Morality and the 10 Commandments
From the IAmAnAtheist.com comment form:
Here is a good example of why the 10 Commandments are all you need as the root of your tree of morality. Here are the questions from a CNN article on ethical questions, with the answers from the 10 Commandments:
1. If something at a yard sale is far more valuable than the posted price, do I have to let the seller know?
No. There is no commandment against this.
2. Is it considered stealing to take pens from a bank? What about extra napkins from a fast-food restaurant?
No. This is not stealing since those items are free.
3. If a charity sends me free address labels and I don’t make a contribution, is it OK to use them?
Same as #2.
4. Is it unfair to move into better (open) seats at a sporting event or a concert?
Yes. This is both stealing because you are taking something you didn’t pay for and coveting because you desire more expensive seats.
5. My boss gave me credit for a project on which a colleague did most of the work. Should i accept the praise?
No, this is the sin of pride.
6. Is it OK to fantasize about someone else when I’m with my partner?
No. You shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife.
7. Am I obligated to lend money to friends and family?
Yes. Honor thy father and mother.
8. If someone tells an offensive joke, is it my responsibility to speak up about it?
Yes. Do not take the Lord’s name in vain.
9. Is it ever OK to sneak a peek at your child’s e-mail?
Yes. Honor thy father and mother.
10. My boss asked me to cover for him on his expense report by saying I was at a meal when I wasn’t. Should I do it?
No. Thou shalt not spread false witness.
I found the original CNN article, and I don’t necessarily agree with their answers (#1 in particular — by Q2). However, I’ll confine my discussion to your answers.
I appreciate that you want to use the 10 Commandments as the basis for your morality. There is nothing wrong with that in principle. In practice, though, it is full of pitfalls, many of which you fell into.
For example, the 10 Commandments are too general to apply to many specific situations, as is demonstrated by your answer to #8. You seem to be assuming that all offensive jokes take God’s name in vain. And even if that were the case, the question is about whether you should speak up when confronted with such a joke, not about whether telling the joke is ethical.
Even the commandment against stealing is not unambiguous. You’re saying that it’s not stealing to take something that doesn’t have a price tag attached to it. But if, for example, I went into McDonalds and loaded a shopping bag with all of their napkins, wouldn’t that be unethical?
Some of your answers seem to require a huge stretch before you can grab on to a commandment. You should loan money to your friends and family because you should honor your father and mother? At the very least, that answer requires some significant explaining.
In your first answer, you also seem to imply that things that are not in the Ten Commandments are therefore not unethical. I’m sure we can think of many examples of things not covered by 10C that you would consider wrong or sinful.
Your answer to #5 doesn’t even refer to the 10C, but to the seven deadly sins. This makes me question how thoroughly you have thought through your own moral system.
We can go into any of these answers in detail if you like (and I’d appreciate it if readers left comments on any of these questions that they found particularly interesting), but I think you see my main point: the Ten Commandments are not a sufficient basis for morality.
In: Morality · Tagged with: 10 Commandments