'Which Ten Commandments?'
Misleading: Flawed Research
Jonathan

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Jonathan"
Subject: Re: Which Ten Commandments?
Date: October 28, 2001 3:01 AM

You can neither "concur" nor not "concur" unless this is a claim that I have made. This is not a claim that Jyoti Shankar or I or Joseph Lewis or K. Budde have made. Of the four of us, at least three held the position that Moses was probably a fictitious figure, and these three most definitely held that God was a fictitious character. So, none of us held that God gave two versions of the Ten Commandments to Moses.

All we have stated is that the Bible describes two vastly different sets of laws written onto stone tablets and given to Moses by God. The first set is popularly called "The Ten Commandments" but is not called that by Scripture; the second set is called "ten commandments" by Scripture but is not recognized as such by the leaders of organized religion.

Our point is this: if the three sects of Monotheism which claim to acknowledge the Ten Commandments cannot agree as to which Commandments are the Ten, and if the three sects of Monotheism which claim to acknowledge the Ten Commandments do not agree with the Bible as to which set is the Ten Commandments, then why on Earth should we allow them to post these things in our public schools!?

My biggest gripe with Christian morality is that it is not morality at all, but bribery and coercion. In addition, Christian morality is, in my opinion, patent immorality. the Christians we hear from are, in my opinion, downright greedy, and I don't want my kids to be exposed to a system of "morality" which would make people act this way. We hear from Christians who want to post their religious precepts (and theirs only) on the walls of our classrooms. We hear from Christians who want to require all students to participate in ritual that conforms to their specific understanding of what's good and wholesome: rote, ritualistic, canned, and hypocritical group prayer, lacking any heart, spontaneity, or truthfulness because it is mandated, because it is the same prayer said repetitiously, because it is said before men rather than in the closet, and because even unbelievers are forced to participate -- that is, are forced to lie about the true beliefs of their hearts.

Even though I don't want our kids even exposed to this "morality," I think the fact that the Protestants, Jews, Roman Catholics, and Scripture disagree completely as to just what are and are not the Ten Commandments is a strong argument in itself for not allowing this stuff to be posted on the schoolroom wall.

That is our only point. We never said that God gave Moses any Commandments at all; you are the one who put those words into our mouth.
 

Think what you think you must in order to convince yourself that you're right and everybody else is wrong. I don't need to go to any lengths to protect my reputation from empty speculations made by a man who does not know me and who cannot possibly know the thoughts that do or do not occur in the privacy of my mind. Most people are able to recognize this for the bigotry that it is. Besides, I do not care what others think about me. What I can do is show that I have, on numerous occasions, been shown to be in error about this or that point that I've made, and each time I have done an about-face, changing my mind right here on this Forum. I am not ashamed to learn something new.

When I found out about the "Forgotten Set of Commandments" I was as shocked and as skeptical about it as anybody could be. I even missed it in my first reading of Lewis's book! It was not until I typed it by hand into the HTML editor that it hit me what he was saying, here. How could something like this slip the attention of practically the entire Christian world? How could they be clever enough to get away with such a cover-up? How could such a large group be in denial to this extent?

Then I remembered that the entire Roman Catholic Church did away with the prohibition against idolatry and got away with it for centuries and throughout the world. To this day they haven't made good on this one, except to admit the truth in an article in the Catholic Encyclopedia and then move on to the next subject. So, if that can happen, surely it is not unreasonable for the "Forgotten Set of Commandments" to remain "forgotten" up until Jyoti and I started publicizing this fact about five years ago.

Perhaps my atheist upbringing, given to me by my father, my mother, and my four grandparents, prevents me from being able to grasp the meaning of that passage in First Timothy which talks about hypocrites "having their conscience seared with a hot iron." In his monumental work, The Rights of Man, Thomas Paine mentions that "Nature has not been kind enough to me to blunt my feelings" and then goes on to denounce Humankind's mistreatment of one another. For whatever reason, I guess I'm just way to sensitive to be able to relate to what you're doing here: I simply cannot fathom why someone will go out of his way to write to the owner of a web site and lie about what that webmaster has posted on his own web site! Why anybody would do this is beyond me. I can only wonder if such a person simply realizes that by telling the truth and by reasoned argument he still lacks a formidable case for himself, and that the only way he could possibly convince people to go along with his ideas is to deceive them into believing the way he wants them to believe.

In the full assessment of the "Forgotten Set of Commandments" that we have posted, that contained in Joseph Lewis's monumental epic, The Ten Commandments, in the seventh section of the Introduction (to which the poster and all other detailed mentions of this "Forgotten Set of Commandments" point), every verse, beginning with Chapter 34, verse 1 ("Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first") and ending with Chapter 34, verses 27 and 28 ("And He wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments") are written out for all but the most blinded of loyalists to see.

This includes 34:15, which you say we omit in our analysis (although Lewis's is the only analysis we have posted). I will repeat that entire section here:

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To that end we continue the narrative, and I quote Chapter 34, verses 15, 16 and 17:

    15. Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice;
    16. And thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods.
    17. Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.

The purpose of this "covenant" was to keep the seed of the tribe of Israel from pollution by other tribes as a means of perpetuating the solidarity of the clan.

It is not my intention here to analyze this set of Commandments for its ethical or moral value. I record it simply because of its relationship to the narrative concerning the Tables of Stone. I think, however, that a comment on the language is pertinent, especially the use of the word "whoring." In primitive societies the crudity of language reflected the crudity of thought, and those who married outside the tribe were considered guilty of a heinous offense. Such an act was condemned as the lowest in human conduct, and therefore characterized as "whoring." "To go whoring" is a typical Biblical expression and reflects the low mental level of the Biblical authors. The prohibition against images is also stated.

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As for our having failed to mention the various asides, details, and reiterations, even Judge Roy Moore (the hero of the "Hang Ten" movement bent on unraveling the Constitutional protections of our Religious Liberties in favor of implementing the Christian religion as supreme in all the land) uses an abbreviated, "Readers' Digest" condensation of the first set of tablets.

The first aside that you nit-pick about in your attempt to discredit me and make me out to be a liar, what you call "the statement regarding treaties with 'those who live in the land' (34:15)," is clearly seen as a reiteration or explanation of verses 11 through 13, which say, essentially, the same thing. In fact, if you will place the passages in a parallel grid, with verse 12 across from verses 15-16, and then place verses 13-14 across from verse 17, you will recognize the parallel repetition typical of Hebrew poetry, where a statement is repeated in form, using two different manners of speech, apparently so that nobody misses the point. The first sections of the parallel repetition mention the consequences of not tearing down altars and idols, that they would make covenants with the inhabitants of the land (verse 12 parallel with verses 15-16) juxtaposed against the way to prevent this from happening, shunning idolatry at all costs (verses 13-14 parallel with verse 17).

This being a reiteration of the previous passage, expressed in a style typical of Hebrew poetry, your complaint that K. Budde omitted these repetitions in his condensation is about as pointless as if I had got picky about Judge Roy Moore omitting the part about the Lord "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me" in the Second Commandment of his patently illegal display. In doing this, you have served only to show your desperation due, perhaps, to the utter vacancy of your argument. You certainly have not shown me or Lewis or Budde to be dishonest as you intended, but rather revealed yourself to be the dishonest one in this discussion.
 

Next objection?
 

Oh, yeah! That's right! In Budde's condensed version, I "failed to mention the command, 'No one is to appear before me empty-handed' (34:20b)," that's right! Let's see if I (we) have done what you say:

Verse 18 enunciates the Commandment condensed by Budde as, "The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep in the month when the ear is on the corn." Here is verse 18:

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18. The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, as I commanded thee, in the time of the month Abib: for in the month Abib thou camest out from Egypt.

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Admittedly, Budde's list is not in the same order as they appear in the text, but is, rather, logical, keeping the Commandments regarding feasts in a single section.

Now, verses 19 and 20 describe the Commandment condensed by Budde as, "All the first-born are mine." You insist that the last sentence of verse 20 is a separate Commandment -- perhaps so you might increase the number of Commandments here to 11 in an attempt to show that these verses do not describe "the words of the covenant, the ten commandments" mentioned in verse 28? (Never mind the fact that later in the chapter, these are called, in the text, "the ten commandments!) I've watched Christian apologists stoop even lower than this, so I beg your pardon if I have a flawed understanding of what you're attempting to do, here: after all, this is the natural reading of your letter.

