STANFORD, Calif. — What if, instead of climbing Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from God, Moses had turned to the Israelites and asked: Hey, what do you guys think we should do?
Considering the Hebrews’ bad behavior in the Bible, what with the coveting of neighbors’ wives and murdering their own brothers, that might have been a disastrous idea.
But in our own more enlightened age, we’re perfectly capable of crowdsourcing our own commandments — or, at least, that’s what a new project would have you believe.
Lex Bayer, an executive at AirBnB, and John Figdor, a humanist chaplain at Stanford University, have delivered their own 10 “non-commandments” in a book they co-wrote: “Atheist Heart, Humanist Mind.” Bayer said the book forced him to clarify and articulate his own beliefs, and he thought others could benefit from doing the same.
“A lot of atheists’ books are about whether to believe in God or not,” he said. “We wanted to consider: OK, so you don’t believe in God, what’s next? And that’s actually a much harder question.”
Enter the “10 ‘Non-Commandments’ Contest,” in which atheists were asked to offer modern alternatives to the famous Decalogue. And, to sweeten the pot, the contest offered $10,000 in moolah to the winning would-be Moses. (If it helped boost atheists’ public image and drum up publicity for his book, all the better, Bayer said.)
The contest drew more than 2,800 submissions from 18 countries and 27 U.S. states, according to Bayer and Figdor. The proposed “non-commandments” ranged from the quizzical (“Don’t follow your nature”) to the quixotic (“Thriving in space is the ultimate goal”).
A team of 13 judges selected 10 of the more sober and serious submissions, and announced the winners Friday.
There’s nary a “thou shalt” among them — nothing specifically about murder, stealing or adultery, although there is a version of the Golden Rule, which presumably would cover those crimes.
If they lack faith in the divine, the atheist “non-commandments” display a robust faith in humankind, as if Silicon Valley had replaced Sinai.
Bayer said humans are hardwired for compassion, and the scientific method and wisdom of crowds — or the tribes that gather online each day — will weed out bad ideas. In other words, this is an open-ended, and hopefully progressive, process, he said.
So, will the 10 ideas form a new moral foundation for atheists or build a Tower of Babel? Take a look and see what you think.
Here are the “Ten Non-Commandments” chosen as the winners:
- Be open-minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence.
- Strive to understand what is most likely to be true, not to believe what you wish to be true.
- The scientific method is the most reliable way of understanding the natural world.
- Every person has the right to control of their body.
- God is not necessary to be a good person or to live a full and meaningful life.
- Be mindful of the consequences of all your actions and recognize that you must take responsibility for them.
- Treat others as you would want them to treat you, and can reasonably expect them to want to be treated. Think about their perspective.
- We have the responsibility to consider others, including future generations.
- There is no one right way to live.
- Leave the world a better place than you found it.