An Atheist’s 10 Commandments

Jason Micheli —  February 12, 2013 — 2 Comments

alain_de_botton_melbourne_7-620x349Alain de Botton, author of The Consolations of Philosophy, has this list of virtues or ‘commandments’ for those who can’t believe in the God of the more famous 10 commandments. This is a good list; in fact, in several ways this list seems a bit more practical and everyday than the list Moses brought down with him.

But de Botton’s list suffers from the same mistake as though who wish to post the Mosaic Commandments in public spaces: it’s a list of virtues stripped of any guiding narrative or interpretative community. Just as it’s not self-evident what it means to refrain from covetousness (in the case of scripture), it’s not self-evident what the practice of empathy entails. One person’s version of empathy will differ markedly from another person’s definition based upon the narrative around which they orient their lives. For Christians, after all, any definition of empathy, hope, forgiveness etc is determined and shaped by the Christ story. Because that’s our narrative we’re stuck with a 70X7, turn the other cheek notion of forgiveness.

It’s not a question of whether we will be shaped by a guiding narrative but which one we will allow to shape us. The very notion that we don’t need a controlling narrative to our lives is in fact the narrative of modernity; it’s its own story.

  • Resilience: Keeping going even when things are looking dark.
  • Empathy: The capacity to connect imaginatively with the sufferings and unique experiences of another person.
  • Patience: We should grow calmer and more forgiving by being more realistic about how things actually happen.
  • Sacrifice: We won’t ever manage to raise a family, love someone else or save the planet if we don’t keep up with the art of sacrifice.
  • Politeness: Politeness is closely linked to tolerance, -the capacity to live alongside people whom one will never agree with, but at the same time, cannot avoid.
  • Humour: Like anger, humour springs from disappointment, but it is disappointment optimally channelled.
  • Self-awareness: To know oneself is to try not to blame others for one’s troubles and moods; to have a sense of what’s going on inside oneself, and what actually belongs to the world.
  • Forgiveness: It’s recognising that living with others is not possible without excusing errors.
  • Hope: Pessimism is not necessarily deep, nor optimism shallow.
  • Confidence: Confidence is not arrogance – rather, it is based on a constant awareness of how short life is and how little we will ultimately lose from risking everything.

Jason Micheli


2 responses to An Atheist’s 10 Commandments

  1. We could all benefit from those.

  2. Stumbled onto your site by accident. I absolutely LOVE your blog!! You are definitely a talented writer. I can’t wait to read your books and follow your posts in the future!.

    I was reading an article that quoted the song of songs poem on the macarthur charismanews website called ashley-madison-possibly-millions-more-christians-have-committed-adultery-than-previously-thought which I also accidentally stumbled onto while surfing the net tonight (I didn’t link it so hopefully you can find it by that description which is basically the link without the link…didn’t want my comment to get filtered). Anyway, it is exactly why so many young people are turned off by the church today. He used the old finger pointing and shaming people into feeling terrible about their humanity which I find not only deplorable but morally repugnant as well (it included the God as a lover story). When I went to look something up in the article, your article popped up into my results list which, believe it or not, had a similar message to his but without the yuck and ugly (the God being a lover message I mean)! It was a breath of fresh air! I ended up reading the whole Song of Songs series.

    This is one of the best blogs I have read in a LONG time, and that’s coming from a hell bound heathen former Christian! 😉 If there were more people as articulate and blessed with the gift of gab as you, with your unique way of using religion in such a positive way instead of making people feel alienated or guilty for committing the mortal sin of being born, I think Christianity could possibly decrease the number of young Christians walking away, or help those who are contemplating leaving their faith behind find their way back. I am surprised with the number of Christians declining more quickly than it has in decades that these types of articles and messages of doom and gloom continue rear their ugly head (the other guy not yours). These people should know better and try harder. We are human beings not sins! I obviously resent that notion to my very core. I am the daughter of a Pastor and was raised in an environment that caused me to hate myself for even the smallest of errors. I am still fighting off that insecurity today, and it was a VERY long time ago.

    My life is quite wonderful if I do say so myself. Certainly a life I can and should be proud of, but unfortunately, the voice still remains and creeps up every now and again. Then I read something like his article, and I get angry all over again. At the very least, your approach could possibly be a way to bridge the gap and begin to mend relationships with people like me or alienated outsiders who have the wrong idea about Christianity (I do remember the good parts too).

    I have long appreciated both Religious (of all names) and Atheist viewpoints on different things, and I am not one to stifle my own education and journey in life by avoiding anything to do with religion or things I don’t agree with, but it does seem to become a little harder every day when I read articles like the one I mentioned as they seem much more frequent these days. They just don’t get it. They don’t realize the damage they are doing, and the potential danger and harm it can do for both individuals and even civilization. I am sure you know what I mean. I don’t want to call out any particular religion or group because I don’t think it is to fair label people based on the actions of the minority. However, read that article in the context of another religion or extremist group label (just substitute Christian or Jesus or whatever for ________.). The point is abundantly made clear that the message and ideology appear eerily similar to the ones they protest, but for some reason the same lesson is unacceptable with the substitute religion or gods. These same arguments are currently being leveraged by people will ill intentions.

    Anyway, sorry for the long post. I was just so happy to read your Songs Series. So creative and most definitely thought provoking while also entertaining! Thanks for your hard work! Cheers! P.S., if you do happen to read the article, it was the hunt to understand the man’s use of wine and boil that led me to you…I don’t think he used it correctly….lol…whatevs!! 😉

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