However, you cannot show that this last sentence can only be interpreted the way you wish to see it interpreted. In fact, to make this a separate Commandment is quite a stretch, considering that previously and subsequently the Lord character is very careful to make sure that He is understood, going so far as to repeat Himself on numerous occasions and even engaging, as we saw above, in the art of Hebrew parallel repetition.

Thus, for the Lord to simply blurt out, "And none shall appear before me empty" and leave it at that is highly unlikely. I doubt that even He would be so unjust as to make this one entire Commandment when this sentence is so utterly vague (even for a Bible verse). "None shall appear before me empty"? What on Earth is that supposed to mean!? A more natural reading woudl have this as the final nail hammered into the Commandment of verses 19 and 20; it makes much more sense this way, all the way around.

Indeed, the God character starts out with the whole contraption by saying: "All that openeth the matrix is mine." Then he describes in detail just exactly what he means, so nothing is left out: "and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male." Then he makes an exception with the ass: "But the firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb: and if thou redeem him not, then shalt thou break his neck." Finally, He requires the firstborn of the sons: "All the firstborn of thy sons thou shalt redeem" (cf. Genesis 22:2; cf. Numbers 31:40; cf. Judges 11:39).

Now, to make sure that nobody thinks they can get away with scrimping on this one (especially the "sons" part, as the concept of child sacrifice is central to the Christian plan of Redemption), the Lord hammers the whole thing home by saying, "And none shall appear before me empty." How so, you might ask? Nobody shall get away with scrimping on the donation of edible meat to the priesthood! Why should the priests work when they can simply write a passage such as this and coerce the ignorant, frightened, and superstitious people into paying their freight!? Here are verses 19 and 20:

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19. All that openeth the matrix is mine; and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male.
20. But the firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb: and if thou redeem him not, then shalt thou break his neck. All the firstborn of thy sons thou shalt redeem. And none shall appear before me empty.

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To finish up, verse 21 lists two Commandments, which Budde condenses as, "" and "" respectively. Here is verse 21:

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21. Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in earing time and in harvest thou shalt rest.

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So, far from making a case that we left out an extra Commandment (again), you have only strengthened the our case that there are ten (count 'em, ten) Commandments described in this list, which is, called the "ten commandments" immediately following the listing of these ten Commandments.
 

Next objection?
 

Oh, your bit about the word "then." When I was a Christian trying to keep abreast of all the "false doctrine" that one needed to keep away from in order not to risk roasting to a golden brown in the Lake of Fire, prepared with foreknowledge for the Devil and his Angels by an all-loving God, I used to just love tweaking with these guys in the megachurch where I used to go who would make an entire case based upon a single word in the Bible. Little did they know that I collected different translations and had almost sixty of them at the time. So I'd listen to them make their presentation to some poor clown and then would go home and look it up in all my translations. Then I'd go back the next week and set myself up for him to lay his little trip on me in front of a bunch of people who thought highly of him. Zappo!

Only an expert in ancient Hebrew could tell us if what you're claiming here is justified. Unfortunately, an illiterate milkmaid living in the days of Ezra knew more about ancient Hebrew than the best Hebrew scholars of today know about it. Besides, I'm not a Hebrew scholar, and I can tell that you aren't one, either. So, we must resort to what we have, and that is numerous opinions as to how that verse ought to be translated.

I'll compare how the various translations I can find online have rendered 34:28 and see what they say. If your use of the word "then" is demanded by the Hebrew, then we can expect the translations that I find to be unanimous in their use of this language when rendering this passage. If they are unanimous, I will grant you that point even though I have one other objection to your complaint. So, let's start by logging on to Bible Gateway and see what the ones they carry have to say. I have divided the list into two parts: those translations which agree with you, and those which do not:

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Bibles I found online which translate this passage using the word "then":

0001. New International Version
0002. New American Standard Bible
0003. New King James Version (departing from the King James)
0004. New American Bible (Roman Catholic)

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Bibles I found online which do not translate this passage using the word "then":

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0001. King James
0002. 21st Century King James Version
0003. Douay-Rheems Latin Vulgate (Roman Catholic)
0004. Noah Webster's Translation
0005. New English Translation
0006. World English Translation
0007. New Living Translation
0008. American Standard Version
0009. Revised Standard Version
0010. Young's Literal Translation
0011. Darby Translation
0012. Bible in Basic English (K. C. Ogden)
0013. New World Translation (Jehovah's Witnesses)

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As you can see, far fewer Bibles (that I was able to find online) translate it the way you insist that it must be translated than translate it some other way (most beginning the sentence with the word and instead of then, but one simply beginning the sentence with Yahweh) Let's see how they pair up by examining each version's translation of the two verses in question. Here are the passages in question, from each translation I listed above:
 

Bibles I found online which translate this passage using the word "then":

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New International Version:

    [27] Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel."
    [28] Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant -- the Ten Commandments.
     

