Which Ten Commandments?
My neighbor sat back in his chair and chided me. "Oh now, Marilyn, you have truly gone off your rocker. You think you have something better than the "Ten Commandments?" 

"Yes. Yes I do, John." I knew he thought I was playing the devil's advocate, but actually, I was serious. "Times have changed, John. Those commandments were written by and for people who lived in a vastly different society. They believed the earth was flat and the sun revolved around it. Science has enlightened us and we need a new set of rules for getting along with one another." 

I took a deep breath before going on to make my case. "Religionists are fond of asking, 'What would Jesus say?' A good question. I wonder what our founding fathers and other deists of their time would say? Deists, of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries believed in one spiritual being, God if you will, a god, however, that had very little to do with governing their lives on earth. They were products of the enlightenment. What would they say if they were alive today?"

"I don't know, Marilyn, but I'm sure you're going to tell me."  

"Most would agree that our founding fathers were the intellectuals of their time. They believed that separating religion from government made the most sense, for both religion and government, even before they had knowledge of scientific evidence that challenges the truth of "Creationism" and its cousin, "Intelligent Design". What would they say if they lived in a society that has produced scientific evidence that contradicts a literal interpretation of the Bible? Our founding fathers are dead now so we can't ask them why they wrote our constitution so clearly, and wisely, insisting on the separation of government and religion, regardless of their own personal beliefs and behaviors.

I looked my neighbor straight in the eyes and asked, "If they were alive today, which commandments would they embrace? Mine? Or those of Moses?"

"Oh, come on, Marilyn, you think you have something 'better' than the Ten Commandments to guide our laws and our morality?" He shook his head in disbelief.

"Yes. Yes I do." I held my ground. "My commandments are about how we treat each other. I mean, 'Don't do anything to anyone else that you would not want them to do to you'. Furthermore, I think our founding fathers would approve. Mine are not religious 'commandments'. They're secular rules of conduct, rules that all could live with regardless of a religious orientation or a naturalistic world view." I must admit I could feel the heat in my face. I'm so passionate about these things.

"Okay. I'm listening. What are your rules?"

I recited the rules like a schoolmarm and John listened dutifully without interrupting.   

  1. Be nice first.
  2. Notice when someone is nice and be nice in return.
  3. Provide consequences when someone is nasty.
  4. Never be nasty first.
  5. Be fair. Don't escalate nasty behaviors.
  6. People make mistakes. Be forgiving.
  7. Accept an apology and give a second chance.
  8. Give an apology when you do something wrong
  9. Everyone wins. Don't be envious.
  10. Live in the present. Don't hold grudges.

John didn't respond.

"My rules are based on reciprocity."

Still no response from John.

"In the late sixth century BCE (Before Common Era), long before organized religions took it upon themselves to prescribe their own brands of morality, Confucius emphasized benevolence, respect for others, and reciprocity as the foundations of social order."

"So I guess you're saying we should follow the teachings of Confucius instead of Moses?" He raised an eyebrow accusingly.     

"No." I was feeling a bit defensive. "You didn't let me finish. We should not accept Confucius or Moses, not without question. My rules for cooperation are based on sound scientific evidence. Political Scientist, Robert Axelrod, used game theory and computer tournaments to flush out how cooperation can evolve in social systems, and the work of Massimo Pigliucci, Evolutionary Biologist and Philosopher supports Axelrod's findings. Their research demonstrates how reciprocity promotes cooperation."

"Well, maybe you have something, Marilyn. Are you going to carve your rules into a big rock and haul them across the country?"

We both had a good laugh over that one.

After our laughing subsided, I gave out with a heavy sigh and got serious again. "Our forefathers gave us the tools with which to lead the world toward religious freedom. I guess the Supreme Court will decide whether we're going to join other Western Civilizations in promoting freedom of and from religion. My fear is that we're going to permit religious fundamentalists to bully us into backsliding into the dark ages of a Theocracy."

Axelrod, Robert The Evolution of Cooperation. Basic Books, New York, 1984.
Axelrod, Robert The Complexity of Cooperation 1997
Pigliucci, Massimo Game Theory, rational egoism and the evolution of fairness 2001

 —M. LaCourt    

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