2.3 Religion And Ethics

Back to 2.2 Religion Defined

2.3.1 Unfortunately, religions have managed to convince the world that they alone hold the keys to knowledge of right and wrong. This, despite the fact that there is no correlation between good behavior and religious belief. This, also despite the fact that a great deal of misery has been delivered to the world from religions and religious people. It is fitting here to make the same points about ethics and secular humanism as Matt Cherry and Molleen Matsumura in their article, "Ten Myths About Secular Humanism" published in volume 18, number 1 of Free Inquiry magazine...

"...Non-religious, humanistic moral systems existed before Christianity and independently of any monotheistic traditions. For example, consider India's materialist philosophers of 3,000 years ago (the Lokayata), the Confucians in ancient China, and the Epicureans, Skeptics, and Stoics of classical Greece and Rome.

Furthermore, the common moral decencies are found throughout the cultures of the world. Similar moral codes have evolved irrespective of religious belief or nonbelief, and Judeo-Christian morality is not unique. Scholars have found little if any original moral thinking in the Bible - the Ten Commandments were laid down by Hammurabi before Moses, just as Confucius stated the Golden Rule more than 500 years before it was attributed to Jesus.
On the other hand, liberal Christianity has been deeply influenced by humanism. The most important moral and political concepts of the modern era have developed out of humanistic thinking. You will search the Bible in vain for opposition to slavery or support for democracy and equality of the sexes!"

2.3.2 The fact is that humanists care as much for ethical behavior as do the religious - I believe more so. It is my opinion that religions often make people feel like they can get away with more because of their special membership in this or that religion or because of their adherence to the rules. For example, people of some denominations who believe in the divinity of Jesus and accept him as savior are told they will go to heaven and their sins will be forgiven. Supposedly, however, they will not behave immorally because they will next be filled with the Holy Spirit and will not want to do evil. In this view, ethics is merely a side effect of salvation.

2.3.3 Humanism, on the other hand, stresses ethics for its own sake. It recognizes that this is our only life and having a positive effect on others is part of what makes it meaningful. Although this is anecdotal, I have witnessed a much higher level of ethical behavior and attitudes among my nonreligious friends than from among my religious ones. Among my religious friends, I have also witnessed a great degree of hypocrisy - a mismatch between their alleged ideals, and what they actually say and do. What is interesting about this is that they themselves do not see this because everything they do is masked by the idea that they are somehow more "pure" for accepting their religion’s worldview alone. Clearly, these people are not living the ideal of Christianity, and stating such as a defense would be missing my point. My point is that there is something inherent about the nature of Christianity that leads to a higher degree of hypocrisy than in nontheistic systems, namely, that ethics is not central to its doctrine but is merely a footnote.

2.3.4 Another matter, which I will elaborate on in 2.4, is the immature level of morality that religion often keeps people at. It’s authoritarian nature ("do this because god said so") breeds childlike attitudes about ethics. Instead, religions should be focusing more on ethical deliberation, where alternatives are considered based on their impact to those around them. Why is x good or evil? What is morality? Why should I be moral? In my opinion, one of the highest priorities of the humanist movement should be to provide people with secular, and superior, alternatives to faith-based and immature morality.

Continue to 2.4 The Basis of Secular Ethics