Chapter 28 - Goodness, Morality and the Ten Commandments
What do these simple truths actually mean for all of us as a society? How do we take advantage of this central reality and do something useful with it? These are important questions.
This may sound flippant to you initially, but here is one way to think about it -- what if we compare your 30,000 days here on earth to a trip to Disney World? It turns out that we can understand a great deal about life and our society as a whole by examining this analogy.
A trip to Disney World
Imagine that you were to plan a big family vacation to Disney World. You are going to take a week off of work, buy the plane tickets, reserve a hotel room and go. Most people would not travel all the way to Orlando, pay the price of admission into the Magic Kingdom and then fall asleep on a bench. Most people want to ride as many rides as possible. They want to see the entire park, watch the parade, eat the food, buy the souvenirs and get as much enjoyment as they can out of the experience. That is a completely valid way to look at Disney World, and it is also a completely valid way to look at your time here on earth. You want to get the most out of life.
Let's say that you did go to Disney World, paid your money to get in the gate, and then you discovered that there were gangs of teenagers running around robbing people, that there were people cutting into line at every ride, that many of the rides had been vandalized and did not work, and that there was litter everywhere. In other words, what if other people were totally ruining the place? You would be upset. You would complain to management. You would want your money back.
You realize several things as you think about your life in this way. For example, you can see why normal human beings do not want criminals running around in our society. During your 30,000 days on earth, you hear all sorts of stories in the news about:
Your time here on earth is very precious, and you only get one chance to experience it. That is why human beings create laws, police departments and courts to deter the people who are spoiling the experience for everyone else. The vast majority of people are good, and they have no desire for bad people to wreck their lives.
The value of life
Once you realize that your life is limited and precious, you then extrapolate that onto others and begin to understand the value of their lives as well. This is something that happened in a significant way just after September 11, 2001 -- people in America were nicer to each other, more patient and more caring because each one of us realized how ephemeral and precious life is.
Once you eliminate the illusion of eternal life, the "spirit of September 11" is that much stronger and more important. We all have an extremely limited amount of time on earth to experience our lives. And we are all in this together. We should help each other to make the most of it.
This kind of thinking is where the concepts of "goodness" and "morality" start. The notion that "we are all in this together" is the beginning of everything good about human beings.
Many religious people who read this book will try to use the following logic:
Here is the simple reality: God is an imaginary being, just like Zeus, Allah, Vishnu and all the rest. The concept of Goodness, therefore, has nothing to do with God. Goodness comes from human beings. Goodness springs from the human intellect and common sense. By understanding this fact of life, we give Goodness even more power.
God may not exist, but the concept of God currently plays one very important role in our society. Right now, God is our proxy for Goodness. When we talk about God in many cases, we are talking about the idea of Goodness. We are affirming that Goodness and moral behavior are important parts of our society.
The problem with using a non-existent God as a proxy for Goodness is that it places Goodness somewhere "else" -- in an imaginary being called God -- when in fact Goodness is a human concept that emanates from human intelligence. Human beings create and implement Goodness, and we do it for good reason.
We need to understand the power and the value of human Goodness. Then, as a society, we need to eliminate evil, because evil has no place or value in any human civilization.
The source of Goodness
It is very easy to demonstrate to yourself where Goodness comes from, and why humans create it. We can start the demonstration with a question that everyone understands: Is murder good or evil? Forget about God and just answer the question using your own common sense. Murder: right or wrong?
Obviously murder is wrong. Everybody knows that. How do human beings all know that murder is wrong? We -- each one of us -- can look inside ourselves and ask, "Do I want to be murdered?" The answer is, "No." Of course not. It is obvious.
Ask 100 people, "Do you want to be murdered?" 100 people will all say, "No." A person cannot "exist" to answer the question unless he or she is "alive," so obviously he or she does not want to be "dead" because of a murderer. If everyone on the planet were running around murdering each other, humanity could not exist. It's as simple as that.
Occasionally, in perhaps one out of 1,000 people, you will find someone who says, "yes, I want to be murdered." That person is mentally ill and the other 999 of us can help him seek treatment. Life is the most precious thing that each of us possesses, and we understand that. Without life, we do not exist.
As you can see, each one of us understands that we do not want to be murdered. The next step is extrapolation. We extrapolate our personal understanding to everyone else. We realize that what we believe is universal. No one anywhere wants to be murdered. That is also obvious. It does not take a genius, or a god, to figure out that no normal human being wants to be murdered.
