Sunday, February 28, 2021

Ron's Commandments

For the last year and a half or so I have run a weekly Bible study which attracts a diverse group of believers and non-believers.  On a semi-regular basis someone will challenge me by asking, essentially, could I do better than God, which is to say, better than the Ten Commandments, in coming up with a pithy set of rules to guide our behaviors and the structuring of our society.  I decided to take up that challenge because, yes, I think I can do better.  In fact, I think pretty much anyone could do better because, frankly, the Ten Commandments are a pretty low bar.  The actual Ten Commandments are not what most people think they are and even the text that is commonly considered as the Ten Commandments is not that hard to improve upon by modern standards.

So here are Ron's Commandments, or at least a first draft.  They weigh in at 358 words versus 309 for the popular version and 466 for the actual version (i.e. the ones that the Bible refers to as The Ten Commandments).  I'll post all three versions here for easy reference.  You decide which set you would rather live by.

The popular Ten Commandments (Exo20 and Deu5):

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

The actual Ten Commandments (Exo34):

Behold, I make a covenant: before all thy people I will do marvels, such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation: and all the people among which thou art shall see the work of the LORD: for it is a terrible thing that I will do with thee.

Observe thou that which I command thee this day: behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite.

Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee:

But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves:

For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:

Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice;

And thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods.

Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.

The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, as I commanded thee, in the time of the month Abib: for in the month Abib thou camest out from Egypt.

All that openeth the matrix is mine; and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male.

But the firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb: and if thou redeem him not, then shalt thou break his neck. All the firstborn of thy sons thou shalt redeem. And none shall appear before me empty.

Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in earing time and in harvest thou shalt rest.

And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end.

Thrice in the year shall all your menchildren appear before the LORD God, the God of Israel.

For I will cast out the nations before thee, and enlarge thy borders: neither shall any man desire thy land, when thou shalt go up to appear before the LORD thy God thrice in the year.

Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven; neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning.

The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the LORD thy God. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.
And, just for the record, the next two verses:

And the LORD said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel.

And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.  [Emphasis added.]

Ron's Commandments:

Be kind to your fellow humans, and all other sentient creatures.  Don't cause them unnecessary pain.  Don't murder them.  Don't rape them.  Don't enslave them.  Do not bear false witness against them.  Strive to understand them even (especially!) when you disagree.  Avoid eating them.  If you must eat them, raise them and slaughter them humanely.  Under no circumstances eat your fellow humans (c.f. Jer19:9).

Organize your society around democratically elected governments charged with establishing regulated free markets and social safety nets.  People have a fundamental right to vote for the people who make the rules they are expected to live by, and to clean air, clean water, food, clothing, and shelter.  No one should be deprived of these basic human needs under any circumstances.  If you see homeless people around you, you are doing something wrong.  Fix it.  Private property is not a fundamental right, but a mechanism for promoting work, innovation, and acceptance of risk.  Wherever it fails to meet that purpose it should be abolished.

Don't get hung up about sexuality.  You are complex living beings.  Sexual urges are as fundamental to your nature as hunger.  Sex is not a sin.  But causing unnecessary pain to a fellow being is, so you should only have sex in the context of mutual informed consent of all parties involved, which means adult humans.  Children and animals cannot give consent.

I reveal my truths to you through your experiences, not through prophets.  So be skeptical.  Do not believe anything except on good evidence, not even these commandments.  Base your choices on the evidence whenever you can, but recognize that time advances inexorably and so sometimes you will have no choice but to act on incomplete information and take leaps of faith.

Recognize that the thing that sets you apart from the rest of creation is your capacity to create new ideas.  Cherish and nurture that.  Especially cherish those ideas that lead to better environments for creating new ideas, like books, peace, quiet, love, and mutual support and encouragement.

Dance.  Sing.  Mourn when you must, celebrate when you can.  Enjoy your life, and do everything you can to help others do likewise.


Luke said...

