Tag Archives: British Humanist Association

Source of moral authority has shifted

A recent poll in the UK confirms a trend I have noticed elsewhere – the movement of younger people away from organised religion, and to a slightly lesser extent, from religious beliefs. But also to a decline in respect for religion and its leaders.

The YouGov poll for the Sun  shows a decisive turn against religion among 18 – 24 year olds. And a very low belief in a god (see Poll: Young people turn decisively against religion).

Fifty six% of people in this age group say they have no religion while 38% don’t believe in a god.

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In common with other polls there is still substantial support for not believing in a god but believing in “some sort of spiritual greater power” – the halfway house.

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Only 12% said religious leaders have any influence on them – lower than for politicians, who scored 38%, brands, which scored 32% or celebrities, who scored 21%. Eighty two% declared religious leaders have no influence.

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Finally, a high 41% told pollsters ‘religion is more often the cause of evil in the world’ while only 14% said it was a cause for good.

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I think we might find the same attitudes in this country.

But it does raise some important questions about the public perception of the role of religion in today’s society. It’s commonly described as a source of good. But Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association and first vice president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, won’t have it. In a commenting article, Religion is in decline – so why are people so well behaved?, he says:

 

“One of the most mystifying aspects of recent governments’ emphasis on religion as a source of individual and social values has been its total mismatch with reality. Survey after survey has shown the population as a whole, and young people in particular, increasingly turning away from religious beliefs and influences entirely – and yet there has been no detrimental effect on the wellbeing of the nation.”

He concludes “there has been a change in recognised moral authority away from religion and towards secular influences.” And asks “when a government is going to realise this change and accept the implications for public policy.”

With polling like this it is about time that we all recognised that religion is not the source of our morality and public utterances claiming it is should stop.

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A secular bible

Here’s something for your winter reading – The Good Book: A Humanist Bible.

I purchased it recently and am enjoying browsing through it. It’s a collection of wise sayings, proverbs, etc. Ideal for browsing – just as well as its 600 pages long.

Wisely, A. C. Grayling does not describe himself as the author – rather the book was “made” by him.

The Good Book is a collection of comments – proverbs, songs, parables, etc. – advising on the good life. Secular comments originating as far back as Confucius and the ancient Greeks. As Grayling remarks in his Epistle to the Reader:

“Throughout history the commonwealth of humankind has had master-thinkers whose mighty works are monuments to posterity; it is aspiration enough to be a guide among them, and to take from them resources to promote what is true and good.”

To this end he has made this book:

“consisting in distillations of the wisdom and experience of humankind, to the end that reflecting on them might bring profit and comfort. “

Its secular nature is a tremendous advantage. Grayling describes the book’s purpose as:

“not to demand acceptance of beliefs or obedience to commands, not to impose obligations and threaten with punishments, but to aid and guide, to suggest, inform, warn and console; and above all to hold up the light of the human mind and heart against the shadows of life.”

A.C. Grayling was interviewed about his book by Kim Hill last weekend. You can hear the interview at  Saturday Morning with Kim Hill. Or download the mp3 file.

Here’s an example from the book – a list of proverbs on Books:

1. Something is learned every time a book is opened.
2. A book may be as great a thing as a battle.
3. Books are ships that traverse the seas of time.
4. Books cannot always please, however good; minds are not always craving for food.
5. Books give no wisdom where there was not wisdom before.
6. Rather a study full of books than a purse full of money
7. There is nothing so old as a new book.
8. The best companions are good books.
9. The books that help most are those that prompt most thought.
10. The virtue of books is to be readable.
11. There is no frigate like a book to take us to lands far away.
12. Wear the old coat and buy the new book.
13. The world may know me by my book, and my book by me.
14. Word by word the great books are written.
15. The reader’s fancy makes the fate of books.

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