Secular ethics is not an oxymoron

from wikipedia:

“Despite the width and diversity of their philosophical views, secular ethicists generally share one or more principles:

  • Human beings, through their ability to empathise, are capable of determining ethical grounds.
  • Human beings, through logic and reason, are capable of deriving normative principles of behaviour.
  • This may lead to a behaviour preferable to that propagated or condoned based on religious texts. Alternately, this may lead to the advocacy of a system of moral principles that a broad group of people, both religious and non-religious, can agree upon.
  • Human beings have the moral responsibility to ensure that societies and individuals act based on these ethical principles.
  • Societies should, if at all possible, advance from a less ethical and just form to a more ethical and just form.

Humanist ethics

Humanists endorse universal morality based on the commonality of human nature, and that knowledge of right and wrong is based on our best understanding of our individual and joint interests, rather than stemming from a transcendental or arbitrarily local source, therefore rejecting faith completely as a basis for action. The humanist ethics goal is a search for viable individual, social and political principles of conduct, judging them on their ability to enhance human well-being and individual responsibility, ultimately eliminating human suffering.

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is the world-wide umbrella organization for those adhering to the Humanist life stance.

Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.[1]

Humanism is known to adopt principles of the Golden Rule, of which the best-known English formulation is found in the words of Jesus of Nazareth, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Also consider the quote by Oscar Wilde: “Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.” This quotation emphasizes the respect for others’ identity and ideals while downplaying the effects one has on others.”

There are those who state that religion is not necessary for moral behavior at all.[2] The Dalai Lama has said that compassion and affection are human values independent of religion: “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.” [3]

Those who are unhappy with the negative orientation of traditional religious ethics believe that prohibitions can only set the absolute limits of what a society is willing to tolerate from people at their worst, not guide them towards achieving their best.[citation needed] In other words, someone who follows all these prohibitions has just barely avoided being a criminal, not acted as a positive influence on the world. They conclude that rational ethics can lead to a fully expressed ethical life, while religious prohibitions are insufficient.[citation needed]

That does not mean secular ethics and religion are mutually exclusive. In fact, many principles, such as the Golden Rule, are present in both systems, and some religious people, as well as some Deists, prefer to adopt a rational approach to ethics.[citation needed]”


Morality without religion addresses the question of whether religion is necessary for moral behavior. Even though societal norms of morality and virtue are universal elements of all religions, acceptable moral behavior may differ from religion to religion. Religious traditions by themselves are also generally diverse, with different sects or forms of heterodoxy, and will disagree over various topics. As well, there’s no reason to assume a priori that non-religious people would be able to come to a consensus on complex moral issues.

The subject of morality without religion is dealt with by several prominent scholars as well as more popular culture-based writers. These include Robert Buckman in Can we be good without God, Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, Michael Shermer in the The Science of Good and Evil, Christopher Hitchens in God Is Not Great, and Paul Chamberlain in Can we be good without God.

Several figures from religious traditions have stated that while the non-religious can and do act morally, the idea of morality and abstract standards of good and evil cannot exist without some kind of religious component. For example, Irish-born British academic and writer Clive Staples Lewis made the argument in Mere Christianity that if a supernatural, objective standard of right and wrong does not exist outside of the natural world, then right and wrong becomes mired in the is-ought difficulty. Thus, he wrote, preferences for one moral standard over another become as inherently indefensible and arbitrary as preferring a certain flavor of food over another or choosing to drive on a certain side of a road.[1]

In the same vein, Conservative Christian theologian Dr. Ron Rhodes has remarked that “it is impossible to distinguish evil from good unless one has an infinite reference point which is absolutely good”.[2] Author and commentator Peter Robinson has commented that if an inner moral conscience is just another adaptive or evolved feeling in the human mind like simple emotional urges, then no inherent reason exists to consider morality as over and above other urges.[3]

Various counterarguments have been made by non-religious thinkers. For example, Richard Dawkins, writing in The God Delusion has stated that religious people have committed a wide variety of acts and held certain beliefs through history that are considered today to be morally repugnant. He has stated that Hitler and the Nazis held broadly Christian beliefs that helped inspire the Holocaust through Christian antisemitism, that Christians have traditionally imposed unfair restrictions on the rights of women, and that Christians supported slavery through most of the religion’s history. Since, Dawkins wrote, Christians have made large, significant changes in their interpretations of holy texts so that what was formerly moral is now immoral, it is intellectually dishonest for Christians to believe that they offer an absolute, firm moral guide outside of secular logic and secular reason.[4]

Christopher Hitchens has remarked on the program Uncommon Knowledge:

I think our knowledge of right and wrong is innate in us. Religion gets its morality from humans. We know that we can’t get along if we permit perjury, theft, murder, rape, all societies at all times, well before the advent of monarchies and certainly, have forbidden it… Socrates called his daemon, it was an inner voice that stopped him when he was trying to take advantage of someone… Why don’t we just assume that we do have some internal compass?[3]

Alternately, some non-religious nihilistic and existential thinkers have stated that questions of right and wrong inherently have no meaning and that any notions of morality are nothing but a fantasy. Writer and philosopher Albert Camus discussed the issue of what he saw as the universe’s indifference towards humankind and the meaningless of life in his prominent novel The Stranger, in which the protagonist accepts death via execution without sadness or feelings of injustice.[citation needed]

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