The Humanist Ten Commandments

For the book club I belong to, we're reading Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe by Greg Epstein. It's basically all about Humanism.

From the AHA: Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity. Fred Edwords explains the many different kinds of humanism here, then goes on to explain more about Modern Humanism.

Anyway, in Good Without God, Epstein has a chart of the ten commandments. I wanted to share it with you because I thought the Humanist version was pretty good:

Exodus 20King James VersionModern VersionHumanist Version
120:2-3 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.Do not worship any other god.Seek the best in yourself and in others, and believe in your own ability to make a positive difference in the world.
220:4-6 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.Do not make or worship idols or images of God.Pursue truth and honesty in all you do; and be wary of allowing power, status or possessions to substitute for moral courage, dignity and goodness.
320:7 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.Do not misuse the name of God.Be positive and constructive rather than negative and disrespectful.
420:8-11 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.Keep the sabbath day holy. You must rest on that day each week.To be healthy, you must balance work, play and rest.
520:12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.Honor your father and mother.All members of the family should respect each other.
620:13 Thou shalt not kill.Do not commit murder.Same.
720:14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.Do not be unfaithful to your husband or wife.Same.
820:15 Thou shalt not steal.Do not steal.Same.
920:16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.Do not lie or speak badly about others.Same.
1020:17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.Do not be jealous of other people, and do not desire other people's spouses, houses, or anything else they have.When you see nice things owned by others, let them be your inspiration, rather than a source of bad feelings. If there are things that you want, work hard to get them.

Epstein goes through each one of these and explains in much more detail what they mean.

I rather like most of the Humanist version. I especially like 1, 2, 3, 4, and 10. I have problems with 5 though.

For the 1st one, we need to look to ourselves to do the best we can in this world. The wording is a bit iffy, but if you strive to be the best you can be, if you try to make a positive difference in the world, that's a good goal.

The 2nd one is also good. Look for honesty within yourself, but also in others. And the part about not allowing power, status or possessions to substitute for morals, courage, dignity and goodness is excellent.

I would reword the 3rd one a bit, I think.  The part that bothers me is the reference to respect. Respect must be earned. See the fifth one. The rest is pretty good. What word would be better than disrespectful? I have to think about it more, I think.

The 4th one is good. Yes, to be healthy, balance work, play and rest. Well said!

As a person who has issues with my family, I do not think that all family members should respect each other. And in his explanation of 5, Epstein does throw in there that people should earn respect. I can't stress that enough. No one should be respected out of hand. Respect is earned. I have quite a few unhealthy people in my family who do not deserve any respect. I am courteous to them, just as I am courteous to religious people. But as you know, I don't respect religion. And the family members who are self-absorbed, manipulative, mean, or abusive haven't earned my respect either.

6-9 are pretty basic and don't need comment, except to say that if you want an open marriage and both partners agree, that wouldn't be cheating.

The 10th one is great. It is proactive and says instead of being jealous and bitter, be inspired by what others have and work hard to get what you want for yourself. What a concept!

After Epstein goes through the 10 commandments, he adds other topics that Humanists think are really important. What would you change, add or take away?


  1. Excellent piece Neece! There is definitely something I would like to add. Especially when it is all about 'truth' (2). This allows room for superstition, fobia etc. (some people conceive this as true or 'their truth'). So here's an additional text I'd like to suggest (it promotes science a bit):

    Do not alllow superstition, fobia or dogma control you or determine your actions. Be prepared to investigate, research all options and open you mind to other opinions. Seek facts and let reason and logic guide you when you act or decide. Admit if you are wrong, because it is the essence of learning.

    And another one:

    If you are to care for others, especially children, do not burden them with your own personal opinions. Instead guide them in their search for their truth and let them learn from their own mistakes. Be prepare to explain your decisions and be open to discussion.

    Mmm,there are a lot more do's and don'ts.. but this will suffice for now :)

  2. "No one should be respected out of hand. Respect is earned."

    I disagree that there's NO level of respect without it being earned. I think there is a basic level of respect assumed in each new relationship - even with strangers on the street, you might say, "Please" or "Thank you" or hold the door for someone. But then the actions of someone after you get to know them will quickly either raise the level of respect you have for them, or lower it.

    "The 10th one is great. It is proactive and says instead of being jealous and bitter, be inspired by what others have and work hard to get what you want for yourself. What a concept!"

    The jealousy thing is one I've always had problems with. I heard something recently - could have even been here on your blog? - that suggested that if you're jealous of something someone else has, you have to ask yourself if you want that person's WHOLE life. Whatever they have is the result of many, many decisions they've made in how to live their life, and many are intertwined with each other. Jealous of their big house? Ask yourself if you also want to clean that big house, or if you want to be saddled with the house payments which may actually be something they can barely afford. That attitude has helped me a lot to put things in perspective!

  3. Ooo, that's a good one on jealousy. Both points are good.

    I have a problem with how the bible likes to make human nature evil in all ways. Jealousy isn't always bad, we have bits of it every day. Say, you look over at someone eating a delicious... hamburger (insert whatever food item here)... and then you're like, ooo, that looks good, I want it! Jealousy. No ill-will however, in fact you can just go buy one for yourself. It's just good to keep it in check.

  4. Change 5 to:
    Respect humanity, as we are all brothers and sisters to humanity.

    That effectively absolves the respect the disrespectful implications of the original.

  5. The original version was a bit better: