The Ten Commandments For Atheists (And Humans In General)

I was raised Catholic, but please don’t ask me what I think about the Pope’s recent resignation. I don’t know much about various religions, but I do know the 10 Commandments. And I know that when I was growing up, my Italian grandmother did everything she could to convince me to live by those ten rules (with the addition of dozens of sub-rules based around some sort of a spiritual guilt system…). Anyway, the point of this article is not to preach or even discuss religion. I believe what I believe, and part of that belief is that we all have the right to keep our religious beliefs personal.

But what do the people who are self proclaimed non-believers use as their guide? I’m not talking about people who aren’t fans of Justin Bieber, by the way (I said non-believers, not non-beliebers). I’m talking about atheists. Shall they kill? Shall they steal? Shall they commit adultery? Swiss/British philosopher and writer Alain de Botton has come up with a modern list of 10 Commandments for atheists to live by.

Separating the religion/lack of religion aspect out of this list, I think this guy has captured some decent values for just being a good person. Check them out.

  1. Resilience: Keeping going even when things are looking dark.
  2. Empathy: The capacity to connect imaginatively with the sufferings and unique experiences of another person.
  3. Patience: We should grow calmer and more forgiving by being more realistic about how things actually happen.
  4. Sacrifice: We won’t ever manage to raise a family, love someone else or save the planet if we don’t keep up with the art of sacrifice.
  5. Politeness: Politeness is closely linked to tolerance, the capacity to live alongside people whom one will never agree with, but at the same time, cannot avoid.
  6. Humor: Like anger, humor springs from disappointment, but it is disappointment optimally channelled.
  7. Self-awareness: To know oneself is to try not to blame others for one’s troubles and moods; to have a sense of what’s going on inside oneself, and what actually belongs to the world.
  8. Forgiveness: It’s recognizing that living with others is not possible without excusing errors.
  9. Hope: Pessimism is not necessarily deep, nor optimism shallow.
  10. Confidence: Confidence is not arrogance – rather, it is based on a constant awareness of how short life is and how little we will ultimately lose from risking everything.

This list may not be as specific or explicit as the original 10 Commandments, but I think there’s something to its simplicity. It kind of reminds me of the great song “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. I think no matter who or what you believe in, the values on this list are a good guide. And also, don’t kill anybody.

Image via ShutterStock

  • Laura Ferguson

    I really appreciate this. I’m an atheist and this feels so true to me. I feel like these apply directly to me and who I want to be. Thanks for this :)

    • Santina Muha

      Welcome :)

  • Javier Baccarelli

    really interesting, but, as an antitheist (different from atheist) i feel like there shouldn’t be any commendments as there are in the bible or any other religious book or doctrine. We should all get together (figured speach) as equal human beings and discuss or debate about what do we all need to do to get along and help each other. The only one commendment i could use would be: “nothing is permanent and nothing is perfect”, that meaning that we should gather often to do this be cause everything changes all the time, and everything gets old or obsolete so fast. Greetings from Argentina

  • Susan Elizabeth-Marsh Tanabe

    I am a sincere follower of Christ, lover of Buddhism and practitioner of yoga. I love light and knowledge and detest ignorance. As a teacher in public school, I do not share the ways of my specific church, however I try to consistently teach and model kindness, resilience, empathy, and confidence through hard work and abilities. These commandments are going up on my classroom wall !

  • Tom Berndt

    I think these are all very middlin’, or lukewarm.

  • Hans Johan Svensson


  • Silversage Healthnutrition

    Number 2 should read “all creatures and beings” and not simply “another person.” Humans are not the only ones who need and deserve empathy and compassion.

    • Brook E. Smith

      Thank you! Sometimes it is the not human creatures beside us that are neglected most of all.

  • Marty Gould

    The 10 commandments are not Christian doctrine, although for some reason most Christians think it is. As a Christian myself, I am not under the law, which was replaced by Jesus after his death and resurrection. I was once an atheist myself, so I’m not questioning your beliefs. We all need to find our own way, but I am certain that there is more to this life, and I will keep you in my prayers.

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