It was not the Biblical 10 commandments that got me thinking about this. In fact, I've always thought that a lot of the Bible's big 10 have become either so obvious or irrelevant or even offensive that they need a great deal of reinterpretation to be at all useful. (George Carlin's dissection of the 10 commandments is always worth revisiting!) A few thoughts on the 10:
- Honour your father and mother - how about honouring everyone? What about abusive parents?
- Have no other gods before me - that's what ALL the gods say!
- Do not take the lord's name in vain - oh, for god's sake...
- Do not make any images or likenesses - has been pretty well ignored from day one
- Do not swear falsely - this is not strictly about lying, only about lying when you swear in god's name...
But it has been discussion in the Introduction to World Religions class I've been leading that has made me think more seriously. In particular, it was the Buddhist take on ethical rules that struck me for it's clarity that the rules are intended for personal transformation. The fact that these come not as commandments from on high, but rather as a system for becoming enlightened raises the interest for me. (I am not saying that there is anything wrong with rules for living in society - I'm a big believer in the importance of laws!)
This led to an attraction to the idea of a Unitarian set of ethical guidelines - something that the class has begun to discuss at least briefly.
A quick Google search showed me that Rev. Michael McGee of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington VA was way ahead of me with his 2010 sermon series on A Renewed Ten Commandments.
In my proposed list of commandments below, (ten, of course!) I have borrowed and adapted from McGee. I have also taken a cue from the theology of Henry Nelson Wieman, and taken a great deal from my own congregation's input in a recent service where we explored the ethical foundations of our actions in the world and participants wrote their own short suggestions for the underpinnings of their best action.
For discussion, I offer the following. They have not been inscribed in stone tablets. They have no miraculous origin except for the not inconsiderable miracle of the human mind and heart!
A Unitarian Ten Commandments
We will strive to:
- understand the original experience of others
- treat each person gently and with respect
- take care of the earth and its creatures
- speak the truth with honesty and respect
- act with and work for justice
- value meaning over materialism and life over things
- cultivate appreciation for all of life’s gifts
- give generously
- cultivate joy and wonder
- be slow to anger and quick to forgive