Sunday Homily: Richard Dawkins’ 14 Commandments Can Save Our World
Readings for 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time: SIR 15: 15-20; PS 119: 1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34; I Cor 2: 6-10; MT 5: 17-37. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/021614.cfm
The emphasis in today’s liturgy of the word is on the wonders of God’s law. “Keep the commandments; no one has a license to sin,” the first reading from Sirach intones. “Walk blamelessly in God’s law; observe its decrees; delight in its wonder,” sings the psalmist in today’s responsorial. And then in today’s Gospel reading Jesus presents himself as the defender of even the least of the commandments. Break the least, he says, and you’ll be least in God’s Kingdom.
On hearing all of this, most of us probably raise our eyebrows in disbelief. “Wonder of God’s law? What wonder?” one might ask. “My experience of what’s called ‘God’s law’ is entirely negative. When I hear references to the Ten Commandments I think of repressed Bible-thumpers wanting the Commandments posted on school walls and enshrined on lawns before every courthouse.”
And it’s true: negative reaction to talk of God’s Law and the Ten Commandments is completely understandable. From childhood we’ve had “The 10 Commandments,” “sin” and “punishment” shoved down our throats by authority figures intent on controlling the most intimate details of our lives. From the time we were children, and especially as adolescents and young adults “God’s Law” seemed to militate against everything we really wanted to do – especially in the area of sexuality.
However, a close reading of today’s texts show how misplaced such reactions are. All of them (and especially Jesus’ words) suggest that “God’s Law” is not something posted on a classroom wall or on a plaque in front of a government building. It’s not written in stone either. Instead, it’s enshrined deep in the human heart. And human happiness is impossible without observing that law which in its essence is no different from nature’s law.
Because God’s Law reflects nature’s order, the texts suggest how important it is for us to come to agreement about moral and ethical behavior if we truly want peace in the world. The U.N. has realized that and has sponsored research into the content of what it terms “a universal ethic.” According to the U.N., there are just four basic “commandments”: (1) Don’t kill; (2) Don’t rape; (3) Don’t lie, and (4) Don’t steal.
People as diverse as Roman Catholic (but suspended) theologian, Hans Kung and professional atheist Richard Dawkins agree but go further in what seem to me very helpful ways.
In fact, at the age of 85, Kung has dedicated the last part of his career to peacemaking by building bridges between religions whose differences are so often the cause or pretext for violent conflict. Kung works on the four principles that (1) International peace is impossible without peace between religions; (2) there can be no inter-religious peace without inter-religious dialog; (3) there can be no inter-religious dialog without agreement about a global ethic, and (4) our world cannot survive without such an ethic that is universally accepted.
So in terms of “God’s law,” what do all major religions agree about? The Golden rule is the point of convergence.
Christianity puts it this way: “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye so to them; for this is the law and the prophets” (Mt. 7:1). In Confucianism the same statute is expressed in these terms, “Do not do to others what you would not like yourself. Then there will be no resentment against you, either in the family or in the state” (Analects 12:2). Buddhism’s version runs, “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful” (Udana-Varga 5,1). Hinduism agrees in these words, “This is the sum of duty; do naught unto others what you would not have them do unto you” (Mahabharata . 5, 1517). Islam’s expression is, “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself (Sunnah). In Taoism the same law finds this formulation: “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss” (Tai Shang Kan Yin P’ien). Zoroastrianism says, “That nature alone is good which refrains from doing to another whatsoever is not good for itself” (Dadisten-I-dinik, 94,5). Judaism says, “What is hateful to you do not do to your fellowman; this is the entire law; all the rest is commentary” (Talmud, Shabbat 3id).
Even Richard Dawkins, perhaps the world’s most famous atheist endorses the Golden Rule. In formulating his own Ten Commandments, he leads off with his own version of that principle. Here are Dawkins’ “Ten Commandments:”
1. Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you
2. In all things, strive to cause no harm
3. Treat your fellow human beings, your fellow living things, and the world in general with love, honesty, faithfulness and respect.
4. Do not overlook evil or shrink from administering justice, but always be ready to forgive wrongdoing freely admitted and honestly regretted.
5. Live life with a sense of joy and wonder
6. Always seek to be learning something new
7. Test all things; always check your ideas against the facts, and be ready to discard even a cherished belief if it does not conform to them.
8. Never seek to censor or cut yourself off from dissent; always respect the right of others to disagree with you.
9. Form independent opinions on the basis of your own reason and experience; do not allow yourself to be led blindly by others.
10. Question everything
Dawkins also has something to say about that fraught area of sexuality I mentioned earlier. He adds four additional statutes:
1. Enjoy your own sexual life (as long as it does not harm to others), and let others enjoy their sexual lives in private according to their own inclinations which in any case are none of your business.
2. Don’t discriminate against or oppress anyone because of their sex, race or (insofar as possible) species.
3. Don’t indoctrinate your children. Teach them to think for themselves, how to weigh evidence, and how to disagree with you.
4. Respect the future beyond the temporal limits of your own life.
Now those laws are “delightful,” many would agree. They make sense because they reflect human nature and nature’s laws.
Imagine the world we’d create if we joined our brothers and sisters in all those religions I referenced and promoted Dawkins commandments with the same vigor the Bible thumpers promote their repressed interpretations of the Ten Commandments.
Kung is right: we might witness an out-breaking of peace.