We live in an age when we cannot and must not cede ethical thought and process to religion. While many religious people are good people and do good things, no religious tradition offers a moral philosophy or code by which all of humanity can live. Humanism offers a better way to do ethics that is accessible to all-using shared information and a common language.
Unlike religion, humanism is rooted in philosophical naturalism. Knowledge of the world is derived through science, empiricism, verifiable evidence, and our capacity for reasoned reflection and corrective judgments based on our lived experience. Gaining the wisdom and ethical judgment for all of us to live together on the planet sustainably and peacefully relies on naturalism’s mutually-accessible methodology and common discourse for moral reasoning and action.
Increasingly social scientists and biologists are elucidating our evolutionary moral instincts. Frans de Waal’s recent book, The Bonobo and the Atheist, and Christopher Boehm’s , Moral Origins are just two examples of this growing body of research. Apparently we evolved to be altruistic and cooperative. And Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind has delineated an even wider variety of “moral receptors” that influence our characters in varying degrees.
But just as religion is insufficient as a moral foundation, so too are our evolved moral instincts inadequate for navigating in the modern world. Today we need a global ethics which will uphold the well-being of all—not an ethic merely for ourselves and our own kind. Joshua Greene, in his book Moral Tribes, implores us to enlarge our instinctual tribal natures to encompass all of humanity and to embrace the “deep pragmatism” of utilitarianism. He describes the moral compass of our species as one based on the methodology of naturalism and the inclusivity of humanism.
How do we as humanists build a more effective movement that can wrest control of the moral high ground now claimed by the religionists? It is not enough to critique religion or expose its flaws and inadequacies; some “believers” may even be our ethical allies. We must engage in the common ethical project of our species to model our adaptive moral reasoning skills and demonstrate how to go beyond our evolutionary instincts. I want to be part of a movement that is willing to provide some greatly needed humanist moral leadership in these ever-changing times. Will you join me?