The battle between religion and secular humanism
I’ve heard this conundrum many times in the debate between followers of religion and devoted secular humanists: Should we do the right thing because it is favorable in the eyes of God? Or should we do the right thing because, well, it’s the right thing to do?
It's not quite black and white like that of course. Religious people don’t necessarily perform acts of charity or make ethical decisions solely because they believe God would want them to or ordered them to do so in scripture, though it does have an influence. There is also the argument, anti-religious as it may sound, that religion is not necessarily proof of divine existence but born out of an innately human need for a code of ethics to live by among an intelligent advanced species.
Photo courtesy of http://thecylinder.files.wordpress.com
This is something I learned about in college courses dealing with the philosophy of religion. It was posed as one of the several potential influences (along with hallucinogens, among other things) for organized religion arising in human populations. For anyone that doesn’t see this as an extremely polarizing debate, there are several online sources that will approach this dilemma in a biased fashion either directly or indirectly picking a side.
Many misconceptions arise involving both sides of the argument. One must understand religion from an academic standpoint in order to empathize with its side of the argument. This exists as simply a debate over how to best make ethical decisions. One must also understand secular humanism from the same standpoint and be able to correctly distinguish between religious and secular humanism.
There are several great organizations that help coordinate efforts to help the poor, provide for the needy, and offer aid for the disabled that happened to be based in religious principles. At times, they hope to bring the people they are helping to their belief system, but more often than not, they simply offer a helping hand and leave it at that.
Photo courtesy of www.habitatwake.org
So the general argument I’ve heard making a case for the secular humanist side is that people can act on that innately human need to be ethical and charitable without the added baggage of doing it to earn brownie points with God or get to heaven. The general argument I hear from the religious side is that all humans don’t have an innate code of ethics and urge to do the right thing and religion, for better or worse, fills that role and helps organize charitable efforts on a global grand scale not possible by individuals alone. It seems that the common consensus is that altruism is a good thing. But what kind of altruism serves us best?