The case for a moral compass we work out for ourselves through reason and compassion (Ilford Recorder Faith Column. 28.11.19)
Do humanists, with our lack of faith, lack a moral compass? Some struggle to understand how our values can equal values for which divine authority is claimed. The perplexity is mutual. Humanists don’t see why, for example, stealing being ‘wrong’ needs to be spelt out on a tablet of stone. We see it’s ‘wrong’ simply by looking at the consequences of theft with reason and compassion. Moral decisions are made this way umpteen times a day without divine guidance. You don’t have to identify as a humanist to think like one.
Being able to work things out for ourselves, and being able to change our minds, is a positive advantage where knowledge and understanding is ever-developing. Many contemporary issues are beyond the imagination of those alive when the scriptures were written. The holy books do not contemplate questions posed by, say, genetic engineering, unsustainable population growth, or the ability to prolong life in the cruelest of circumstances using modern medicine.
In fact religious morality can change too. Thankfully many of faith have abandoned harsh scriptural orthodoxy on issues like homosexuality, birth control, adultery and heresy. Even the attitude to theft is now more nuanced, the strict retribution of the Abrahamic tradition being tempered by compassion.
Where the religious and humanists are at one is that having a moral compass is important. And most of us are probably somewhere on the humanist spectrum in our pursuit of a fairer, kinder, and more sustainable world.
Chair East London Humanists