New American Standard Bible

    [27] Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel."
    [28] So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did not eat bread or drink water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.
     

New King James (departing from the King James)

    [27] Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write these words, for according to the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel."
    [28] So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.
     

New American Bible

    [27] Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write down these words, for in accordance with them I have made a covenant with you and with Israel."
    [28] So Moses stayed there with the LORD for forty days and forty nights, without eating any food or drinking any water, and he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.
     

Total: four versions

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Bibles I found online which do not translate this passage using the word "then":

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King James

    [27] And the LORD said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel.
    [28] And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.
     

21st Century King James Version

    [27] And the LORD said unto Moses, "Write thou these words, for according to the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel."
    [28] And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And He wrote upon the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.
     

Douay-Rheems Latin Vulgate Translation

    [27] And the Lord said to Moses: Write these words by which I have made a covenant both with thee and with Israel.
    [28] And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights: he neither ate bread nor drank water, and he wrote upon the tables the ten words of the covenant.
     

Noah Webster's Translation

    [27] And the LORD said to Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee, and with Israel.
    [28] And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water: and he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.
     

New English Translation

    [27] And the Lord said to Moses, "Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel."
    [28] So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did not eat bread, and he did not drink water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten words.
     

World English Translation

    [27] Yahweh said to Moses, "Write you these words: for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel."
    [28] He was there with Yahweh forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread, nor drank water. He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.
     

New Living Translation

    [27] And the LORD said to Moses, "Write down all these instructions, for they represent the terms of my covenant with you and with Israel."
    [28] Moses was up on the mountain with the LORD forty days and forty nights. In all that time he neither ate nor drank. At that time he wrote the terms of the covenant -- the Ten Commandments -- on the stone tablets.
     

American Standard Version

    [27] And Jehovah said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel.
    [28] And he was there with Jehovah forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.
     

Revised Standard Version

    [27] And the LORD said to Moses, "Write these words; in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel."
    [28] And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.
     

Young's Literal Translation

    [27] And Jehovah saith unto Moses, 'Write for thyself these words, for, according to the tenor of these words I have made with thee a covenant, and with Israel.'
    [28] And he is there with Jehovah forty days and forty nights; bread he hath not eaten, and water he hath not drunk; and he writeth on the tables the matters of the covenant -- the ten matters.
     

Darby Translation

    [27] And Jehovah said to Moses, Write thee these words; for after the tenor of these words have I made a covenant with thee and with Israel.
    [28] -- And he was there with Jehovah forty days and forty nights; he ate no bread, and drank no water. -- And he wrote on the tables the words of the covenant, the ten words.
     

Bible in Basic English (K. C. Ogden)

    [27] And the Lord said to Moses, Put all these words in writing; for on them is based the agreement which I will make with you.
    [28] And for forty days and forty nights Moses was there with the Lord, and in that time he had no food or drink. And he put in writing on the stones the words of the agreement, the ten rules of the law.
     

New World Translation (Jehovah's Witnesses)

    [27] And Jehovah went on to say to Moses: "Write down for yourself these words, because it is in accordance with these words that I do conclude a covenant with you and Israel."
    [28] And he continued there with Jehovah forty days and forty nights. He ate no bread and he drank no water. And he proceeded to write upon the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Words.
     

Total: thirteen versions

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I think I have more than sufficiently shown that this passage does not demand the translation with the word then, as you claim.

I'm sure you'll admit that most of these are pretty much the mainstream Bibles out there. A few others are caught up in rights litigation and are not available online, but most are freely available if you know their titles and you're willing to wade through the vast amounts of cybermuck it takes in order to find them. I dare you to tip the scale back to a majority of Bibles which begin this verse with the word then.

So, once again, you are shown to have slandered me by saying that I mislead my readers, when very little could be further from the case.

