I think there is some great writing on the internet these days. Often in the places you least expect it. Sure there is a lot of crap – but there’s something about the lack of editing and ease of expression in blogs and discussion forums. Writers often have strong feelings on their subjects and they can communicate this in forceful and colourful language. When people feel strongly about something they often write well.
Another fact may be the crap itself. When people make stupid assertions, or descend into fanciful positions or diversions, sometimes the only sensible way to respond is with sarcasm or ridicule. It’s often then the best writing shows.
Some anarchically-inclined friends of mine use to say that about general elections. “Don’t vote for politicians – it only encourages them.” It’s not usually a convincing argument for me – but when it comes to this “child discipline” referendum I think it is the only sensible advice.
So, New Zealanders can vote from the end of next month on the proposition: “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”
The Saudi Gazette announced today (14 May 2009) that, exactly as they promised, the OIC is moving ahead with the creation of an “Islamic” Human Rights Commission. As IHEU warned in a written statement to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2008, this commission will have as its guiding document not the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but the Cairo Declaration of 1990 which refers to the Sharia as its “only source of reference” to human rights, ignoring completely the Universal Declaration and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights to which almost all Islamic states are party. When IHEU tried to refer to this incompatibility in the plenary of the Human Rights Council we were silenced on a point of order when the Pakistani delegate claimed “it insulting to our faith to discuss the Sharia in this forum”. The president of the Council agreed, and ruled that it would no longer be permissible to discuss in detail any particular system of law. The effect of that ruling has been to place any human rights abuse carried out in the name of religion outside the scope of international law.
The intention in creating the Islamic commission is clear: International Human Rights norms will no longer apply to anyone living in an Islamic State, their rights will be defined exclusively in terms of the Sharia. And in the words of Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary General of the OIC, “the preservation of the Islamic family values have been enshrined in the OIC charter”.
This is the last in a series of five posts on morality. They are aimed at countering the usual religious claims for a god-given morality with current scientific understanding of how the morality of our species arose. Also, they at tempt to justify a non-theist objective basis for much of the moral decisions we make. The first post (I: Religious confusion) discussed some of the problems religion has in its understanding of morality and the second (II: Objective morality) argues for a non-theist objective basis for morality. The third post (III: Moral intuition) discussed moral intuitions and the fourth (IV: Role of religion) the role of religion. This last post discusses the secular conscience.
I have been arguing for a non-theist understanding of human morality. We can accept moral codes, and an objective basis for moral truths, without resorting to a god hypothesis. Historically religion has served a purpose in codifying and teaching moral law – but it is not the origin of these laws. In a sense, religion is parasitic on secular morality. It claims an authority in the area that it doesn’t deserve. And religious apologists often complete this takeover by claiming that religion itself, or the supernatural beings they promote, are the source of human morality.
This is the fourth in a series of five posts on morality. They are aimed at countering the usual religious claims for a god-given morality with current scientific understanding of how the morality of our species arose. Also, they at tempt to justify a non-theist objective basis for much of the moral decisions we make. The first post (I: Religious confusion) discussed some of the problems religion has in its understanding of morality and the second (II: Objective morality) argues for a non-theist objective basis for morality. The third post (III: Moral intuition) discussed moral intuitions. This fourth post discusses the role of religion in human morality.
Religion certainly claims for itself a special role when it comes to human morals – and even some non-religious people accept that claim. This is largely because historically religion has played a central role in disseminating moral teaching and resolving moral disputes.
This is the third in a series of four posts on morality. They are aimed at countering the usual religious claims for a god-given morality with current scientific understanding of how the morality of our species arose. Also, they at tempt to justify a non-theist objective basis for much of the moral decisions we make. The first post (I: Religious confusion) discussed some of the problems religion has in its understanding of morality and the second (II: Objective morality) argues for a non-theist objective basis for morality. This third post discusses human moral instincts.
I think it’s clear that we have moral instincts. We take actions without thinking because our unconscious intuitions dictate that we do. Most of us will instinctively react to save a child in danger (eg., about to run out on to a busy road without looking). And we will sometimes do this even though it threatens our own life.
Our evolution as an intelligent, social species has inevitably left us with intuitions which are unconscious, spontaneous, and usually inaccessible to our conscious minds. These have been necessary for our survival – both in to protect our own lives and those of our kin and in the many interactions we have with other intelligent members of our species.
The fight or flight response, oversensitive agency detection, sexual and hunger responses are obvious. But we also have intuitive feelings for our children, sexual partners and kin. Social intuitions of guilt, judgment, disgust, revulsion, suspicion, trust, fairness and detection of cheating are also present. Attitudes to members of in-groups and out-groups also appear intuitive. Who hasn’t noted how easily human groups develop “them vs us” attitudes.
So, even without applying reason, humans come to spontaneous moral decisions. We are a moral species.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is one of my heroes. (Or should that be heroines? I don’t know what the terminology is these days). I recommend everyone to read her book Infidel. And certainly watch any videos where she is lecturing or being interviewed.
I watched Ayaan Hirsi Ali on the Viability of Hope recently. It’s excellent. She gives a brief description of her life experiences, her movement from Islam to atheism and her thoughts on the current problems presented by radical Islam and how to counter them.
The video is of an on-stage interview at American Jewish Council Conference (a situation interesting in itself).
I particularly liked her analysis of left/right politics.
And something to look forward to. She is currently working on a new book – a fictional discussion between Mohammed and several great western thinkers. The book should be out at the end of this year, or next year. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for that.
This is basically to provide a forum for discussion about origins of morals away from my post Does religion threaten human rights? I think it is obscene to hold that abstract discussion around a post describing violation of human rights and associated restrictions of freedom of expression. It’s like observers being sidetracked into these abstract discussion while they stand around watching a women being stoned for ‘adultery’ or a person being murdered for apostasy.
So some unrehearsed and initial thoughts on the subject – what is the source of our morals?
Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US the world has been very aware of religious violence. Every day the news from Iraq seems to confirm a violent face to religion. There is a tendency to see this as mainly a problem of Islam. However the Bible shows that violence is also strongly emeshed in the Jewish and Christian traditions. Bishop Spong discusses this in his lecture The Terrible Texts of the Bible.
Jill Carroll eloquently argues, in the video posted here, that violence is inherent in all religions. She goes further to discuss how this has arisen as a natural result of the violence arising in human and social evolution. A very enthusiastic speaker, Jill Carroll is the Associate Director of the Boniuk Center for Religious Tolerance at Rice University. This Boniuk Community Lecture was presented in the First Unitarian Universalist Church, Texas.