> The actual Ten Commandments are not what most people think they are

You have to be careful with Cross Examined; despite the name, it's not a site with a healthy atmosphere for critique. Take, for example, "Death for sassing your parents." Jewish Virtual Library: Rebellious Son tells a rather different story. The article notes that said passage actually limits the power of the pater familias; anyone who knows about early Rome knows that the head of household could kill wife or child or servant or slave with zero consequence from society. (We should be glad the Renaissance didn't resurrect that bit of Roman culture.) Requiring the matter be adjudicated by far more neutral parties who aren't caught up in the heat of the moment is undoubtedly an enormous step forward. Speaking of which:

> ← and even the text that is commonly considered as the Ten Commandments is not that hard to improve upon by modern standards.

Just how did we get those "modern standards"? We know that quantum theory did not erupt from Heisenberg's brain like Athena from Zeus. We know that classical liberalism was not the next step after the ameliorated Roman pater familias. If you were to plop a copy of Griffiths down on Aristotle's desk, would he have been able to do anything with it? Likewise, if you were to plop Ron's Commandments down on Aristotle's desk, would the result have been better than his Nicomachean Ethics?

You've had a lot of trouble teaching EE&R to other people, and that's completely a-moral. It doesn't ask you to give a single cent to someone who doesn't seem to "deserve" it. (I'm being intentionally severe.) If it's that hard to teach people to do EE&R, how on earth are you going to teach people to follow Ron's Commandments?

Speaking of EE&R, has any been done to compare the effectiveness of Ron's Commandments to any of those in the Bible? The reason I ask is that I can't really think of much peer-reviewed science which is devoted to superior living with each other. Neither Cross Examined, nor Tippling Philosopher, nor your own blog, are chock-full of deliverances from the psychological and social sciences. For example, there is obviously a tremendous amount of detail in that term "unnecessary pain". To what extent have scientists operationalized this to find out the best ways to understand that term in the various different contexts humans live and interact? I do have from USF law professor Steven D. Smith that the jurisprudence around the harm principle is not what J.S. Mill would have predicted (The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse, ch3: "Trafficking in Harm").

Rather like AI turned out to be far harder than was originally believed, I think pulling off [sustainable!] classical liberalism is far harder than was originally believed. I am all for EE&R on the matter; what's the best that you know of? If you're going to cite The Evolution of Cooperation, I'll Press & Dyson 2012 Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma contains strategies that dominate any evolutionary opponent. :-p

Luke said...

> The actual Ten Commandments are not what most people think they are

Actually, the term 'Ten Commandments' (Hebrew: 'Ten Words/​Things') shows up in three places:

> YHWH said to Moses, “Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. … And YHWH said to Moses, “Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” So he was there with YHWH forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 34:1,27–28)

> Then YHWH spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice. And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone. (Deuteronomy 4:12–13)

> “At that time YHWH said to me, ‘Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to me on the mountain and make an ark of wood. And I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets that you broke, and you shall put them in the ark.’ So I made an ark of acacia wood, and cut two tablets of stone like the first, and went up the mountain with the two tablets in my hand. And he wrote on the tablets, in the same writing as before, the Ten Commandments that YHWH had spoken to you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly. And YHWH gave them to me. Then I turned and came down from the mountain and put the tablets in the ark that I had made. And there they are, as YHWH commanded me.” (Deuteronomy 10:1–5)

The Deuteronomy account is a retelling of the Exodus account; for example, Ex 20:18–31 expands to Deut 5:22–33. Both accounts agree that the content of the new Ten Commandments is identical to the content of the old Ten Commandments. There's also an interesting distinction between the words YHWH wrote, vs. the words Moses was instructed to write. Furthermore, the Deuteronomy account specifies that the Ten Commandments were heard by all of Israel, but that only applies to the Ex 20 / Deut 5 version.

I did some searching and Bob Seidensticker should have linked WP: Ritual Decalogue. I went to source [6] of the claim "many scholars believe [Exodus 34:28] instead refers to the Ritual Decalogue found two verses earlier" and this is in fact not what (Friedman 2003) says. Friedman actually picks out the difference in who is doing the writing and thinks that YHWH is the one writing the standard Decalogue while Moses wrote the Ritual Decalogue.

Sonia Elkes said...

Nice!!! I’m all in....