Ah, but even if you had prevailed here, even if all the versions we examined used the word then, you wouldn't have made your point. You claim that God had finished speaking and "then" told Moses to write down what he was about to say! Okay, so why is this indicent not described in the text? Why does the text instead immediately turn to Moses coming down from the mountain? Where is the description and listing of the Ten Commandments and Moses writing them down as God dictates them to him?

Why whould we believe you when you tell us that this is what happend, when the text says nothing about this having happened?

It is right there for all to see! It is right there because these are The Ten Commandments! God had recited them in the preceding verses! These are ten specific Commandments and there is no ambiguity to be found in this count. In fact, this is one of the few places where a count is made in the Bible and the text describing what is counted lines up precisely as counted. Numerous counts in the Bible show up to be wrong, ranging from members of tribes to the numbers of sons in a particular family. Even the lists of the Apostles don't line up any better than the genealogies of Jesus.

In fact, the major sects cannot agree amongst themselves as to the count of the Commandments in the first tablets of stone, the set practically every Christian and Jew thinks is the real Ten Commandments. Observe:

The Hebrews count as the First Commandment, "I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." The Protestants omit this entirely, and begin their First Commandment where the Hebrews begin their Second: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." The Roman Catholics sort of blend the two, with, "I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me."

For their Second Commandment, the Hebrews have combined the Protestants' First and Second Commandments: "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, ... etc." The Roman Catholics, having omitted the part about "graven images" from their list of Commandments, make everybody else's Third Commandment their Second: "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain."

So, is this one Commandment, two Commandments, or three Commandments? Where does one end and the other begin? Is "I am the Lord thy God" a Commandment or the Introduction? It doesn't matter in the least! Unlike the list in Exodus 34, which clearly describes ten specific Commandments (not eleven; not twelve; not nine), this list, on the other hand, is so utterly ambiguous that the most powerful and influential theologians in history (those who set down the Hebrew Ten Commandments, those who set down the Protestant Ten Commandments, and those who set down the Roman Catholic Ten Commandments) could not agree as to where one Commandment ended and another began. This list of laws and guidelines for human behavior most certainly lacks the precision of a mathematical table, as Joseph Lewis points out elsewhere in his book. I remember one critic telling me that the Ten Commandments are actually 17 Commandments, but they reduced it to Ten Commandments because that's how many fingers we have! They might as well! This makes as much sense as anything.

One more point about this count, and then I'll go. When the Roman Catholics dropped the "graven images" commandment, you'd think they'd have simply followed the Hebrews and listed "I am the Lord thy God" as a separate Commandment. No. What they did was get the count all mixed up from the Third through the Ninth Commandments. Then, they take what the Protestants and Hebrews call the Tenth Commandment and split it up into two separate Commandments. I prefer the Roman Catholic way, though, in this one case. The Protestant and Hebrew lists include the wife as among the possessions not to be coveted, listed in order after the house. The Roman Catholics, though, list the wife in her own Commandment, making her that much further removed from any semblance of being the man's possession.

So, then, I have a proposition: You are welcome to write back and I will try to be as patient as the pain in my back will allow me to sit in this chair. However, by writing back, you hereby agree not to lie about me any more. If you say something about me, it must be verifiably true, and I had better not be able to show you to be lying. Otherwise, I will simply ignore your letter and set our e-mail program so that any further e-mail from your account goes to that Great Deleted Items Folder In The Sky. Got that? You're welcome to try to make your case, but you are not allowed to lie on our Forum. Not even Christians are allowed to lie on our Forum. Making this a no-no on our Forum is a rule with which both Gandhi and Gora would have agreed: "a votary of Satyagraha insists on his right to insist on the honesty of another in social relations."

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The insistence on truthfulness does not disturb the freedom of the individual. The social obligation implied in Satyagraha turns the freedom of the individual into moral freedom. An atheist is free to say or to do what he likes, provided he does what he says and says what he does. So, in the context of social relations, the freedom of the individual is moral freedom. Of course, social relations cannot permit licentiousness, selfishness, or secrecy.
     -- Gora, from his book Positive Atheism, Chapter 3

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Besides, it is not nice to lie either to or about another human:

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With this recognition of the finality of death, no one should willingly withhold acts that would bring benefits, joy or happiness to others.
     -- Joseph Lewis, from his book An Atheist Manifesto

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Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

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