What's Wrong with the Humanist Ten Commandments?

The last time I blogged, I mentioned the Humanist Ten Commandments (HTC) which have been proposed on the American Humanist Association (AHA) website by Christian Hagen, the communications assistant for the AHA. As I noted, the AHA through Mr. Hagen has proposed the HTC allegedly as an opening for discussions which "might bridge the gap" between evangelicals and nonbelievers over “universal values.”

Of course, I don’t believe that many secularists would accept the idea that there is a commandment of any sort concerning morality or universal values. After all, the word "commandment" suggests the existence of someone giving the command which runs counter to their view that no universal lawgiver exists, i.e., God. Even Mr. Hagen’s article notes that when the idea of the HTC was initially floated by Lech Walesa, some secularists correctly questioned what would guide the decision as to what constitutes these universal values. Undeterred, Mr. Hagen suggests

Thus we propose herein to provide such a list, a Humanist Ten Commandments, that it might serve to aid those questioning the moralities of the universe regardless of their religious belief or nonbelief.

Last time, I wrote that it is inappropriate to call this effort by the name "Ten Commandments" because, unlike Mr. Hagen and his secularist friends who wrote the HTC, most Jews and Christians (like myself) do not believe the Biblical Ten Commandments to be either human-made or negotiable. But letting go of that objection for a moment, I want to focus on the silliness of proposing the HTC as a starting ground for opening discussion between Evangelicals and nonbelievers because the authors of the HTC are either not seriously desiring them to be an opening for discussion or the authors are so blinded by their Humanist faith that they don’t see how close-minded their proposals actually read.

Keep in mind that I think it would be constructive to discuss our differences in the same way I am in favor of all interfaith discussions. In fact, I find that there are some "universal values" in the HTC with which I could probably agree as being a universal value. (This is not surprising because, as the Apostle Paul notes in Romans 2, the laws of God are written on the hearts of all people. Also, most atheists have grown up in Western civilization -- the foundation of which is Christianity. Thus, it should be expected that Christian morality and values would be part and parcel of their worldview in many areas.)  Still, there are also definite ideas in the HTC that I would necessarily reject.  

I won’t set forth the HTC in its entirety, but I do want to highlight Humanist Commandment (HC) 5 through HC 7 as obviously unacceptable and thus not a starting point but an ending point for conversation. Don’t get me wrong; I understand the secular mindset that resulted in writing these three HCs in this way. But if the alleged purpose of the HTC is to open discussion between evangelicals and nonbelievers then these three HCs represent a dead-end to that conversation.

HC 5 reads:

5) Thou shalt use reason as your guide. Science, knowledge, observation, and rational analysis are the best ways to determine any course of action.

Now, no thinking Christian opposes using reason as a means of reaching decision. Christians have long used science, knowledge observation and rational analysis in their thinking, writing and work. Moreover, the Bible, much to the surprise of many uninformed skeptics, is a book that calls for people to use their reason. In Isaiah 1, God, through the prophet Isaiah, calls on men to reason with Him. Luke explains that what he is relating in his Gospels are matters that he has personally investigated. John presents evidence for his claim that people should believe in Jesus. Reason is at the heart of the Gospel. HC5, however, basically forecloses the role of divine inspiration or prayer as a source for reaching a decision. 

The wording used in HC5, i.e., that “science, knowledge, observation, and rational analysis are the best ways to determine any course of action” will immediately be seen by a Christian as skeptical shorthand to exclude other means of reaching truth because the notable omission from the list is divine revelation or divine guidance. In fact, many of the accounts of God’s intervention in the Bible are counter-intuitive to where rational analysis would lead. Consider Gideon, who was told to send most of his army home before battling the Midianites (Judges 7). This was clearly not in line with typical military tactics and no one would have seen that as the result of "rational analysis". Even the means chosen by God to save mankind from sin was counter-intuitive (even if it can be readily understood and explained in retrospect). 

Thus, while science, knowledge, observation and rational analysis often can be a good way to reach a good, feasible solution to a problem, it is not the case that it is necessarily the best way to determine a course of action. Saying that they are the best way is not going to be acceptable to Evangelical Christians.

HC6 reads, 

6) Thou shalt not force your beliefs onto others, nor insist that yours be the only and correct way to live happily.

Of course, we can agree with the secularist that Christianity should not be forced on another person. In fact, the vast majority of Christians would agree that belief cannot be forced on a nonbeliever – faith is a voluntary surrender to the Lordship of God. But the second part of HC6 goes to the heart of the truth of Christianity. HC6 is clearly simply a proclamation that Christianity’s claim that Jesus is the only way is immoral. 

If Secularists cannot get Christians to abandon their beliefs altogether, Secularists desire to marginalize Christianity by reducing it from truth to mere belief. And not only is it a mere belief, to the Secularist the Christian belief is simply a viewpoint that involves only the believer. It has no more power than a person’s belief about music, movies or food. Thus, writing that people should not “insist that yours be the only and correct way to live happily” is a direct attack on the truth claims of Christianity. Evangelical Christians (who the HTC is supposedly trying to bring to the table) would never agree in any way that their view is not true for everyone and that the only way to God is through Jesus. (John 14:6) Saying that the claim of Christian exclusiveness is immoral will serve as a strong disincentive to further conversation.

HC 7 reads, 

7) If thou dost govern, thou shalt govern with reason, not with superstition. Religion should have no place in any government which represents all people and beliefs.

HC7 is similar to HC5 in that it is actually discounting divine guidance when it says that people ought to govern with reason and not superstition. It is probably also intended to be short-hand for excluding prayer at public or governmental gatherings. But it goes further than this by saying, “Religion should have no place in any government which represents all people and beliefs.” (Emphasis added.) No place? No place at all? Does this mean that people of faith should be excluded from public office? I know that some Secularists believe this. 

But even if these are more moderate Secularist who merely mean that we should not be incorporating religious doctrine into law, then HC7 is essentially declaring that Christians should cede public policy to the Secularists because they hold the only correct view of the world. Consider, as an example, the gay marriage debate. Supposedly, only Christians oppose gay marriage because of their blind faith in the Bible. Looking at it from the Secularist viewpoint, Secularists (who are largely in favor of gay marriage) will obviously have the correct view of the issue since free of the “superstitious” beliefs that are clouding the view of Christians. In other words, Christians need to shut up and keep their religion in their churches where it belongs while letting the wiser, knowledgeable, scientific, reason-based Secularists to make the decisions. But that’s simply not how the United States government has been set up. Christians, being citizens, are allowed to advocate and argue for their view of what constitutes a good society consistent with their Christianity in the same way and to the same extent that Secularists are free to advocate and incorporate in law their beliefs. Neither side can put into law a provision that requires a particular means of worshiping or not worshiping God. But this provision is the Secularists’ attempt to “have their cake and eat it, too.” They want to have their point of view (which is a religious belief) declared the only legitimate view for governing so that they can strike down any law that comes from a Christian world-view as promoting religion.  

No, the HTC is not a legitimate starting point for conversation that will "bridge the gap between Evangelicals and nonbelievers." It is a way for some Secularists to feel better about themselves by claiming that they are trying to bridge that gap while they are actually either being disingenuous or really ignorant. I leave it to the reader to decide which is the more likely.


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