“How should we live?” is a question that both secular and religious philosophers have provided many different answers to. Members of the NZARH believe that this question is best answered by a secular humanist approach that examines and thinks about what will best serve humanity in the real world.
The Golden Rule
So where does one start in creating a moral code of behaviour?
Common to almost all systems of ethical and religious beliefs is the golden rule. This was recorded over 2500 years in both ancient Greece and in the teaching of Confucius. The golden rule simply put is to treat others as you would like them to treat you.
The ramifications of such a simple rule are considerable:
- You must conduct yourself honestly towards others if you want people to be honest to you. We have to co-operate with each other to create the society that we want to live in.
- You must allow others the freedom to believe what they like if you want to have the same freedom. Everyone should be free to decide what gives their own life meaning and purpose.
- You must allow others to express their opinion, no matter how silly or plain wrong you think it is, if you want to be able to freely express yours. You don’t have to respect their opinion but you must respect their right to have one.
- You must allow others to live in peace if you want to have safety and security. You must not become preoccupied only with your own interests and forget the rest of the community.
- You must be considerate of other people and respect their rights if you want them to respect yours. All rights come with the associated responsibility to grant the same right to others.
The golden rule of course doesn’t cover everything. How you treat someone depends greatly on how they treated you in your previous encounter with them. People are different and don’t all want to be treated the same. What the golden rule does provide is a basic level of fairness and respect; a solid foundation for moral behaviour.
Secular vs. Religious Morality
Many religious views on morality are based on a divinely ordained moral code. One frequent criticism of the secular approach is that there are no absolute moral rules and that everything is open to revision. Humanists think that this is a good thing. Without change society can never improve itself or learn from its mistakes. Issues within a secular moral code can be debated far more freely than can issues within a religious moral code, where those opposing the status quo may find themselves being denounced as being wicked for arguing against the will of god.
In practice the humanist approach is not that different from the approach taken by a great deal of religious people. The scriptures of most religions contain both teachings of great wisdom, and teachings that the majority today would consider to be outdated and divisive. In addition there are many places where passages are open to different interpretations. The vast majority of followers are selective about which passages they take to heart and which passages they pay little or no attention to in order to conform with socially acceptable behaviour.
The morality currently at the heart of our “Christian” civilisation is now centred around the ideas of human rights, equality, and democracy. These concepts have only been put into practice over the last few centuries. Throughout most of the two thousand year history of Christianity a very different set of moral standards held dominance. Many practices that were previously acceptable such as slavery are now considered to be abhorrent.
While one might reject the supernatural and plainly outdated aspects of religious beliefs, many thought provoking ideas can be found in religious scriptures. These include providing charity and not allowing your life to be controlled by revenge or envy. A humanist is free to adopt and adapt ideas as they see fit.
In summary, humanism is a belief that humanity itself matters far more than supernatural beliefs and that the best morals stem from an examination of humans and their needs rather than a blind belief in religious dogma. We have to co-operate with each other to create the society that we want to live in.