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Saturday, 13 September 2008

Humanism: morals and ethics

One of the misconceptions about Humanism is that we have no moral code and that we and the churches are sworn enemies. That's not the case. There is common ground between us; we do have a moral code. The only difference is how we arrive at our ethical beliefs.

Wearing my hat as chair of Coventry and Warwickshire Humanists, I've just had a piece published in my local newspaper, the Kenilworth Weekly News, in its "Thought for the Week" slot, in which I try to tackle that very question. Here it is:

There is some common moral ground between Christianity and Humanism. On certain issues, including the search for peace and an end to world poverty, members of churches and Humanists can see eye to eye.

Where we differ is our starting point for moral decision making. Humanism is an approach to life based on humanity and reason. We believe that moral values are properly founded on human nature and experience alone. Our decisions are based on the available evidence and our assessment of the outcomes of our actions, not on any dogma or sacred text.

It is perhaps paradoxical that having to rely on sacred texts makes solving current moral problems more difficult rather than easier for religions, as the current turmoil in the Church of England has demonstrated. Anglicans now find themselves in a bind over homosexuality - one so serious that it threatens to lead to a schism. Why all the fuss? It appears that certain passages in the two-thousand-year-old Bible roundly condemn homosexual acts. Traditional Anglicans, like those in Africa, take these at face value, whilst liberal ones, like those in the US, say they should be reinterpreted.

To Humanists this is bizarre. It is absurd in these modern times to base all our ethical values on texts written for a very different society and context. Texts, moreover, that would seek to ossify morality to a specific time and place, failing to recognise that societies develop morally as well as technologically.

Humanists encourage and celebrate human diversity and welcome opportunities for all to develop their potential and achieve happiness. In the case of homosexuality, the Humanist approach recognises that same-sex attraction is a fact of life harming no one, and that gay rights are human rights.

I'm wondering now whether I'll get any homophobic feedback in the form of letters to the editor. Watch this space, as they say, because, if there is any, I'll report back.

For more information, visit the Humanists website.

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