes of ethics. I assure you, I take Lech Walesa's proposal very seriously because he is pitching a solution that has, in fact, been tried before. In pre-World War II Europe. This is the very debate that led to the rise of communism and fascism. Those accommodations made by religious traditionalists to find common ground with secularism proved then as they will prove today that secularism will not be accommodating to religious freedom or the protection of human life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness.
Secularists have long believed that "do unto others as you would have others do unto you" requires no divine intervention if we simply center it on human nature – as if human nature is static. The problem with replacing God's fixed morality with man's desire to do the right thing is that man's morality is wholly mutable and susceptible to popular opinion. Since human trends in morality change from generation to generation, secular commandments will as well. This will have the effect of undermining universal human rights and without a fixed reference; society will have no way of judging one form of morality over another.
Notice how quickly society, under the shadow of relativism, has moved from the enlightened rationalism found within the US Constitution to serious debates over the morality and advantage of death panels within the context of health care rationing…rationing which must take place because of a manmade shortage in health care resources. The US Constitution wallows helplessly in the morass of pop culture psychobabble because God's fixed laws – which are where we acquire those precious inalienable rights – are ignored. The acceptance of secular commandments is nothing less than a death warrant for constitutional liberty.
I promise you, if societies buy into the fallaciousness of secular commandments in the name of conciliation with atheists, it will be to the detriment of Judeo-Christian ethics, inherent human rights and the concept of absolute good as a fixed objective.
The Ten Commandments are the best line of defense against abject barbarism, and to think that we can define right and wrong without using a permanent external reference as our guide goes well beyond simple folly. It's madness, pure and simple.