Religion, especially in its organized form, has been losing popularity in Europe and North America for decades. Norway, Denmark, Holland, Sweden and Japan remain the least religious countries and amongst in their quality of living (here). Slowly religion’s self proclaimed moral superiority is being seen as a total fraud. While there is no denying the good some religious do in the world there is also now less and less denying that you need religion to have a strong moral sense.
Ever since the pre-Socratics like Aristotle and Epictetus argued that morality can be gained by reason and wisdom there has always been a secular basis for morality. Over the course of civilization’s history countless philosophers, scientists and other experts have been expanding on secular ethics and have provided modern freethinkers with a beautiful and strong moral code; mainly found in various forms of humanism and rationalism. Various manifestos have outlined these values such as:
Unbelievers have not only humanism but rationalism to base their moral decisions on. Descartes, Gottfried, Leibniz and Spinoza are mainly credited with the belief that we can best understand the world through logic and reasoning. They felt that religious ethics that are taken from holy books were flawed because they are based tradition and authority rather than reason. They successfully argued for secular ethics as superior as early as the 16th century. So it makes one wonder: how did religion maintain its iron grip on moral authority?
When Roman emperor Constantine (and later Theodosius I) made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire it set in place a brutal Roman Catholic control of Europe for almost 2 millennium. With opposing views being socially and legally unacceptable for so long religious authorities were able to maintain moral authority until modern times. However, more and more the idea of ‘Good without God’ is slowly being accepted. Both the Humanist Association of Canada and atheists groups in the United States (like Forth Worth atheists) successfully ran ‘Good with God’ ads on city transit. In 2008 Reginald Bibby did a survey of 5000 high school students on morality for his study The Emerging Millennials: How Canada’s Newest Generation is Respond... and found when asked what they found “very important,” religion ranked almost dead last:
More to the point of this article is what they base their moral values on:
Jerry A. Coyne recently wrote an excellent defense of secular morality for USA Today, books like Age of Empathy, The Moral Landscape and studies like this are helping people to understand that people are naturally compassionate. In January 2006 The Dali Lama summarized this in an interview with Progressive Magazine (here)
Q: Apart from Buddhism, what are your sources of inspiration?
The Dalai Lama: Human values. When I look at birds and animals, their survival is without rules, without conditions, without organization. But mothers take good care of their offspring. That’s nature. In human beings also, parents—particularly mothers—and children have a special bond. Mother’s milk is a sign of this affection. We are created that way. The child’s survival is entirely dependent on someone else’s affection. So, basically, each individual’s survival or future depends on society. We need these human values. I call these secular ethics, secular beliefs. There’s no relationship with any particular religion. Even without religion, even as nonbelievers, we have the capacity to promote these things.
Qualia Soup explains this very well too (in 2 parts):
This departure from religion to humanity is long overdue and this blog and it’s author (s) will definitely do their part.