Penn Jillette's 10 Commandments For Non-Believers

Penn Jillette writes in his book God, No! about how he responded to a challenge from Glenn Beck to come up with 10 commandments for non-believers.
I wanted to see how many of the ideas that many people think are handed down from (G)od really make sense to someone who says, ‘I don't know.'
I've argued here before that the Ten Commandments of the Bible are not really such a great guide to morality. We would actually do well to follow one: Always act to minimize the suffering and increase the well-being of living things. But of course, The One Commandment doesn't command the authority that we seem to get from a decalogue.

Here's Penn's list. It's actually quite nice.
1. The highest ideals are human intelligence, creativity and love. Respect these above all.

2. Do not put things or even ideas above other human beings. (Let's scream at each other about Kindle versus iPad, solar versus nuclear, Republican versus Libertarian, Garth Brooks versus Sun Ra — but when your house is on fire, I'll be there to help.)

3. Say what you mean, even when talking to yourself. (What used to be an oath to (G)od is now quite simply respecting yourself.)

4. Put aside some time to rest and think. (If you're religious, that might be the Sabbath; if you're a Vegas magician, that'll be the day with the lowest grosses.)

5. Be there for your family. Love your parents, your partner, and your children. (Love is deeper than honor, and parents matter, but so do spouse and children.)

6. Respect and protect all human life. (Many believe that “Thou shalt not kill” only refers to people in the same tribe. I say it's all human life.)

7. Keep your promises. (If you can't be sexually exclusive to your spouse, don't make that deal.)

8. Don't steal. (This includes magic tricks and jokes — you know who you are!)

9. Don't lie. (You know, unless you're doing magic tricks and it's part of your job. Does that make it OK for politicians, too?)

10. Don't waste too much time wishing, hoping, and being envious; it'll make you bugnutty.

One could do much worse.


  1. You might be interested in other folks' lists posted on Quora: http://www.quora.com/If-you-are-an-atheist-or-agnostic-what-would-be-your-version-of-The-Ten-Commandments-1?q=ten+commandment

  2. Actually, Honor has more meaning than "being there for your family". Translated from the Greek it means: to praise or to revere. Honor involves being true to our word. Also means "valuable" and the Greek word for "without honor" literally means "no value." I would say honoring is better that "being there". So cliche.

    1. The problem is in our modern society not all family members may necessarily be worthy of honoring. Mine are, I'm sure yours are, but when your mom's a crackfiend "being there" is pretty darn good.

  3. Actually, it seems like you missed the entire point of these commandments. They clearly weren't intended to be interpretations of the christian ten commandments but, as the article clearly states, ten commandments for non-believers. The Greek origins of the word 'honor' are fundamentally irrelevant.

  4. The original Ten Commandments was a masterpiece of propaganda. They took some stuff that everybody already believed (don't kill or steal or lie) and added a few good tips for sane living (don't covet.) THEN they added the advertisement for God. So it's not really "behave because God says so" so much as "whenever you think of sane rules, think of GOD(tm)!"

  5. George Carlin reduced the 10 commandments to two and it works great. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-RGN21TSGk

  6. Penn Jillette is a class act, and the nicest atheist in the country. He does not attack others beliefs, he just states his own.

    I never met a person of faith that did not like Penn. He's good people.