Through the extrapolation process, we realize something important: we are all in this together. By protecting your right to live your life free from the threat of murder, I protect myself as well. By working together to prevent murder for everyone, we each improve our own individual lives. So we can draw a conclusion that everyone can agree on. Murder is wrong. "Thou shalt not murder other human beings" is the commandment that we create to project this universal truth. We enforce this universal truth with the laws, police departments and courts that we have created to protect ourselves and each other.
It is interesting to note that "Thou shalt not murder other human beings" is not what the Bible says. The sixth commandment in the Bible is actually "Thou shalt not kill." If we were to take this as God's word, the commandment is much broader. When we eat meat, we are killing. When people sacrificed animals as God prescribed in the Old Testament, those animals were killed. Cutting down a tree for lumber kills the tree. In fact, spraying Lysol kills millions of germs on contact. God's actual commandment is nuts, and that is why no one follows it. Nonetheless, we all understand the universal truth that murder is evil.
As intelligent human beings, we can also understand that there are valid exceptions to the commandment. With our brains, we can see situations involving a "higher good" and reason it out. For example:
What about stealing? It works exactly the same way. You don't need an imaginary god to know that stealing is wrong. You simply ask yourself, "Do I want to have my stuff stolen from me?" No, obviously not. Therefore, by extrapolation, you cannot steal from other people because they don't want to be stolen from either. So stealing is wrong. "Thou shalt not steal."
Even when the Bible tells us something is OK, our brains can tell us objectively, and with moral authority, that it is wrong. For example, the Bible says that slavery is great. We discussed this problem extensively in chapter 13. The Bible clearly and unambiguously says things like this:
We do not need an imaginary God to act as a moral authority. It is very simple for intelligent human beings to figure out right and wrong. We do it all the time. That is where our legal system comes from.
Creating our own commandments
You should now be able to see the power of what is happening here. Having proven that God is an imaginary being and that the Bible was written by primitive men, we are now free to discard the Bible. With it we discard the original Ten Commandments.
The Ten Commandments have performed a useful function in our society. They have acted as concise summary of our legal system. They have done that not because they were divinely ordained, but because most of them are common sense.
Now we are in the position to create our own commandments, designed to promote the general welfare and to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. We should do that as a nation. We should work to establish a set of new commandments that we all agree to live by. What we are creating is a set of the big-picture commandments that act as the concise summary of our legal system.
We should not abdicate something as important as the foundation of our legal system to a 2,000 year-old book written by a bunch of primitive goat herders. We should control the commandments ourselves as intelligent human beings. We should arrive at our commandments through a normal political process (public debate, voting, etc.). Doing this ourselves is an extremely powerful idea because we can all take part in the process, and we will actually get a much better set of commandments.
As intelligent human beings, what commandments might we create? Here is a starting point for the new commandments:
Why are these concepts important? Because they allow good people to live their lives in peace and happiness. When evil people who kill, enslave, steal, destroy, lie, cheat, etc. move into a society, they ruin it for everyone else. Therefore evil people should be eliminated so the rest of us can enjoy our precious time on this planet. The way we handle evil people today is with jails, prison and rehabilitation.
These common sense concepts already are the foundation of our legal system. For example, the common sense statement, "Do not murder or harm other human beings" is one foundation concept. From that foundation we derive thousands of specific legal concepts -- first degree murder, second degree murder, vehicular homicide, armed robbery, medical malpractice, product safety laws and so on. The broad statement "Do not murder" comes from common sense, and so do all of the specific laws we create. We are also smart enough to make exceptions for things like self-defense and brain-dead organ transplants.
We should establish the fundamental rules of conduct that we expect of everyone living in our society. We might have 20 broad "commandments" like those shown above. We should post our code of conduct in our courthouses, malls, schools, etc.
This process of creating the "20 rules of conduct" is not based on "religion" or "God." It is based on common sense. "Do not murder" is simple and obvious, and it is essential if we want to live in a functional society. We post these rules prominently to remind ourselves of our standards and our goals as a society.
We each have approximately 30,000 days that we get to spend on this earth. That's it. There is no reason why we should tolerate the 1% of people violate the rules of our society and who make things miserable for the other 99%. Every human being with common sense can agree on that, even though there is no god.
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