Secular morality

Secular morality is the aspect of philosophy that deals with morality outside of religious traditions. Modern examples include humanism, freethinking, and most versions of consequentialism. This post assumes you have understood my post titled “Reasonable faith“.

Secular morality is based solely on human faculties such as logic, empathy, reason or moral intuition, and is not derived from belief in supernatural revelation or guidance—the source of ethics in many religions. Secular morality posits that human beings are capable of being innately ethical and moral, it neither assumes humans to be inherently evil or innately good nor presents humans as “above nature” or superior to it.

Secular morality is oriented toward results and consequences. Reason-based morality understands that moral rules are intended for rational animals and to serve a purpose. The rules are simply needed to resolve conflicts. Religious ethics are in contrast very rule-bound, similar to Hebrew morality, and non-reasonable

As Einstein pointed out, the problem of God was the “most difficult in the world” and to some extent, pointless because you can never ever prove or disprove his/her/its existence categorically. It makes more sense to simply avoid the question in the first place and deal with reality. When you start to take this approach and put faith in yourself, everything becomes a challenge and life itself has more value (because an after-life is probably a fanciful idea)

Debunking the idea that God is required

Many religious people say that morality can not exist without a God. Let us examine this claim. There are apparently “6 reasons religion may do more harm than good“. Secondly, there are many countries worldwide that prove the complete opposite, e.g. Sweden, France, Turkey, India, Mexico, and South Korea. 

In 2010, sociologist Phil Zuckerman published Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment. Zuckerman lined up evidence that the least religious societies also tend to be the most peaceful, prosperous and equitable, with public policies that help people to flourish while decreasing both desperation and economic gluttony.

Cultural anthropologists have long recognized how all human societies have similar basic norms of moral conduct. Marc Hauser, professor of evolutionary biology at Harvard University, showed that people’s moral intuitions do not vary much across different religions all around the world.

From an evolutionary perspective, that means that human morality is very old — old enough to pre-date any religion that exists today. So, Atheists have good grounds upon which they can easily question religious “certainties”

The Enlightenment was a late 17th- and 18th-century intellectual movement emphasizing reason, individualism, scepticism, and science. The Enlightenment underlined an individual’s natural right to choose one’s faith. I would go one stage further and say it also gives an individual the right to not have faith too.

“Every one of the world’s ‘great’ religions utterly trivializes the immensity and beauty of the cosmos. Books like the Bible and the Koran get almost every significant fact about us and our world wrong. Every scientific domain — from cosmology to psychology to economics — has superseded and surpassed the wisdom of Scripture. Everything of value that people get from religion can be had more honestly, without presuming anything on insufficient evidence. The rest is self-deception, set to music.”, by Sam Harris

The UN proves that faith divides people and that it (a secular organisation) is often left to pick up the pieces! They work hard to protect the rights of religious minorities at every turn. This is not something many Christians would do.

There are in fact a large number of famous secular organisations doing good all around the world; including, the Red Cross, Oxfam, Medecins Sans Frontieres, UNICEF, National Aids Trust, Amnesty International and so on. Why are they secular? So they can be independent. Religious differences lead to conflict. Independent secularity is trusted worldwide – and not religious bias.

Sweden is a highly secular nation and almost half of all Swedes say that religion is not at all important, according to a survey by Pew Research Center. Sweden has for a long time been considered a moral superpower. Secular countries such as Sweden prove beyond any doubt that humans have an innate moral sense. The Rew Research Center has stated, “Prior research establishes the European continent as increasingly secular on the whole, though, among Europeans, there are notable differences between Eastern and Western countries in attitudes toward religion and religious minorities”

More than a quarter of Americans now say they are spiritual, but not religious, according to the Pew Research Center. The United Nations is the world’s most famous secular organisation. Like all the major faiths, they too work on behalf of the disadvantaged and the vulnerable. They share the same ethical foundation: a belief in the inherent dignity of all individuals. 

  • Christopher Hitchens said, “We keep on being told that religion, whatever its imperfections, at least instil morality. On every side, there is conclusive evidence that the contrary is the case and that faith causes people to be more mean, more selfish, and perhaps above all, more stupid.”
  • Sam Harris said, “As a source of objective morality, the Bible is one of the worst books we have. It might be the very worst, in fact—if we didn’t also happen to have the Qur’an.“

We simply can NOT ignore the facts. Secular morality has worked very well and continues to do so. There is a truly vast number of secular organisations as listed above all of whom do good work around the world. Secular morality is clearly preferred over and above religious organisations in almost every field. The reasons why are obvious. They are considered independent, universal, intrinsically helpful and unbiased. They have been adopted by many nation-states. We can thus safely state that God is simply not required for humans to have morals.

As Darwin said, “Morality is doing right, no matter what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told, no matter what is right

evolution in beliefs

Secular Morality – moving forward without God

Secularism or laïcite is a big deal in France. French Education Minister Vincent Peillon has stated “Secularism creates a hierarchy of values, which places the common good, equal rights and respect of each person over specific cultures and traditions, whatever they may be”. Secular morality understands that moral questions are about our moral obligations to other sentient beings.

The UN Ethics Office promotes an ethical organizational culture based on the UN’s core values of integrity, professionalism and respect for diversity, and the values outlined in the Code of Ethics for UN Personnel which include independence, loyalty, impartiality, integrity, and accountability and respect for human rights. They have produced a guide called “Putting Ethics to Work” which details these values in more depth.

The principles of secularism which protect and underpin many of the freedoms we enjoy are:

  1. Separation of religious institutions from state institutions and a public sphere where religion may participate, but not dominate.
  2. Freedom to practise one’s faith or belief without harming others, or to change it or not have one, according to one’s own conscience.
  3. Equality so that our religious beliefs or lack of them doesn’t put any of us at an advantage or a disadvantage.

These principles of secular morality are defined by the National Secular Society

Laws must be sacrosanct and apply to all citizens regardless of their beliefs.

Author: Piers Midwinter
I am an artist and a teacher. I am currently teaching at a Cambridge International School in Vietnam.