First-Person Humanism: Writing My Own Code of Ethics

By Cole Glenna

The author is a student at the University of Minnesota Duluth studying mechanical engineering with a minor in materials science for engineering. He also works as an R&D Co-op engineer* at Medtronic’s Structural Heart and Aortic division. He writes about why he recently joined HumanistsMN.

I have a strong passion for science and critical thinking in every discipline. I also have a strong passion for increasing the quality of life on earth and am extremely interested in ethics and making decisions with the best intention.

I was drawn to HumanistsMN because I noticed this organization adopted a portion of highway 35W. I drive by the sign announcing this to and from work every day commuting to the Medtronic Mounds View campus.

I grew up in a Christian home. My mother is a Christian while my dad tags along. I went to the same evangelical Lutheran church my entire life, and in my senior year of high school I was even on the committee to vote on a new pastor.

The church I went to, Chisago Lake Lutheran Church, is very old, but very liberal compared to other churches. Although they teach relatively good morals, accepting people for who they are, I still found myself not believing the stories of the Bible. My older brother, who is an atheist, helped me realize that I need to apply critical thinking to every aspect of my life. I already knew this, but I would try to shut it out when it came to religion. I was also typically the defender of religion in the house when he and my mom would argue, mainly because he is very smart and my mom had a much harder stance to defend.

When I went to college and learned more physics, calculus, chemistry, and the like, I realized I am much more interested in these areas than anything religious based. To fully develop my view, I decided to read the Bible in its entirety, with an unbiased lens, and determine if it offered a good structure for a society to base its morals and norms on. I concluded after finishing the Old Testament and the gospels that it is not.  It is in many cases just the contrary, a book that will confuse many decently moral people into thinking immoral actions are permissible.

I have also watched many debates on religious topics, particularly those involving atheists Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. I enjoyed the four debates between Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson immensely. These debates motivated me to write my own Code of Ethics. This document outlines what I think a society should have for moral norms since I contest the notion that removing religion would leave no basis for morality. (Editor’s note: See Cole’s code below.)

I continue to watch old videos of Christopher Hitchens and although he can have a harsh view on some topics, I find him the most entertaining.

Since I did philanthropic work mainly through my church and mission trips with neighboring churches, I am looking to volunteer with other organizations. Medtronic  has a great philanthropic arm, but I am only going to work with them until my Co-op ends in August. I am looking for a more permanent organization and Humanists MN caught my eye.

*Co-ops are educational programs that allow students to alternate academic study with full-time paid work.

Following is the code of ethics that Cole wrote. Do you agree with his choices? What would you add or replace? Respond in the comments below.

1. Do not murder other human beings.

2. Do not enslave other human beings under any circumstances.

3. Do not force yourself physically or sexually onto any person or living being without their consent.

4. All human beings are to be treated equally and with respect regardless of race, color, gender, creed, or sexual orientation.

5. Do not steal or cheat a person out of money/wealth for your own personal gain.

6. Do not lie to another person for your personal gain and the demise of theirs.

7. Look after the less intelligent persons in society and take care of the physically ill.

8. Do not destroy ecosystems without a plan for sustaining that ecosystem.

9. Do not kill any living being for no reason.

10. Treat animals with complex pain receptors and higher intellect with a higher degree of respect.

Cole writes:  “I tried to hit every aspect of ethics with these and still be within what I would consider a code of ethics that every functional human being already knows. Some of the free thinkers I listen to say that humans, by nature, already have a sense of ethics and there is no need for an omniscient being to define ethics. These are the rules that I believe are humans’ natural ethical code.”



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    • Heather R on June 18, 2021 at 10:35 am
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    Cole, I love the code of ethics you have presented, specifically how comprehensive it is in encompassing all members of the earth beyond just humans! I have also enjoyed developing my own standards for ethical conduct that are absent of the religious motivations I was raised with. I find when my motivation for doing good is simply for the sake of doing good for others, it is so much more personal and meaningful.

    And always good to see another college-age member!

    • COLE GLENNA on June 18, 2021 at 12:39 pm
    • Reply

    Thank you for your thoughts Heather! I’d love to here more about the standards you developed and what aspects align with mine and if there are any differences. I’d especially like to hear if you or any one would re-order any of these presented ethical codes, in the order of what they think is more important.

    Again, I appreciate your comment!


    • heidi uppgaard on June 19, 2021 at 2:57 pm
    • Reply

    I love your code of ethics. Way better than the 10 (or 11 or more) commandments or the many weird biblical laws!

    • Christine Retkwa on June 22, 2021 at 10:01 pm
    • Reply

    Welcome to HumanistsMN, Cole! It is a worthy effort to reflect on what your own values are and document them. I agree with many and definitely the overall sentiment. (Humanists being Thinkers, there is always something to discuss). I actually think that there is a similarity to the Ten Commandments from the Bible – which (if you subtract those about a God) could be summed down to treating others respectfully. And – you added care for non-human beings plus the environment/planet/eco-systems, which wise humans realize is vital to us thriving physically and mentally. You also remind me: people wonder where non-religious people get their morals. Clearly with a little reflection, we have no problem at all developing an understandable, relatable and reasonable code of ethics!
    -Christine (HMN Social Action Co-Chair)

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