If you are not sure what these new improved ten commandments are or where they came from, then you can read the posting I wrote about them here.
Many “Christian” responses to them are what you might indeed anticipate and expect, and fall into categories that are best described as either “unthinking” and/or “impolite”, but I have come across one that does neither and merits a reply, because the author has indeed made an honest attempt to evaluate them.
Morgan Guyton, a director of the United Methodist campus ministry at Tulane and Loyola University in New Orleans, has written “A hopefully friendly Christian response to the atheist ten non-commandments“, and that in turn prompts me to comment on his analysis.
He starts by stating ..
Christianity has offered me indispensable spiritual resources
… and this causes me to wonder what a “spiritual” resource is. Is this something we can actually measure or detect? I suspect not, and so I interpret this to be a religious term that perhaps describes the emotional support that holding a belief instills and nothing more than that. My definition is one that many might quibble with, so I’d be interested to see if a better (meaningful) definition is possible. It may also explain why the rest of his article is a bit of a struggle to come to terms with things.
1. Be open-minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence.
He feels this is important, which is good, and here he explains that the bible is for him a tool to utilise and not a literal truth. He expressed it like this …
I want to be obedient to the truth wherever that takes me, because I am afraid of what I become when I’m not.
… but that of course throws up the rather obvious question, how does he know what is and is not actually true? I would argue that leaning upon a religious text, that he will interpret when it conflicts with reality, is not a reliable means to acquire an understanding of the things that are actually true, because “truth” then becomes something that is very subjective and prone to the normal human biases that we all have.
2. Strive to understand what is most likely to be true, not to believe what you wish to be true.
This is one that he also agrees with, but understandably finds very hard and explains …
You either interpret reality with the assumption that God does exist or you interpret reality with the assumption that God
.. which is a direct contradiction the the statement he agrees with, and I would in turn ask why you would believe things that you cannot verify as real. Just like God, there are also other things that you simply cannot prove such as unicorns, or magic invisible flying dragons, and until somebody provides evidence for such claims, why would you base your entire life on the assumption that such things exist. Yes, I know the idea is popular, but just because something is popular does not mean it is true, reality is not something we get to vote on. If it was, then I suggest that Mr Guyton needs to be Catholic and not Methodist, because clearly being Catholic is the most popular belief going.
So why does he opt to wish that a God is real? He explains that “My religion gives me the vision I have for a just world“, and I would counter argue that he can retain and even improve upon such a vision without leaning upon a religious belief.
3. The scientific method is the most reliable way of understanding the natural world.
Once again he agrees that this is true, but (yes, there is a but), suggests that there are other ways of acquiring knowledge and suggests an example of this is poetry, and then moves on to suggest …
I also believe that there are hidden spiritual realities in our world that cannot be captured through the empirical observation that the scientific method relies upon
… and to that I would then ask if this “spiritual reality” cannot be measured empirically, then in exactly what way is it real, and how does he actually know this?
Claims that are made about spiritual realities that cannot be captured through empirical observation are definitely not reliable, but they are not inherently false just because they aren’t empirically verifiable.
If indeed you cannot differentiate between a fantasy, and this “spiritual reality”, then why would you treat it differently?
Christianity claims that there is a God that intervenes in our reality, and that is a measurable claim, yet when you attempt such measurements, the claim suddenly switches to one in which this God does not manifest in our reality at all, so which is it, because you can’t have both.
4. Every person has the right to control of their body.
He quibbles about this one, and to some extent he may in fact be correct because the wording may not be totally correct. The thinking behind this is that it includes a person\”s right to not be murdered, raped, imprisoned without just cause (violating another person\’s rights), kidnapped, attacked, tortured, etc. This also protects a person\’s freedom of speech and freedom to dress and represent themselves as they so choose.
His specific quibble is that we should strive to live in harmony with nature, however I do personally feel that there is perhaps a debate to be had about the need to intervene in a human life that is set on a course of complete self-destruction. For example, if some individual was suffering from depression and was about to jump off a bridge, it would be wrong to take no action and deem it to be their right to make that choice.
5. God is not necessary to be a good person or to live a full and meaningful life.
He agrees, and then explains …
It’s my frailty and anxiety that makes me cling to God.
… which I would interpret to simply be a lack of confidence in himself. I would argue that what he thinks is god, is actually himself anyway, so he truly does have all he needs within himself.
6. Be mindful of the consequences of all your actions and recognize that you must take responsibility for them.
His argument here is that his belief acts as a security blanket, but once again, I would counter argue that he is leaning upon something this is not actually there at all, and does indeed have within himself everything he actually needs.
7. Treat others as you would want them to treat you, and can reasonably expect them to want to be treated. Think about their perspective.
There is essentially no disagreement here at all.
8. We have the responsibility to consider others, including future generations.
Once again he does agree with this, and disagrees with the climate change denial stance that is pervasive within some strands of belief because they think God will sort it all out, but he does suggest that what drives him to live sustainably is God. I would argue that this not a stance that is driven by his belief, but rather comes from our culture and rationality.
9. There is no one right way to live.
Once again he agrees., and expands upon this as follows …
There are some things like child sacrifice and slavery which are never okay, no matter how accepting we want to be of cultural differences.
That is of course correct, the commandment is not making an argument for cultural relativism, but rather is a plea for tolerance of diversity.
10. Leave the world a better place than you found it.
He also agrees with this.
So the bottom line here is that he has indeed made a decent attempt to evaluate it all, basically agrees with it all, and yet is also clearly struggling to retain his religious beliefs in that context because he feels that he still needs a belief in a god.
Morgan Guyton, if you are reading this, then I feel that you might potentially be interested in the Clergy project. Their mission is to provide educational, charitable, and peer support to current and former religious professionals who no longer hold supernatural beliefs. It strikes me that you are already quite far down that road and may at some point want to reach out to others for support and guidance. (Be assured that they protect the anonymity of their members )