The Ten Commandments may have been chiselled in stone, but plenty of people think the Decalogue is in dire need of a modern recarving. Certain individuals and organizations have attempted just that by retiring some of the “thou shalt nots” and replacing them with something more affirming. Here’s how the spiritual but not religious (SBNR) might offer up a new twist on the old Bible rules.*
1. You shall have many — or no — gods before me. There are many paths to the divine. If you choose to believe in a higher power, call it anything you like: energy, source, universal truth, ultimate consciousness, Gaia. As for graven images, a Buddha on the mantelpiece is no problem. Ditto for other spiritual bric-a-brac, including prayer beads, singing bowls and crystal healing stones.
2. You shall take a shortcut on the Sabbath. An entire day off to nourish your spirit? Impossible. But do carve out some devotional time with a 10-minute meditation on the Headspace app instead.
3. Honour your elders. Especially the Indigenous ones who taught that Mother Earth is sacred. (Also, consider karma — there’s a good chance that one day you, too, will depend on someone spoon-feeding you.)
4. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Refraining from murdering, stealing and lying are generally good moral principles. They fall under the golden rule advocated by religions the world over. You just can’t go wrong with this one.
5. Enjoy your sex life. This is one of the “alternative commandments” devised by evolutionary biologist and outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins, who added the proviso, “as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.”
6. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion. “For every opinion now accepted was once eccentric,” pronounced British philosopher Bertrand Russell in his personal revision of the Ten Commandments, published in 1951. His words are a balm to believers in astral travel, reiki manifestations and chakra balancing.
7. Strive to discover your own divinity. You might find it on a Camino trail pilgrimage, on a meditation mat or in an aerial yoga class. Sure, some people will accuse you of navel-gazing, but the important thing is that you do the inner work.
8. Live your life in a state of awe. Pay heed to the words of Mary Oliver, the patron saint of the SBNR, who wrote in her poem The Summer Day about the importance of learning how to pay attention, “how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields.”
9. Accept whatever comes at the end. It probably won’t be heaven. It certainly won’t be hell. It might be reincarnation. And there’s a good chance it’ll be nothing at all.
10. Leave the world a better place than you found it. This is one of the top-10 winning beliefs of the Rethink Prize, a 2014 competition that solicited “non-commandments” for the 21st century. The contest attracted 2,000 entries from 18 countries. Another top-10 winner: “There is no one right way to live.” No doubt the SBNR — made up of agnostics, non-theists, humanists, freethinkers, seekers, the unaffiliated and the unchurched — would say “Amen” to that.
*Commandments are subject to change without notice. No punishment inflicted if not followed.
Anne Bokma is a journalist in Hamilton.
This story first appeared in The United Church Observer's December 2017 issue with the title "Spiritual But Secular."
To read more of The Observer's award-winning content, subscribe to the magazine today.
Get The Observer’s latest stories on justice, faith and ethics by signing up for our e-newsletter. It only takes a few seconds to join and we’ll deliver award-winning content to your in-box.