Secular Values

This is a somewhat hurried post as an opportunity to join up some dots on secularism.

Firstly I read “Secularism – Politics, Religion & Freedom” by Andrew Copson, Chief Exec of Humanists UK (HUK / BHA) and Chair of the International Humanist and Ethical Union last week. I had intented to write a review after asking Andrew some questions at his talk to Durham Unversity Students Humanists Thursday last week, but sadly snowfall that day meant I was unable to get across. Long story short, it’s a great little read, non-contenitious as a history of secularism, and with an open-minded expose of some of the outstanding conflicts and issues for the future of secularism. (Anyone interested in deeper 19th and 20th C history of the various rationalist, sceptical, humanist, secularist, freethought organisations in the UK and beyond can read “The Blasphemy Depot”.)

What is particularly gratifying, is the humanist focus on secularism, a welcome change from the interminably misguided god vs science wars of new atheism of the 21st century so far. HUK are a campaigning and related services organisation so naturally target current political opportunities in their work. Aside from the history, Secularism in Andrew’s book boils down to two things. Firstly non-established religion, no direct or preferential religious doctrine in the arrangements of civil state governance. And, secondly support for universal human rights in general and specifically the UN declaration on freedom of thought, religious or otherwise. The former is behind many HUK campaigns from parliamentary reform and marriage arrangements to education in general. The latter is pursued internationally in the #FreedomOfThought work of the IHEU.

This is all good.

Leaving aside the secular anomaly of reserved seats for Bishops in the Lords, the UK’s second parliamentary house, there was an interesting debate earlier this week initiated by Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury. It’s worth listenting to the debate as a whole, and not simply inferring the Archbishop’s motives from a selective reading of his statements. Predictably HUK have reacted to his suggestion that religious schools teach “ethical values” to criticise him and his motives, and to pimp their campaign against religious schools.

The point missed in this warlike campaigning against religious ethical values is the paucity of shared values generally in civil arrangements and education. The problem with the universal (human individual) freedoms basis is that the only value it promotes is freedom of the individual, and the complementary responsibility and tolerance of the rights of others. As I say this is “all good” but it leaves a significant hole in education and human development. This is the topic of the debate, built on real UK examples of failure.

The (secular) humanist worldview needs to concern itself with humanist values beyond individual rights and a generic responsibility for human ecology, and a rationality beyond science.

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