Faddish moderate unbeliever Alain de Botton, the author of Religion for Atheists, has published something called “Ten Commandments for Atheists.” They’re not exactly commandments—actually, they aren’t commandments at all. They are virtues, ones that de Botton considers worthwhile for every infidel to cultivate.
Why he calls them commandments is a little puzzling—the idea of issuing commandments wouldn’t make sense to atheists, would it, since no one can be said to be in charge? Besides that, his list is rather lame, and doesn’t even address the atheist in particular. His virtues are the old standbys (empathy, patience, politeness) with a few amorphous ones, like “self-awareness” and “resilience,” thrown in.
Still, it might be salutary for non-believers to contemplate some rules of conduct. The following are definitely not commandments, just a few suggestions.
THOU SHOULD NOT imagine that thy nonbelief is something particularly original or daring. If you see bad things happen and can’t conceive of a good God that would allow it; if you see that the statement “God created everything” leads to the question “Who created God?” or if you consider that the alleged architect and designer of the universe might have done a lot better, keep in mind that millions of the devout have had such thoughts, and, far from ignoring them, have tried to make room for them in their faith.
THOU SHOULD recognize that to believe “There can’t be a God” is as lazy as to avow “There must be a God.” No one has the facts; all the data isn’t in yet.
THOU SHOULD allow for the possibility that we’re asking the wrong questions. To ask “Why would a good God permit evil?” or “How did the universe begin?” may be simply meaningless because it is beyond our power to find the answers, or to understand them if they exist. After all, everything doesn’t have to resolve around us, as Copernicus proved.
THOU SHOULD not make thy unbelief a personal thing, or if you must, keep it to yourself. To be disappointed in God is as puerile as to be a cheerleader for Him.
THOU SHOULD NOT, above all, kill the curiosity in thyself, or seek to kill it in anyone else. “To seek God is never in vain,” said St. Bernard, “even if you do not find Him.”